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Having the lot at the edge of the wild

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By Megan Paulson

“Right! Everyone pull together! All at
once……now!” Jenna cheers, as her four
young children struggle with a gigantic
Gordian knot in their backyard. The
Sanfords are trying to construct an element
called a ‘wild woozy’, part of a ropes
course that they’ll install on their Montana
property as soon as spring arrives for
good. There’s also a lesson on Pythagorian
triangles and ancient monuments thrown
in for good measure. Because Jenna homeschools,
she rarely misses an opportunity
to augment the children’s classical studies
with practical applications.
Prioritizing self-discovery and respect for
others is central to this family in sustaining
the delicate balance between work
and leisure, and they actively seek ways
to integrate lessons into a dynamic and
unique environment. Yet, the Sanfords
have a drive for simplicity – a pure, natural
and minimalist approach to life that has
entailed shedding property and possessions
to facilitate meaningful experiences.
They seem one of the least likely candidates
to own a mountain estate.
“We have a sizeable family, and we live
in a vibrant culture that puts an emphasis
on being busy 24/7,” Jenna says. “It’s a
real struggle to resist filling our life with
sports practice, house projects, work emergencies,
and all the other detritus that
prevents us from connecting meaningfully
with family, community and the larger
When they realized they were spending
8-10 hours to get to Tahoe whenever
there was a big dump, or cruising on
iced-over groomers with “half of
Northern California,” they “had
to can weekends altogether
and rely on fantasizing about
vacations and the occasional
Jenna grew up skiing in
Switzerland – Verbier,
Zermatt and St. Moritz – and
has a passion for snow. But
working as a top publishing
executive in England at an
early age, and then founding
several environmental startups,
she lived a fast-paced life. Mark, a
creator of technology companies, is likewise
fueled by a strong drive and passion
for extreme sports, including kite surfing,
mountain biking and heli-boarding.
Mark and Jenna met at graduate school
and would ditch classes to escape to a
400’ ice-covered trash hill to snowboard
together, dodging drunken locals under
the night-lights. Soon they’d explored
almost every resort that allowed
snowboards – Utah and Colorado
for the most part, and then moved
further afield to British Columbia
and Alaska.
we finally found Big Sky,
it combined all the small
town authenticity of
places we loved, such as Telluride and
Breckenridge, with extreme mountain
terrain,” Jenna says. “Big Sky became
the most direct route to the experience
we wanted to have on the snow.”
Beyond the lure of radical lines and
unbeatable powder, it was the addition
of horseback riding, fly-fishing
and the unadorned beauty of the
area that convinced the Sanford family
to spend part of the year in Montana,
and also made them hesitant to
commit to a resort.
“Ski mountains are usually so overcrowded
with condos that the incredible
scenery is obscured, and in the
summer gravelly brown surfaces
scrubbed of trees and devoid of grass
predominate. We wanted a place with
plenty of land where we could mess
around on mountain bikes and horses,
hike out to some undisturbed spot, and
basically build what we liked – ziplines
and treehouses included. Perhaps
a lake, but definitely space and the
feeling that we were part of the wildness
of the place.” Jenna notes. “I like
feeling outnumbered by wildlife, not
people” Mark adds.

After a deal fell through at Ulrey’s
Lakes they looked at Yellowstone
Club, although initially, “We felt as if
we didn’t fit the profile.” It took them
three seasons to find the right property,
but when management opened
up the outer edge of the Club, the
Sanfords found River Run – perhaps
the most unique hybrid ski-mountain,
fishing and equestrian property in
the world. Jenna describes it as “an
anomaly, a strange and wonderful
fortuitous bit of luck.”

Tim Blixseth, the original Founder of
YC, touted the adjacent property in
his high profile PR campaigns as ‘the
billionaire’s spot’. The Sanfords note,
“Properties like this are truly unique,
and almost impossible to duplicate, at
the Club or anywhere else in the world.”
A 7.11-acre slice of wilderness nestled
at Lake Lift on Yellowstone Club’s Pioneer
Mountain, River Run is far from
an ordinary ski property.

