By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
There are 12 ski resorts in Wyoming — Sleeping Giant, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is the oldest, established in 1936.
It has had its ups — and downs — but this past year it was in danger of closing its doors once again, due to low numbers of skiers and snowboarders. In fact, the nonprofit that had been operating the ski area announced in January that it had been running at a deficit of $200,000 each year.
Enter Nick Piazza — a Cody native and successful investment banker who is now running his consulting business in the Ukraine from his home in Cody. He said he couldn’t watch his beloved ski hill fold… so he bought it.
“You know, we’re ready to take a lot of the risk and responsibility in terms of kind of keeping the mountain open,” he said. “But it’s going to be a partnership with Park County, I think. For us to be successful we’re going to need people to come ski.”
Like Piazza, new ski area General Manager Mike Gimmeson also learned to ski as a child at Sleeping Giant. He said the area plans to keep prices the most affordable in the entire United States, offer free skiing to school groups and provide ski lift privileges to those holding season passes from other ski areas in the regions.
“We’ve partnered with some local ski areas, like Antelope Butte (in the Bighorn Mountains), Red Lodge (Montana), and vice versa, so they can come here,” he said. “And what’s really cool is you can go to Hogadon in Casper, and get three free days.”
Gimmeson added that with the new ownership comes new ideas that the team is excited to unveil.
“We’re planning on having kiosks at our ticket desk, and I think one in the yurt, so that people when they purchase their tickets they can just walk up and get it, like when you go to the airport. And night skiing! We’re going to have night skiing.”
Included in the new plans is the opening of a yurt to provide extra customer seating. The yurt’s purchase was made possible because of a Daniels Grant that was procured through the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, the non-profit that has operated Sleeping Giant since 2007. Gimmeson said the extra building will help with social distancing and add to the appeal of the ski area.
“Along with the yurt we’re going to have other outdoor seating areas, we’re thinking about just strategic areas where people can hang out,” he said “We’ll have fire pits, and just kind of get people outside.”
Piazza said his goal is not to make money off of the purchase — rather, he sees this as an opportunity to boost the local winter economy.
“Long term, if we’re going to be successful, we have to bring more winter activity back to the East Gate (of Yellowstone),” he said.
Gimmeson added snowmaking operations will begin next week, with a goal of opening Sleeping Giant to the public on Dec. 4.
“People love that mountain,” Piazza says. “And I hope that we’re providing a platform for people to help support it.”