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Sun Mountain Lodge

The doors of Sun Mountain Lodge will reopen at noon on Tuesday, April 16, after a five-week shoulder season closure that’s resulted in clean carpets and some new toilets, among other upkeep chores. But what’s really changed will be less visible at first glance—a concerted effort to reinvent “the icon on the hill,” as Director of Marketing Karla Segale calls it.

photoThe exterior posts were sanded and resealed during the recent Sun Mountain Lodge closure, along with other small improvements and upkeep.

Segale, who was hired last fall, told Grist, “What I saw is that we needed to stop being isolated on the hill … I think we were sticking to our own knitting… Now we’re coming back home.”

Sun Mountain has a new website, for example, and has restructured its marketing to target a younger, more active 35-54 age demographic; it used to be 50 plus. And it is reaching out to women because research shows they’re making a significant number of hotel booking decisions, Segale said. The budget for television advertising is essentially gone. But the lodge is very much online and into social media with an e-newsletter and a presence on facebook, twitter and You Tube.

And as part of reconnecting with its most local community—valley residents—Segale said there will be four “locals’ specials” this year with rooms starting at about $89. However, since the goal is to fill rooms, those who live elsewhere in the state and have been lodge guests in the past, also might receive email notice of the deals.

In addition, the menu in the Wolf Creek Bar and Grill, the more affordable dining option at the lodge, has been expanded and may get a bit more tweaking, Segale said, with the hope that locals will see it as a place to eat and hang out. The lodge also has a four-star dining room.

Sun Mountain Lodge is the largest private employer in Okanogan County, according to General Manager Brian Charlton, who was hired for what he thought would be a two-year stint overseeing the refurbishing of the main lodge. That was 25 years ago. At the peak of the summer season, the payroll reaches a staff of 250, he said. It drops to 125-150 at slower times. But since the recession hit, early spring and late fall closures have dropped the numbers further.

Segale said the shoulder-season closures have made sense because “They save a lot of money.” She explained that when the recession hit, the government-group business that kept the lodge open in November and April disappeared. “Government has gone away completely and corporate cut way back,” she added.

photoThis group of Sun Mountain Lodge managers includes, front row, left to right, Karla Segale, director of marketing, and Brian Charlton, general manager, and back row, left to right, J. Russell Bradshaw, executive chef, and Geoff Childs, sales manager.

“We lost overnight all our per-diem government groups,” said Sales Manager Geoff Childs, whose job it is to book groups and weddings. “It’s not an experience we’d like to repeat anytime soon but a lot of good things have come of it,” he said, referring to the new marketing strategy and a retooling of jobs in top management. Childs added that this year’s May-September weekend dates for weddings are sold out and corporate business “is slowly coming back.”

The lodge has 112 guest rooms, which Segale called too few for really big groups, which tend to go to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, or Suncadia outside Cle Elum. “Sun Mountain Lodge will never be a cash cow,” she added, saying her goal is to help the business “break even and show a little profit.”

She called the lodge a “labor of love” for its owners, Erivan and Helga Haub, the West German couple who love the rural West and who bought the lodge from the Jack Barron estate in 1989. “They have an emotional connection to this place. They are competitive but emotionally attached,” she said.

“Both of them really love the Methow Valley,” Charlton said. “They come here once a year and stay in the lodge. They know more than half the employees by name.”

He said the Haubs are “dedicated to rural America and keeping it rural.” They own a ranch in Wyoming, the former Wagner ranch up the East Chewuch, and lease part of the 3,000-acre Sun Mountain Lodge and its surroundingsto the Hover family to grow alfalfa and raise livestock.

Charlton said the Haubs never seek publicity. They live by Erivan’s mother’s rule, he said: “Do good and shut up.” They vacationed in the Methow Valley for years before investing here. “They loved Jack Wilson (the legendary late outfitter who lived near Mazama).”


The Haubs have been major supporters of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma and the revitalization of downtown Tacoma, Charlton said. They also own two other resorts—one in Germany and another in the Virgin Islands.

Charlton laughingly said he thinks the Haub’s original idea for Sun Mountain was to spend about $750,000 building “a really fantastic dining room with rooms attached to it.” Instead it became about a $50 million project – a resort with a main lodge and two additional buildings that showcase the work of local builders and craftspeople. The rooms are furnished with locally built furniture. The stone and iron work seen throughout the lodge was done by local artists.

Segale added that the Haubs “have been steadfast in providing jobs for local people.” And, she said, “They are very intent on maintaining the four diamond quality in the dining room.”

That assignment falls to Executive Chef J. Russell Bradshaw, who has been at the lodge since 2008. A graduate of the American Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Bradshaw has experience at restaurants across the country.

Bradshaw said he is committed to supporting a farm-to-table program. “As a chef I always wanted to work someplace that was committed to this,” he said. Thus he procures as many ingredients locally as possible. “Local becomes closer in the summer and farther in the winter,” he said of the supply.

He also runs an American Culinary Federation three-year apprentice program, the only one in the state, which trains two people at a time to become either a Certified Culinarian or a Certified Sous Chef. (Application information is on the lodge website.)

Part of the recession fallout was to do some restructuring in Sun Mountain management. Segale’s job is a new position. Rob Thorlakson is returning from a break as revenue manager, also a new position.

And as part of the “reconnect” with the valley effort, the lodge managers have embraced “collaborative marketing,” which means joining forces to promote the tourist economy of the whole area, not just their own business.

Childs is on the board of the Okanogan County Tourism Council, which he said has a two-step approach. The first is to “stop apologizing for tourism as an industry… It’s not changing the way we live; it’s enabling the way we live,” he said.

The second step is to grow the tourism economy “so we all benefit from it.” He added that Sun Mountain has “a unique product to sell… We want (tourists) to stay here and eat here.”

Thorlakson is involved with Methow Valley arts. And Bradshaw participates in the Bite of the Methow and Taste of Two Valleys in addition to supporting local farmers.

Other community ties for lodge managers include Segale’s membership in the Cascade Loop Association, the Tourism Advisory Board and a board position with the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, which is encouraging its members to work together to promote the region. Segale summed it up this way: “I think the tourism movement going on in the Methow Valley right now is exciting.”


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