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Sleeping Giant Forced To Wait For Snow

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Employees at the Sleeping Giant have been working through the year, making upgrades to the popular ski area located in the Shoshone National Forest. But one thing is missing as area skiers are eager to hit the slopes: snow.

Officials at the facility announced the ski hill will not be opening as planned on Friday. 

“Sleeing Giant is ready for winter, but like other ski areas in the region, Sleeping Giant awaits natural snowfall and cooler temperatures necessary for mechanical snowmaking efforts to create a solid base,” said communications and marketing manager Myranda Hamel.

At this time, Sleeping Giant cannot guarantee a specific opening date, yet the crew is eager to be open and asks the community to stay optimistic. 

“A snow dance ritual won’t hurt,” Hamel wrote in a press release Wednesday.

“We have done everything we can on our end to make enough snow so our guests can have a fun time,” added Chris Mackie, Sleeping Giant mountain operations manager. “Even with the incredible equipment we have on hand, the outdoor temperatures still have to be just right for our efforts to be successful. We are very grateful to everyone who has purchased a season pass so far and are eager to get the season started.”

Cody Regional Health

The crew will be at Sunlight Sports this Friday from noon to 7 p.m. to print season passes for those who still need to pick them up. Meanwhile, the Mountain Operations Crew will stand ready to make snow as the conditions allow.

According to Jim Fahey, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Shoshone River Basin is at 56%, up from 45% last week. Meanwhile, the Bighorn River Basin is steady at 79% and the Yellowstone River Basin is currently 68% of the median snowpack. The reference period for computing medians/averages is the 30-year period 1991 through 2020.

The snow situation has improved in the last week. As of Dec. 7, Wyoming’s snowpack stood at 56% of median, but it had risen to 66% by Tuesday. Conditions ranged from a high of 92% in the Powder Basin and a low of 7% in the South Platte Basin.

For those wanting to schedule their snow dance ritual for the best times, the National Weather Service is predicting a slight (20%) chance of snow for Thursday through Sunday along the North Fork corridor.

Sleeping Giant officials asked supporters to stay optimistic in a Facebook post, writing that, “We have some prime weather patterns forecasted for the next couple of weeks!”

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Better Weather For Wyoming Ski Areas Coming In December

in News/Recreation

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The outlook for snow in Wyoming through the rest of November is not good, especially for the state’s ski areas preparing to open their lift lines for the season, according to a Wyoming meteorologist.

But that will change once December rolls around, according to Don Day, founder of Cheyenne’s DayWeather.

“While the ski areas are probably sweating bullets right now, I am bullish things will turn around in December,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “And it will happen in early December.”

One of the state’s ski areas, Grand Targhee in Alta, opened for the season Wednesday with a snow base of 30 inches and 69% of the resort open for skiing.

The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort planned to continue its long-standing tradition of opening for the season on Thanksgiving Day, although the terrain available for skiing would be limited, according to the ski area’s website.

“Mother Nature has been off to a slow start on the lower mountain, but with increased snowmaking capacity and a dedicated staff working around the clock, we are thrilled to open our lifts this Thursday,” Mary Kate Buckley, the area’s president, said.

Four of the state’s other ski areas — Snow King Resort in Jackson, Hogadon near Casper, Snowy Range near Centennial and Sleeping Giant near Cody — planned to open between Dec. 3 and Dec. 11, according to the website Ski Central.

Day said by the time the areas open in December, decent snow should start falling in the state’s mountains.

“About the first weekend in December, it will get much colder and the mountain snows will kick in,” he said.

Day attributed the sudden switch in weather conditions to La Nina, a weather event that occurs when temperatures on the surface of the Pacific Ocean fall to levels that are lower than normal, affecting weather globally.

“It’s very typical in a La Nina to have alternating months that can go warm and dry and then the next month it can go the opposite,” he said.

The only ski area that has not announced an opening date is White Pine near Pinedale.

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Sleeping Giant Ski Area Thrives Under Private Owner

in News/Tourism

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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Sleeping Giant Ski Area to Close After Season Ends

in News/Recreation/Tourism
Sleeping Giant

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The mountains of western Wyoming and eastern Idaho, along with southern Montana and central Colorado, are meccas for people of all ages who love the thrill of sliding down the hillsides at high speeds.

Skiing can be expensive, however, and one non-profit organization is struggling with providing affordable access for families while keeping the books in the black.

Otto Goldbach is a member of the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, the board responsible for the Sleeping Giant ski area near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. 

The board announced recently that Sleeping Giant would close for good after this spring’s ski season, but Goldbach and other board members are hoping that they can find a way to extend the hill’s life by a few years through more volunteer hours and fundraising.

Goldbach pointed out that the ski hill is more than just a winter recreation area.

“It’s a community center that happens to have some ski lifts on it,” he said.

The hill, which was first opened in 1930 as the Red Star Ski Area, had closed in 2004, but a community effort brought it to life again in 2009. 

“Some really generous donors came in and put in the new infrastructure, remodeled the lodge, put in a new lift,” Goldbach said.

Sleeping Giant is a relatively small ski hill – with just 900 vertical feet and 184 skiable acres, it lacks the “excitement” that draws more experienced skiers to Montana’s nearby Red Lodge, just an hour north of Cody, or just a bit farther away to Jackson or Big Sky, also in Montana. 

But the family-friendly lift ticket prices ($16 for children 6 to 12 and $42 for adults) and programs such as free skiing for fifth graders make it a draw for local residents.

While the foundation has a broad base of support in nearby Cody, it hasn’t been able to raise enough funds to balance the budget and the facility is running at a $200,000-per-year deficit. 

Goldbach said the board has tried to think out of the box for ways to keep Sleeping Giant open, including constructing a zip line that has low overhead with a higher rate of return.

However, that tactic hasn’t been enough.

“They tried to get the revenue off of the zip line to pay for the ski area,” Goldbach said, “but it hasn’t been performing like it was hoped.”

Sleeping Giant isn’t the only ski area that’s facing hard times. The snow sports industry nationwide is facing downturns tied to changes in the weather patterns. 

According to a report released in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, there’s been a 41 percent drop in snowfall amounts across the American West since the early 1980s. 

But Goldbach said the hurdles they face at Sleeping Giant are more than just fewer snow days.

“It’s a tough industry,” he lamented. “You’ve got bad years, you’ve got competition from other ski areas and other sports that are going on.”

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