CODY, WYO. — For financially struggling ski hills around the country, the period stretching from before Christmas through just after New Year’s Day can be a make-or-break time. At Sleeping Giant, the ski area located four miles east of Yellowstone National Park, this year’s holiday break was “one of those that can’t get much better.”
That’s how Sleeping Giant general manager Jon Reveal on Monday described the previous 10 days, which brought new powder almost daily. Reveal said the result was a “winter wonderland” at the edge of Yellowstone that drew solid crowds to the nonprofit ski area.
That’s good news for Sleeping Giant, which has enjoyed plenty of early snow this year, allowing for a Nov. 16 opening. Thanksgiving weekend crowds were mediocre, Reveal said, most likely because it was the season opener for nearby Red Lodge Mountain in Montana, which also received great early snow.
Located in the Shoshone National Forest nearly 50 miles east of Cody, Wyo, Sleeping Giant reopened as a nonprofit operation in 2009 after a four-year closure. Similar small community ski hills across the region have struggled to survive over the last decade, racking up six-figure annual losses during many winters, while barely breaking even in their best years.
Aging infrastructure, periodic droughts and changing tastes in winter recreation have meant tough times for small ski hills that lack the diverse revenue streams from real estate, luxury services and lodging that benefit large resorts.
For Reveal, who has an impressive lifetime of ski industry experience, cutting costs has been a key focus since he arrived at Sleeping Giant in fall 2012. That means everyone pitches in wherever and whenever necessary, including the general manager.
Two days before Christmas, Reveal’s day began before 5 a.m., when he drove more than 25 miles to the closest gas station to meet a food delivery truck. Then it was time to plow the parking lot and move supplies to the lodge by snowmobile before setting up cash registers and prepping the kitchen for the coming workday.
“I understand the nonprofit business model,” said Reveal, 69, shortly after serving a beer to a thirsty lodge guest and cleaning up a few stray lunch trays. His efforts last year helped trim expenses by 30 percent.
Reveal has worked on both sides of the camera with legendary ski filmmaker Warren Miller. When he ran Keystone Resort in Colorado, the ski area saw more than 1 million annual visitors. At the Aspen Skiing Company, he supervised 2,300 employees. His last ski industry job before Sleeping Giant was overseeing the design, construction and operation of the private Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont.
After leaving Yellowstone Club in 2004, Reveal “retired” to southern California where he helped organize bike races, including a major annual event that raised more than $375,000 for local schools. When he saw a job opening for Sleeping Giant in an industry publication, it reminded him of Dodge Ridge, the small California ski area where he grew up, near Modesto.
Sleeping Giant’s mission to make skiing affordable for families and to teach local kids to ski is something that also attracted Reveal to the job.
“It requires a lot of supplemental fundraising to make sure that happens, but we’re able to offer a $30 adult lift ticket or $10 for kids after 1 p.m. Every fifth-grader skis for free,” he said. “If we have the backing of the community, we can continue to do those things.”
For Cody resident Matt McFadden, Sleeping Giant was the perfect spot for a family ski day two days before Christmas. His two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son were both enjoying the fresh powder that fell throughout the day.
“It’s a perfect family atmosphere and a great, affordable place for them to learn,” McFadden said. “It’s challenging and fun and you can be here at the lodge and keep eyes on everything.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].