After one ski season under his belt, Sleeping Giant Ski Area owner Nick Piazza is looking to get ahead of the curve by further investing in his mountain this summer.
“In my businesses I know things are running well if we’re not talking about things for tomorrow or next week, but we’re talking about things for two months from now,” he said.
Piazza is forgoing the summer zip line season in order to focus on construction efforts for the mountain. Although the zip line has traditionally been the mountain’s biggest money-maker, he said it only makes sense to take a season off and come back in 2022 in a more prepared state.
“It never really got big enough to really solve the issues of the ski season,” he said of the zip line. “So we had to make kind of a bet, and our bet was we really care about the ski season, so why don’t we try to make that the best it can be rather than operate a whole other business and try to learn that again.”
He said the mountain has already presented a 100-page analysis to the Shoshone National Forest on its plans to invest $2.5 million in the ski area over the next five years with a potential $1 million to be invested for this upcoming winter season. It’s all part of his goal to make Sleeping Giant a place not only for ski and snowboard enthusiasts, but the entire community.
Piazza exceeded the expectations of many who told him the ski area could never be profitable, as he reported multiple months from this past season that were in the black.
“Now we know what we can depend on from the community as far as revenue and skier numbers,” he said. “We’re trying to build around those numbers.”
Forefront on his to-do list is modernizing the base lodge, which has seen minimal changes in recent decades.
He said this will involve a kitchen upgrade, new interior and exterior paint, a second floor outdoor deck, and re-purposing the current deck as a music bandshell in the space where performers played this past winter on the snow.
There are also plans in the works for minor lift and electrical upgrades, new snowmaking equipment, Starlink internet service, more rental snow bikes and extensive trail clearing on the east side of the mountain with the possibility of a few new runs added next season.
“We definitely want to extend trails where we can, in line with our Forest Service permit,” he said.
Piazza also said lodging will be critical for the future of Sleeping Giant.
“If we can somehow get people to stay for the weekend, then all of a sudden our business gets a lot more stable,” he said. “The next step is getting some destination skiers in.”
He estimates the business needs to sell about 100 lift tickets per day to be profitable. Although this was certainly a doable task on certain weekend days that drew as many as 400 people to the slopes, drawing these numbers on Fridays and Tuesday nights was a more difficult task.
In the near future he hopes to gain Forest Service approval to add small cabins along the Shoshone River that would provide ski-in-ski-out lodging for tourists. Piazza estimates the mountain could double its revenue with this investment.
By focusing on the future, Piazza said he and his team will finally be able to get ahead of the curve after a winter season he said that sometimes felt as if he and his staff were “running around with their hair on fire.” He was only approved for ownership by the Forest Service shortly before the winter season started.
“We took a little calculated risk because we felt the value of opening for the community this winter would be better than taking care of a lot of these small details,” he said. “This year we were kind of learning as we went.”
Cody High School grad Kristen Mueller will be joining the team of Sleeping Giant leadership. She will help with financial oversight and management of its future construction projects and other property contracts, as she has a legal background and experience working as a federal compliance officer.
In the long term, Piazza is also eyeing an opportunity that may present itself from Snow King Mountain Resort in Jackson. That mountain will be replacing its main chairlift with a gondola this summer and may offer Sleeping Giant their chairlift at an affordable price. If an agreement can be finalized, Sleeping Giant will store the lift for a year while it determines if gaining Forest Service approval for installing this feature seems realistic, Piazza said. Sleeping Giant would be able to return the lift if denied a permit. He said this lift would go in above the Big Horn lift, providing extensive new terrain to the eastern portion of the mountain.
“We’re ready to do the work to get those approvals,” Piazza said.
Adding the lift would enable SG to use more of the mountain, including the potential to more than double the vertical height of the ski slopes. Although Sleeping Giant has a permit to use up to around 3,000 acres for its business, it is only using about 150.
“We kind of keep just putting one foot in front of the other and try to make it better,” Piazza said.