By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The 320 Guest Ranch is more than 120 years old and has shaped much of General Manager Amber Brask’s life. For two years she has held the position of general manager at the ranch, but her history with the cabins, banquet hall and horses on the property runs much deeper—she was raised on the property after her father, Dave, bought it more than three decades ago in 1986.
“I just love the history here and I’m really interested in homesteading and just providing for myself off of the land,” she said. “… I guess, just that whole lifestyle of living in the woods, being a part of this little ranch family and all that is just very appealing to me.”
Brask, who attended Montana State University before finishing her BFA in Ceramics at Boise State University, recalls working at the ranch since she was 16 years old. She said she accepted her new role as general manager because she wants to further her family’s legacy with the 320 Guest Ranch.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she recalled the unique family atmosphere that the ranch staff shares even when operations are at their busiest. She discusses how those strong bonds have even helped the ranch persevere throughout the course of the pandemic. The pandemic has presented a challenge to her and her staff, but they witnessed traveler visitation remain consistent this season because of domestic travelers.
Brask recently spoke with EBS over the phone to discuss how she and her staff have approached business since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring.
EBS: In the past nine months, what has been 320 Guest Ranch’s greatest success from a business perspective?
Amber Brask: “I believe that it’s really investing in our employees and giving them … that really great work-life balance where people want to stay and continue to be part of this great work and living ranch family. And we have a really amazing staff right now and I think that is honestly one of the greatest achievements in the last nine months.”
EBS: On the flip side of the coin, what has been the Ranch’s greatest challenge in the last nine months?
A.B.: “The greatest challenge is just navigating the unpredictability of this pandemic and just to be prepared for every scenario where, if one employee gets COVID-19 or is contact traced, then that’s potentially every single person on the ranch having to quarantine and shutting down for two weeks. So, just creating all these new standard operating procedures and preparing for the worst.”
EBS: Have you noticed an increased interest in some of your offerings as opposed to years past, due to COVID-19?
A.B.: “… I wouldn’t say we had like an increase in anything, but all of our groups that we’re booking us 100 percent in the summer, completely canceled on us and I was preparing for the worst year ever. But all these family travelers that just wanted to get out, ended up coming and reserving the same amenities that we always offer so it wasn’t really an increase, it was just a different type of traveler that we saw.”
EBS: Which of the Ranch’s business offerings are typically most successful during shoulder seasons and why?
A.B.: “We’re honestly pretty shut down, but if I had to say one is our hotel rooms that we offer. So we still have a handful of people coming for that, but most of our other amenities are not provided in the shoulder seasons, so the rooms, definitely.”
EBS: With the holiday season fast approaching, will the Ranch offer any new services this year?
A.B.: “Not new to what we’ve been doing, but with the new health mandate, you know, the restaurant occupancy going down to 50 percent and only six people at a table. We, fortunately, are set up here where we have a banquet hall right next to the restaurant, which we’re now in the process of renovating and we’re going to get a decorator in there to make it this really beautiful experience, so that we can expand our dining [and] offer that to people in Big Sky.”
EBS: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
A.B.: “I’m just trying to think back on things that my dad tells me and one thing that always sticks with me is follow winners. So, who you surround yourself with is who you become in a sense and you learn from these people, and teach them, but always just keep following winners and you’re going to be successful yourself.”