The Sleeping Giant Awakens
Sleeping Giant Ski Area has awakened once again, just as it has for most ski seasons since the winter of 1936-37.
One of the oldest alpine ski areas in North America, this small-but-mighty ski area is situated just outside of Yellowstone National Park in the stunning Absaroka Mountain Range. Its 900 vertical feet and 184 acres of skier and rider-accessible terrain features trails for skiers of every ability.
The 2019/2020 ski season marks the 10th anniversary of the beloved ski area’s reopening after a six-year closure. After falling on hard times in the first few years of the new millennium, the hill seemed destined to join ranks of the many ghost ski areas – the vacant, deteriorating ski areas that dot mountainous regions throughout the country. In 2004, a group comprised of Cody locals and ski fans came to the rescue with the formation of the non-profit Yellowstone Recreations Foundation (YRF). Partnering with government entities like Park County and the Wyoming Business Council and with the support of countless individuals, YRF opened the ski hill for the 2009/2010 season after investing $3.5 million to upgrade and enhance the ski area.
Among those improvements was the addition of a terrain park with 14 features including quarter pipes, rails, boxes and jumps. The terrain park – designed for both skiers and snowboarders – remains one of only a few in the country that was constructed almost entirely of materials found on the hill. Other enhancements included the addition of 400 vertical feet of runs at the top of the mountain, a new triple chairlift to complement the existing double chairlift, snowmaking equipment and electrical system upgrades.
Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the winter, the ski area includes a variety of programs for adult and young skiers alike. Ski and Shred Like a Girl, for example, is a Friday-morning clinic in January that is for women and taught by women. The ski area also offers free skiing for all >fifth-graders, no matter where they live, as well as free equipment rentals to the first 50 fifth-grade skiers to arrive each day. Other <youth programs include Sixth Graders Ski Six Times for $60, Youth Race Club and Shoshone Freestyle Club. The Cody Ski Bus provides transportation from downtown Cody for just $5.
Other features of the ski area include a magic carpet for beginning skiers, slow zone, ski school, chapel and cross-country trail for Nordic skiers and snowshoers. Trails are mix of 15 percent beginner runs, 38 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced runs and 13 percent expert runs.
Lift tickets are remarkably affordable, particularly when compared to larger, more commercialized Western ski areas. A full-day pass is $22, half-day pass is $16 and season pass is $250. Transportation from the town of Cody 49 miles to the east is $5 per day. Ski and snowboard rentals are also affordable priced with ski rentals starting at $30 and snowboard equipment starting at $33. Sleeping Giant also rents Nordic skis and snowshoes for those who prefer to explore the extensive trail system that surrounds the ski area.
The lodge building features Betty’s Grill, with an array of affordably priced ski area staples like chili and burgers. There’s also the attic-level T-Bar, which the ski area playfully notes is Wyoming’s smallest bar.
It is a fitting impression, given the ski area’s cutting-edge early days. With the invention of the ski lift in the late 1930s alpine skiing was beginning to emerge as a winter pastime among mostly wealthy outdoor enthusiasts. Many small ski areas opened from New York to California from 1936 to 1940, and Cody Yellowstone’s Sleeping Giant Ski Area was among them, with its opening season in 1936-37. With an average snowfall of 150 inches, and the stunning Bighorn Basin backdrop, the ski hill quickly became popular among local ski enthusiasts.
A few years ago, the ski hill added an adventure for summer-season visitors with the addition of the Sleeping Giant Zipline. Open from June 15 through Sept. 15, there are five zips, with the first accessed by the Big Horn Double Chairlift. The final zipline lands at the top of a 45-foot tower, and zip liners can choose to complete the course with a 35-foot “quick drop” free fall to the ground or by descending the stairs.