By Michael Somerby EBS DIGITAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – In 1898, a Montanan named Sam Wilson homesteaded a 160-acre plot along the Gallatin River, a parcel dotted with pine and wildflowers. His father, Clinton Wilson, snatched up an adjacent 160 acres just two years later and the two men combined the plots, forming the “Buffalo Horn Resort.”
The resort remained male-operated for the next three-and-a-half decades, until 1936 when Dr. Caroline McGill, Montana’s first woman doctor and first pathologist, purchased the land.
McGill’s stewardship of the ranch was marked by forward thinking installations, such as bringing electricity to the ranch via a Cadillac engine 10 years before power lines weaved the Gallatin Canyon, and expanding guest and dining services offered to visitors, effectively laying the foundation for the regional tourism and dining staple.
Perhaps the most important piece of McGill’s legacy is setting forth a tradition of female leadership at the ranch, an anomaly for the Western guest ranch industry.
Eighty-two years after McGill’s purchase, the tradition carries on, with Amber Brask assuming the general manager position in October of 2018.
“The ranch has a strong line of female general managers,” Brask said. “… Here I am today with the history of other female ranch managers behind me. I think it’s important for the women of the community, especially the young ladies, to see they have as much potential as anyone.”
Today, from the food and beverage manager to the hotel manager, six out of the eight managers at the ranch are female.
Brask, a Big Sky native, grew up on the ranch grounds working in nearly every corner of the family-operated business. Her father Dave Brask bought the ranch in 1986, adding to a number of enterprises including cattle ranching and waste solution services.
After time spent living and working in Boise, Idaho, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Boise State, Brask returned to Big Sky to take on the general manager role.
“It’s something I always had in the back of my mind—and [320 Guest Ranch] aligned with my nature, my love for the outdoors and wilderness, better than the other family businesses.”
Brask hopes to build out the ranch’s services while also preserving the historically appealing aspects of the establishment.
“I’m hoping to evolve things like communal spaces, which are important for today’s ‘digital nomad’ visitors,” Brask said. “Evolving the steak house menu is also really important, things like sourcing ingredients farmed with sustainable and organic practices.”
She also wants to decrease the amount of outsourcing of activities for guests, bolstering the existing recreational offerings along with adding new ones.
With the Gallatin River cutting right through property limits, building out a world-class fishing experience is at the top of Brask’s list.
“I want to expand the quality and extent of fishing right here at the ranch,” she said. “I want this to be known as a fly-fishing destination.”
With history and family at her back, serving as inspiration, encouragement and a wealth of knowledge to draw upon, Brask is the latest in a line of pioneers relentlessly innovating to heighten the guest experience.