“We were sold as soon as we saw the
USGS topographical map,” Mark says.
“A river property at the brink of the
beautiful quarter million acre Lee Metcalf
Wilderness, yet steps from a high
speed quad chairlift? Impossible. We
thought Tim was crazy to offer such a
large site at that location.”

River Run Estate on Pioneer Mountain (photo by Ryan Turner): [dcs_img][/dcs_img]

A fork of the Gallatin River flows
directly on the property and is home to
rare, native Westslope Cutthroat Trout.
According to local fly fishing outfitter,
Bill Lerch, “This section has some
of the best fishing holes of the entire
upper stream.” For the Sanford children,
taking lessons in the elusive art of trout
fishing has been a magical experience.

Mark was careful to protect River
Run’s seclusion and privacy by
obtaining a legal contract preventing
development within a 30-acre boundary
of the property line to ensure a family
compound with permanent mountain
access. This boundary protects the
original Moose Lake – now a lush,
wildlife meadow over two football
fields in size and frequently visited
by moose, elk and deer. In winter, it
makes a great cross-country ski area,
and in summer it’s a peaceful spot to
exercise horses.
In fact, due to its size
and location, River Run is one of the
few properties at Yellowstone Club
approved for equestrian facilities. “It is
quite possibly the only ski-in estate in
the world where horses can be boarded
onsite,” Mark adds.
The most popular hiking, horseback
riding and mountain biking trails meet
River Run’s boundaries, connecting to
both Yellowstone Club’s trail system
and the vast Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
In terms of access, the property’s most
impressive feature remains its location
on Pioneer Mountain, meaning the
Sanfords can walk outside and be first on
the mountain every day.
“There is something so outrageous
about ski patrol letting you slip under
the lines to ski to your home, and realizing
that you’re the last one down the
mountain. It’s like having the ultimate
back stage pass.”
The Sanford’s first priority was to build
a 3,000 square foot native stone and reclaimed
wood log home. “They wanted
to use local materials and make it look
as if the house had been there since the
first settlers,” local builder Tim Harpster
notes. Although River Run has development
approval for up to 20,000 square
feet of habitable space, the family loves
the intimacy of their modest but elegant
home, and has plans to build a barn and
a fire tower overlooking the water to
house guests and extended family.
“They had us with the ski lift, the river
and the wilderness.” Jenna remembers.
Add the nearby 11,166’ Lone Peak and
the incomparable amenities of Yellowstone
Club, and River Run encompasses
all. With the subsequent purchase
by Cross Harbor Capital Partners and
new management by Discovery Land
Company, the Club’s services have been
enhanced consider ably, without affecting the site’s seclusion.
Jenna says the property is so
private, most people at the Club don’t
even know it exists.
“Having such a pure, natural, wilderness
experience, yet being seven
minutes from the lodge where you
have 24-hour access to every creature
comfort is insane, but unbelievably
cool,” Jenna says. “There are no
compromises here.” This splendid
contradiction, River Run – and Yellowstone
Club – became home for
the Sanfords.
Since purchasing River Run, Mark
and Jenna have looked into other
resorts, in New Zealand and Argentina
for example, just for fun. “We
can’t find anything like it,” Jenna
says. “Hearing the avi-bombs go off
above us as we jump off the porch to
catch the first lift, watching Lone Peak
become shrouded with storm clouds
from the spa, seeing our kids grin up
at us with their first trout of the day
and saying ‘hi!’ to the horses as we
carry our yoga mats to the edge of the
meadow, coming back from an indulgent
dinner with friends and listening
to the rush of the stream below as we
fall asleep, while knowing there are
literally miles and miles of seclusion
around us – that’s what we cherish.”

To view the River Run video online,
or for more information on River
Run, visit

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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