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Hospitality still the hallmark at Flathead Lake Lodge

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | August 29, 2020 12:45 AM

This summer, Flathead Lake Lodge celebrates its 75th anniversary. In some ways, you wouldn’t even know it—the management there has worked hard to maintain the same down-to-earth atmosphere, rustic accommodations and family leadership that was first put into place at the guest ranch in 1945.

“I hope it stays the same,” said Chase Averill, who took over from his father, Doug, in 2017.

Chase’s grandfather, Les, originally opened the guest ranch after returning from military service in World War II in 1945. At the time, the former site of the Flathead Recreation Ranch for Boys consisted of just two buildings and 200 acres. The Averills have updated the facilities, expanded the property and added plenty of new activities for guests to enjoy, but the unique attitude at the Bigfork ranch has remained virtually unchanged since 1945.

“The soul of what the place is and the style of hospitality have stayed the same,” said Chase.

The key to the Averills’ approach, Chase explained, is the “genuine, thoughtful” treatment of everyone at the Lodge, from the celebrities, diplomats and business executives who have stayed there to the seasonal employees who join the staff every summer.

“It just comes down to how you treat people,” he insisted. “It’s like how you host people at your house.”

For Chase and his immediate family, that isn’t just a mantra—it’s an authentic way of life. Chase was raised on the ranch while his father ran the resort for nearly 50 years.

He said guests are often caught off-guard by the friendly, personable atmosphere the lodge has maintained for over more than seven decades, but Chase said, “I don’t know any different. I grew up in it.”

He pointed out, too, that keeping the ranch running and true to its roots has been a large-scale group effort. “You don’t survive 75 years without a lot of help,” he said. “The community of Bigfork has been amazing…It definitely takes a village to make it that long.”

The ranch’s 95-person staff has been indispensable to the lodge’s longevity, too, Chase said. Most of the ranch’s core staff members have worked there for many years, and some have been with the resort for even two or three decades. Chase credited the dedicated personnel with preserving not only the space, but also the character at Flathead Lake Lodge throughout its long history in Bigfork.

“That’s also part of what makes the place special. It’s more about sharing the adventures alongside the guests, rather than just taking care of them,” he explained.

AS PART of the celebration of the lodge’s 75th anniversary, the Averills had planned to host a reunion for all of the staff members who have worked there over the years. It would have been a special “trip down memory lane” for the lodge’s current and former workers, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chase realized, “it isn’t the time to do that.”

The reunion is canceled for this summer, but they hope to hold the gathering next summer instead.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately prompted an array of other adjustments to Flathead Lake Lodge’s operations this summer, such as limiting access strictly to lodge guests and spacing out the communal dining hall into smaller individual dining areas.

Still, Chase pointed out the lodge’s remote location and one-of-a-kind setup has helped things go relatively smoothly this summer. Flathead Lake Lodge only offers one-week stays that start and end on Sundays, so guests don’t have to worry about new people coming and going to the property every day. “It’s similar to the NBA. We’re running the lodge like a bubble,” Chase reported.

“It’s been a pretty successful, normal summer,” he added.

They’re still planning on carrying out their other big 75th anniversary celebration, a weeklong camp for critically ill children known as “A Week of Hope.” Next week, they will welcome families of children with life-threatening conditions to the lodge for a fun and relaxing vacation.

“Kids are really the ones that love the place and have the growth experiences,” Chase noted. Flathead Lake Lodge is working with Montana Children’s Hospital in Kalispell and an organization known as Hope Kids to coordinate the special guests for the event.

A Week of Hope was originally scheduled for spring 2020 and had to be rescheduled for late summer. A few of the children have already come for their stay since their conditions wouldn’t allow them to travel or reschedule their trips. But most everyone involved in the unique experience seems to be looking forward to next week’s festivities. “Everyone feels good about it,” Chase said.

After the campers head out, the Lodge will undergo a major renovation of the kitchen area to add outdoor cooking and pizza ovens. “It will be a fun, crazy project over the winter,” Chase predicted.

He expects the kitchen renovation to be completed by the next summer season. Mountain bike trails are also currently being added on the property, and Chase has a few more ideas for future additions to the accommodations and activities at the ranch. He’s committed to keeping the Lodge fresh and exciting, while also maintaining the family traditions that have been alive and well at Flathead Lake Lodge for the past 75 years.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.