Bringing balance to Lone Mountain Ranch

By Maria Wyllie EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Paul Robertson has worked on eight different guest ranches since the age of 16, when he experienced the West for the first time working as a groundskeeper at the HF Bar Ranch in Saddlestring, Wyo.

After several moves between Montana and Wyoming, and a short stop in Florida, Robertson planted roots in Big Sky.

“For me, at this time in my life, I feel like it’s the perfect fit,” said Robertson, now 44.

The New Jersey native joined the Lone Mountain Ranch team as general manager in March of 2014, bringing a fresh perspective on how to build a stronger, more sustainable business while still preserving the century-old ranch’s historic character. But having managed so many guest ranches, Robertson wasn’t completely sold on the business model.

“They’re fairly volatile,” he said. “They change ownership, and Lone Mountain Ranch has the same story.”

LMR experienced a period of uncertainty for about five years before Makar Properties, a California-based hospitality company, purchased it in the fall of 2013.

Makar’s owners were drawn to LMR’s authentic character and multi-seasonal nature, an unusual characteristic for a guest ranch. Its location in the heart of Big Sky added to its appeal.

At the time, Robertson was running a hotel in River Ranch, Fla., to gain hotel managment experience in hopes of learning new, successful tactics he could bring back West.

Sharing a similar goal, Makar Properties brought Robertson on as LMR’s general manager.

“It’s really a combination of putting in some hotel management practices into the structure of our business model, while at the same time maintaining an authentic guest ranch experience,” Robertson said.

While LMR offers the traditional, all-inclusive stays one might expect at guest ranches, it also welcomes the public to join the LMR family, whether enjoying the ranch trails, stopping by for lunch, or seeing music with friends in the ranch saloon.

“We would like the local community to know that we are open to them as much as our guests,” Robertson said.

Through responsible fiscal management, a quality experience and high staff morale, Robertson aims to achieve sustainability and reestablish LMR as a tried-and-true destination – the way it’s always been known.

That needed balance is evident in Robertson’s own personality and lifestyle.

Standing at 6 feet tall, the proud father of two has a commanding yet welcoming presence. Clad in the standard Western fashion, Robertson can typically be seen wearing a plaid button-down shirt and jeans fastened with a large LMR belt buckle.

A genuine enthusiasm for the outdoors and western lifestyle comes through as he recalls his time spent at the HF Bar one summer as a teenager and for another 10 years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An avid fly fisherman, Robertson built an Orvis-endorsed business in his 20s called Rock Creek Anglers, which catered exclusively to HF Bar guests.

During that time, he was also substitute teaching at the nearby Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Wyo., and acting as the school’s assistant soccer coach. There, he met freshman student Hank Welles who would come to work for him as a fly-fishing guide off and on for 10 years.

“If you’ve done good by him, then he’s going to do good by you and help you get in a position to do better,” said Welles, who now lives in Bozeman and works as the general manager at Montana Angler. “He has a good heart.”

Although Welles worked under Robertson, he called him a friend, too. “Employee morale was always really high with him,” Welles said. “When it was work, it was work, but at the end of the day he was a good guy to hang out and BS with.”

In Robertson’s free time, you might find him angling on Montana’s creeks and rivers. In the winter, he straps into his snowboard, exploring the steeps of Lone Mountain. But as a self-proclaimed family man, he says his favorite part about living in the West is raising his two daughters – aged 9 and 13 – in the outdoors with his wife Susannah.

Robertson says life as a guest ranch general manager doesn’t always lend itself to normalcy, but LMR’s multi-seasonal nature makes for a more conventional professional environment. He adds that the Ophir School played a big role in their decision to call Big Sky home.

“LMR and Ophir Schools offer the best combination of a professional work experience and an unbelievable education for my kids,” Robertson said. “When I look at why I’ve moved around, I’ve either had a great job in a community with [poor] schools, or a community with great schools and not a good job. I wanted to put those two things together.”

In Big Sky, he seems to have finally found that.