Ski area to pursue other WBC grant funds

by nathan oster

It may have ended in rejection, but the process that supporters of the Antelope Butte Ski Area went through in their pursuit of grant funding from the Wyoming Business Council was still a significant step in the right direction.

Mark Weitz, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Antelope Butte Foundation, said the application for business committed grant funding and the site visit that application triggered put the ski area project on the WBC’s radar screen.

“Without an application, you’re really just a phone call,” said Weitz.  “If you can get an application before the council, that formally starts the process of them working with you.”

Weitz said the WBC members who toured the site June 26 said that they were supportive of the project, but that the grant application was denied because they didn’t feel the pot of “business committed” grant money was the right source for the ski area improvements.

Those dollars are typically used to attract businesses that would generate high-paying tech jobs, Weitz said. “With the ski area being tourism based, it just doesn’t pay those same type of high salaries.  They told us it would be an uphill battle, but we knew that going in.”

Weitz said the foundation plans to approach the WBC again once a source of grant money other than the “business committed” pool is identified. “Bottom line, they really like this project, but what it represents doesn’t fit into the ‘business’ committed’ category.”

On another front, Weitz said legal documents are being prepared for Big Horn County to take ownership of the Antelope Butte Ski Area capital improvements, including the lift, the lodge garage and other facilities.  Under the plan, the U.S. Forest Service would retain ownership of the land.

The foundation is also preparing to have the lifts formally evaluated, noting that they haven’t been used in seven years and that the foundation wants to know precisely what must be done to get them fully operational.

Weitz conceded that it has been a slow process getting the ski area reopened and that the previously stated goal of being back in business by this coming winter is no longer realistic.

“We were ambitious in our thinking,” he said. “For it to happen by this winter, we’d need to be under construction right now … and we’re not at that point quite yet.  Realistically speaking, we’re looking at construction next summer, opening during the winter of 2013-14.”

Weitz said it’s possible that the first event at the new ski area could occur in the summer of 2013, citing recent changes that gave ski runs around the country the ability to be operational year-round. For example, he said the ski area’s lodge could be used for weddings or other family gatherings.