Antelope Butte supporters optimistic

by nathan oster

It’s been a busy couple of months for the people working to re-open the Antelope Butte Ski Area in the Big Horn Mountains.

Mark Weitz, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Antelope Butte Foundation, said in an interview Tuesday that he is hopeful that the skiers and snowboarders will be back on the slopes at Antelope Butte by next winter.

“That is, if all the stars align and everything goes perfectly,” he said.

In recent weeks, the stars have aligned, to the point where Weitz said he and other members of the group are “very encouraged” by recent talks with U.S. Forest Service officials and “humbled” by the show of support for the ski area from communities on both sides of the mountain.

Weitz said a legal firm in Denver that works extensively in the skiing industry picked up Antelope Butte’s cause on a pro-bono basis.  “They liked our story … what we are trying to do,” Weitz said.

Once the lawyers got involved, the project “gained more definition” as they helped Antelope Butte supporters “navigate the regulations” and “make the process work as efficiently as possible for both the forest service and the potential ski area operators.”

Weitz said a meeting of foundation members, forest service officials and an attorney from that Denver firm was a productive one — but that two challenges emerged for the supporters of the ski area.

They were given until Feb. 17 to submit an application for a special use permit and to show the group’s “financial capability.”

This week, Weitz had good news on both fronts of the battle.

The application for the special use permit has been submitted, and in just a matter of a couple weeks, the group was able to raise $70,000, doing so through public meetings, its website, phone calls, visits and pounding of the pavement.

“What we had to say was, ‘Now is the time to chip in … or let the wrecking ball come in,’ and that was and is the case,” Weitz said.  “The community rose up in an amazing fashion.”

Weitz said half of the $70,000 was raised on the Sheridan side, the other half on the Greybull side, from communities across the Big Horn Basin.  “It was just awesome, amazing, and it speaks volumes, I think, not just to the supporters, but also to the forest service.  The message is, ‘Hey, these communities really want this … and they’re speaking with their checkbooks.”

With $60,000 that was raised previously, the foundation has $130,000 in its coffers.

Now, it’s a matter of waiting to hear on the special use permit, Weitz said.  He estimated that the process would take 45 to 60 days.  The next hurdle would be acquiring the lodge and the lifts, he said.

“In the meantime, we’re going to be preparing grant applications galore,” he said. “We’re not just going to wait.  We’re going to proceed on the assumption that we’re going to get it.”

Weitz acknowledged that the effort could have been stopped in its tracks, if the communities hadn’t stepped forward to support it.  “With the kind of support we received, we were overwhelmed and heartened,” he said. “Had we not made our goal, had people not risen up, I think we all would have been pretty discouraged.

“We had always heard that there was support for what we’re trying to do.  But saying it … and writing checks … are two different things.”