By Lisa Kunkel
The excitement was palpable as a line started to form at the base of the Antelope Butte ski hill, just 20 minutes from Shell, early Saturday morning.
Murmurs of “when were you here last” to children saying “I can’t wait to be at the top,” were heard as the cool mountain air blew snow off the treetops.
Lift attendants and engineers were busy finishing last-minute preparations as the once-closed main chair lift rumbled to life.
The crowd burst into cheers as the ski patrol took the first Summit Lift chair ride in 15 years. Next in line were brothers Caleb and Camden Kilbride from Tongue River. “We woke up at 6:45 am to make first chair,” said 13-year-old Caleb.
They’ve been hiking to the top to make runs but now get to take the easy seven-minute ride to the top. The brothers were also first in line when the ski area opened the lower chair lift in December. “We’ve been here pretty much every weekend since Christmas,” said 14-year-old Camden.
With now two lifts open in addition to the magic carpet, Antelope Butte was full of happy winter recreationalists. The renovated lodge is near completion but still needs work before it is open to the public.
Warming up in the basecamp yurt was Teresa Law, of Sheridan, who happily watched out the windows with her two young grandsons. She told of a time years ago sitting in the lodge reading books and waiting for her children to finish their runs.
Now she’s back, 15 years later, and her children are grown. “It’s a blessing to be back on the mountain now with my grandchildren,” said Law.
Two-year-old Hank Law ran around the yurt with uninhibited joy as he waited for his father to finish his runs before taking little Hank out to ski.
Truly that is the goal of the new Antelope Butte, to prepare the next generation for mountain recreation and give them a safe, affordable, close in proximity area in the Big Horn Mountains.
Executive Director John Kirlin said, “The season has been great. We’ve seen a lot of families and first-time skiers and snowboarders. That has been our goal from day one, so I believe it has been a very successful first season.”
Looking ahead as the snow melts and the winter season comes to a close, Antelope Butte is making plans for their summer events.
“Our two staple events, The Bighorn Mountains Brew Festival is scheduled for June 29 and the Antelope Butte Summer Festival is scheduled for July 19-21,” said Kirlin.
“We have a great music line up picked out for both events. We are now accepting applications for food and retail vendors for both events,” he said.
Antelope Butte Foundation member Cassie Wright, of Greybull, was on the mountain Saturday to celebrate and commemorate the occasion.
“This opening of the Summit Lift was a very proud moment for myself and all the people who have worked so hard to get Antelope Butte re-opened,” said Wright.
With smiles from ear-to-ear, her two granddaughters from Buffalo joyfully carried their skis to the Summit Lift. Wright said, “(Saturday) was a day my grandkids had been waiting for their whole life time as they had heard all the stories of the whole family learning to ski there, clear back to their Great Grandpa Dale Wright.”