BILLINGS — Now under private ownership, Sleeping Giant Ski Area 50 miles west of Cody, Wyoming will offer new features this season to attract more customers and a new phone app to streamline the process at the lodge, said Mike Gimmeson, general manager.
"I think that people are really going to be looking to get outside a bit more this winter. And especially go do something that is safe and recreational. And I think this ski area is perfect for that," Gimmeson said.
The relatively small ski area sits at an elevation of 6,600 feet with 47 runs over 184 acres of skiable terrain.
The ski area's future was uncertain after the former owner, nonprofit group Yellowstone Recreation Foundation, announced in January Sleeping Giant would not operate for the 2020-21 season. The Cody Enterprise reported the ski area was operating at a $200,000 per year deficit.
Cody investment banker Nick Piazza bought the ski area this fall and named Gimmeson general manager. The pair had a chairlift conversation about the ski area just two weeks before the news of the closure.
"Then we said, well hey what great timing. So here we are," Gimmeson said.
Gimmeson has a long history at Sleeping Giant. His parents were part of the ski patrol on the mountain for 20 years while Gimmeson was growing up. He has also been the head of the Sleeping Giant ski school for the past six years.
Gimmeson has been at the helm while crews worked to clear ski runs of debris in and work on other improvements in the off season.
New this year, Sleeping Giant will offer a 30-foot yurt, night skiing and inner tube sledding track. Gimmeson said the yurt will act as home base for ski school. The night skiing will be pulled off with the help of newly installed solar powered lights.
Sleeping Giant is set to open on December 4 through March 28, 2021.
The ski area, like every other business, is finding different ways to offer service amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Once you're on the hill, skiing is naturally socially distanced. The problem comes with choke points like the lodge that bottle people up in close proximity.
Gimmeson said the current limit on people in the lodge is 20, but local health authorities said there could be 50 people inside at a time. The usual capacity inside the three-story lodge is 120.
To minimize time spent in the lodge, Sleeping Giant will roll out a new phone app for the season where guests can buy lift tickets, lessons, rental gear and even food.
“Someone could be outside, order their lunch on their phone and it will say what time its ready, then they come in and pick it up and they can go outside and eat it on the deck or go to one of these mountain sanctuaries," Gimmeson said.
Another spacing technique is the creation of "mountain sanctuaries," Gimmeson said. There will be a few space out around the mountain where people can warm up in front of a fire or pop into a canvas tent, Gimmeson said.
“We’re just excited to welcome everyone this winter and do our best to create a low-risk environment for all of our visitors. As the coronavirus is ramping back up in Wyoming, Park County, Montana, we just need all of our visitors to help keep everyone’s time here fun and safe and memorable," Gimmeson said.
Ticket prices have raised since last season by about 20 percent, but that still makes Sleeping Giant one of the most affordable places to ski in the country, Gimmeson said.
Day tickets are priced at $55 for an adult, $42 for a junior, people 70-years-old or older will pay $25 and children 5-years-old and under are free.
The night skiing will carry an additional cost with adults paying $25 to night ski, juniors $20 and $15 for people 70-years-old or older.
Gimmeson said there are no plans to limit the amount of lift tickets sold per day unless the circumstances call for it.
“I think we’re really trying to keep the value in that. We did have to raise our prices a little bit, but we’re also putting a lot of investment into our infrastructure. I think people when they come here are really going to notice the improvements and we’re really excited about that," Gimmeson said.
Over the summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor recreation saw a massive boom because of its socially distant nature. Gimmeson expects people will have the same itch to get outside once the snow flies.
“You couldn’t even go to a bike shop around here to buy a bike, let alone a tube for your bike because everyone just felt this urge to get outside and not feel cooped up in their house. I think we’re going to see that same trend in the winter. People are really wanting to get outside," Gimmeson said.
Beyond ski season, Sleeping Giant operates the largest dual-zipline in Wyoming. Gimmeson said there's plans for other summer events at the ski area.
“We have a really cool outdoor setting. We have this outdoor deck where we can have bands playing and music and movies and people can spread out on the hillside. We could do weddings, special events. We’re ready for all sorts of stuff," Gimmeson said.