How One Wyoming City Is Combating The Winter Tourism Drop-Off

Feb 28, 2020

On a cloudless February morning, Sheridan residents and visitors packed onto Broadway Street's sidewalks behind bright orange barricades that blocked a long ice path down the street. Skijoring Horses, riders and skiers, lined up around the start line at the north end of the road.

"Welcome everybody to the second annual WYO Winter Rodeo. On behalf of the county of Sheridan and the WYO Rodeo Board it's my pleasure to welcome you today!" boomed Nick Siddle, a Sheridan County commissioner and WYO Rodeo board member.

A skijoring race participant goes over the highest jump of the race that runs along Broadway Street in downtown Sheridan.
Credit Catherine Wheeler

A year ago, when the city hosted its first winter rodeo and skijoring race through downtown, organizers didn't know if people would show up, let alone if it would be a success. But it ultimately brought in an estimated 6,000 people on one of the historically worst weekends for tourism in the area.

Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker said the city expanded this year's winter because it was clear to him after last year that the people wanted more.

The event is doing what he intended it to do: changing the way people view Sheridan in the winter.

"We've always been really known for outdoor recreation in the winter, but it's kind of limited to skiing and snowmobiling and cross country skiing," Parker said. "Now when you have something to do in town, in the community, we can really start to expand out and attract people who maybe want to embrace Sheridan's culture, which is similar all year long but see something that is really, really cool."

After last year's winter rodeo, some local businesses reported historic revenue days in a time when they'd usually just be trying to get by.

Luminous Brewhouse Taproom Manager Kathryn Law said last year's event brought it the highest daily revenue Luminous had ever made.

"January through March is known to be one of the slowest seasons, not only for craft breweries, but for businesses in general in Sheridan. And so for us by the end of the month in February, it was equal to our normal paced months in the summer and fall," she said.

Law said with that extra boost, they were able to tackle some to-do items at a time when they typically start penny pinching.

PO News and the Flagstaff Cafe is a couple of blocks away from the main action. Mark Demple owns and operates the business that's been around since the early 1900s. He said it meant a lot for a major event to come over the winter.

"When we were looking over past years in February, we eclipsed our revenue numbers over previous years when nothing was going on," Demple said.

Dan McCoy, an associate lecturer in the outdoor recreation and tourism management degree at the University of Wyoming's Haub School of Environment Natural Resources, said most communities throughout Wyoming experience a tourism revenue drop-off over the winter. Though its different if a community has major winter recreation destinations like Jackson.

"[Jackson's] tax revenue actually drops off in the winter time, but not as precipitously as some of the smaller communities who rely more heavily on summer tourism," he said.

Efforts, like the one in Sheridan, can reduce those peaks and pits and make revenue steadier year round, McCoy said.

But he added that success can't just happen overnight. It can take years to build crowds, and communities have to buy in to make the event successful.

"Your local destination marketing organization can really help. Getting the community involved to offer a longer option so there's multiple events and days can really help move the needle," McCoy said. "It also takes a lot of work and takes a lot of people in the community coming together to pull these things off, especially in the winter time."

That community commitment is a big point for Tim Barnes, the co-founder of Black Tooth Brewing Company. He said that these winter revenues spikes just don't happen. Businesses have to invest.

"There's a lot of activity and revenue, but it's also predicated on the amount of effort and expense that's attributed to it," he said.

Crowds line up behind barricades on Broadway Street in Sheridan as the city hosts its second annual winter rodeo. The rodeo featured a two-day skijoring competition.
Credit Catherine Wheeler

In fact, in Sheridan, the building of the skijoring course, which is estimated to cost around $50,000, is donated by a local concrete contractor, Shawn Parker with Travel and Tourism said.

There are countless volunteers helping the day of the race, and still the city has to make some investments.

That includes new safety barricades, that cost more than $33,000 to purchase. The city also budgeted nearly $12,000 for labor and equipment, and they sent out extra police over the weekend for safety.

Beyond that, they had to come up with a plan to pay for it all. Those barricades can be used for other events and Sheridan Travel and Tourism will help to pay the city back with money from selling advertising space on the sides. Grant funds are mostly being used to pay for the police overtime, and the city won't have a final number on the cost of labor from the weekend for a couple of weeks.

But Parker said they aren't done expanding the winter rodeo. Next year, they want to hold an outdoor hockey game north in Ranchester or Dayton.

"We want everyone to share in this. And it does, it impacts everybody in the community. But we want everybody to get a piece of this action," he said.

And expanding this new winter tradition will take even more planning and investment.

"The world is changing pretty quick. Smaller towns aren't thriving like they once were especially across the Mountain West. We hope Sheridan is an anomaly, and that Sheridan continues to grow," Parker said.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.