Sleeping Giant Ski Area west of Cody has a long history – and a financially troubled one for the last few years.
The family-friendly resort was in danger of closing down for lack of funding in 2019.
Then Nick Piazza stepped in.
Sleeping Giant, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is the oldest of the 12 ski resorts in Wyoming, established in 1936. The nonprofit that had been operating the ski area since 2007 announced in 2019 that it had been running at a deficit of $200,000 each year, due to low numbers of skiers and snowboarders.
Piazza, an investment banker who grew up in Cody, made the decision that his beloved winter wonderland couldn’t just shut down. So he bought it. Now he and his ski buddy Mike Gimmeson and other dedicated snow fiends have made this winter playground thrive this season.
“We almost doubled our season pass holders from last year,” he said. “And I think weekends have been pretty strong going into March.”
“We tried to do a lot,” Gimmeson noted. “We got the night skiing going, we got a yurt up, and we did some projects.”
As a small family ski area, Sleeping Giant has certainly seen its share of struggles – but Gimmeson said this is the best year he has seen.
“We’ve had the biggest season that I know of, that I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.
And he says he’s got a unique perspective.
“I learned how to ski here when I was 1 year old,” he said, laughing. “My parents both ski patrolled here, and I came up every weekend of my childhood life.”
From the activity on the hill on this sunny Sunday in late February, you’d never know that Sleeping Giant has had difficulties staying open. Financial woes forced the closure of the hill in 2004, when the Dahlem family – owners at the time – couldn’t afford to upgrade the T-bar lift. A community effort brought the resort back to life in 2007, but the non-profit could only do so much.
Piazza said he took on the financial risk only after making a deal with the community.
“The idea was, we’ll keep it simple – you come skiing, we’ll keep the lifts turning,” he smiles. “And so far, it looks like that partnership is working.”
Both Nick and Mike pointed out they’re not planning to end the season quietly.
Gimmeson said they were originally planning to stay open until the end of March, but have decided to extend their season, so that they can host events such as a Triathlon on April 3 and the First Responders Winter Olympics on April 10.
“We’ll have, almost every weekend in March, some kind of event,” Piazza explained. “Plus, we’re matching the spring break calendar for Park County schools. So, the first week of April is spring break, and we’re gonna have a bunch of stuff there.”
And Mike pointed out that inviting skiers like Jack Feick, a Bozeman-area ski instructor and social media influencer, helped to raise the ski resort’s visibility.
“We’re just trying to bring other people from the ski culture to bring them here, to really show them what we have,” he said.
Feick is enthusiastic in his praise of the resort, where he skied for the first time in late February.
“Very good food, great lodging, and the skiing here is phenomenal,” he said, grinning. “A five-minute boot pack, up to the top of the mountain, and you’re into all those pillows over there, it’s insane. It’s the greatest skiing I’ve ever seen inbounds, honestly.”
The owners are not done improving the area, they said.
“We’d like to get more lifts up higher, and just more services for guests,” Mike explained. “And we’re working with local lodges so that there’s local lodging and, just, stay tuned, because we’re just getting started.”
“We have plans to keep the restaurant open all summer,” said Nick. “We’ll have the zip line going as usual, and we hope to add maybe a couple of other attractions, including hiking from the top of the ski lifts and maybe a climbing wall. But we’re working with the Forest Service on that.”
Gimmeson pointed out that the odds were against a private owner taking on a small ski area – but the combined strengths of the two friends have made the venture a success.
“Him, being a businessman, very successful – he really helped drive that into this place,” he said of Piazza. “Cause, I’m just a ski bum, you know. So us together, the ski bum, the businessman – we combined forces, and we pulled it off.”
Video footage courtesy Dean Madley (Sleeping Giant) and Jack Feick