By Jason Bacaj MANAGING EDITOR
Montage Big Sky is the newest hotel in town and celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. To mark the occasion, Explore Big Sky sat down for an interview with Victorio Gonzalez, the hotel’s general manager, to learn more about what the Montage is all about and his vision for how the area’s newest luxury hotel fits in with the local community.
Explore Big Sky: How did you end up in the hospitality industry and with Montage?
Victorio Gonzalez: Certainly. So, you know, I was blessed to be a consumer of luxury hospitality all my life. As a guest growing up, my father, growing up in Mexico, Mexico City to be exact was in—funny enough—development and construction and did a lot of work for the government and private industry, everything from commercial development to residential development to infrastructure work.
And because of the nature of his work, he was always entertaining people in golf courses or restaurants, or we traveled quite a bit around the world.
So for me, hospitality was a very endearing part of my life. I studied economics and started to study law, before realizing that that wasn’t where my passion lies. And at the time, I was working, we had emigrated to the United States in 1985. And learned that I fell in love with hospitality, I was working at a hotel and fell in love with it. I talked to the general manager about what his life was like, and what his profession was like; I’ve never thought of it as a full-fledged profession, and loved what he said. So, I completely turned my emphasis from working in a restaurant to learning to manage one, to then learning to manage hotels, and here we are. It’s developed over the last the 35 years.
Alan Fuerstman—the Montage founder, CEO and chairman— invited me to work with him in the mid-90s when he was general manager of a hotel called the Venetian in Scottsdale, Arizona because the restaurants that I ran were some of the best in the country. And he wanted to have the best in the country. Then when he went to the Bellagio in Las Vegas, I went with him and ran a high-profile restaurant and opened another one. And then in 2001, I left Las Vegas and started my own restaurant consulting and operations company. But a year and a half later, Alan called me and told me he wanted me to come back and work for him.
My first project was Montage in Laguna Beach. I joined the company from the very beginning, and opened every one of our hotels, almost each one—missed a couple, depending on the timing, here and there. But I’ve had the pleasure of participating in one shape or another and in the growth of our company, both on the Pendry Hotels & Resorts and the Montage side.
Now I have the great opportunity to be here in beautiful Big Sky. December 15 will be our first year anniversary.
EBS: Have you been able to get out and experience the Big Sky area in the time you’ve had here?
VG: I came to Big Sky in May and my first focus was to make sure that this brand new hotel of ours was operationally ready. We had a lot of slower time so we could close and address some of the things that need to be done including landscaping and finishing some construction work. We got it ready. We had a fabulous summer, all the way through about the middle of October. So, a great summer and fall.
Now we’re preparing for a beautiful winter season, which in some ways will be our first full operating season. We have a team that is prepared to serve as our guests at the level that Montage is known for.
My secondary focus has been to spread the word. And we’ve done a lot of traveling, talking about Big Sky as an extraordinary location. It’s been kept nicely secret for a long time. We are now here to spread the word that for the first time people can come in and enjoy the type of luxury experienced at the private clubs in a public environment.
We have a place for people to come in and grab a cup of coffee, or come and stay for the night without necessarily owning real estate on the mountain. We’re honored to be here. And, we’re ready to tell everyone that we’re here, and that they’re welcome and that they should come.
Now, I will say I’ve had the opportunity to go on a couple occasions to Yellowstone National Park, which has been life-transforming. It’s humbling. And I had the opportunity to do some river rafting this summer before the floods, it was amazing. I’ve done horseback riding.
It reminds me very quickly, when you look at beautiful skies and beautiful mountains and the pine forest and the wildlife, it reminds you that this is not manmade, this is not manufactured. We still very much feel a part of something natural, beautiful. And I think that’s what people love about living here.
We operate in places only that have those kinds of elements to them. And we want to be a good neighbor and a good member of those communities. That’s very important to us.
EBS: What sort of resource do you see Montage providing for locals beyond the experiences like Cortina, Backcast and bowling?
VG: We have the facilities to accommodate a number of different activations. We’re bringing additional restaurants, bars, a spa and meeting space for conventions, events, social gatherings, to the community. They’re all public, they’re all available for all of us.
And we hope that in time everyone comes in and visits. We intend to be open year-round, we want to make sure that one of our contributions to the community will be bringing in additional business to the community, so that businesses, if they wish, can remain open because there are enough people coming in to satisfy the economic reality of being operational.
The message from the mountain clubs for a long time has been don’t come here. It’s private. And we’ve changed that. The owners of the hotel have realized that it’s important to bring in a different experience to the neighborhoods that we serve.
How nice is it that we now have 100 new rooms that are five minutes away where friends can come and stay and have as good or better experience than staying in your house. Businesses, people come in for different reasons. Maybe to experience the opportunity to live in a beautiful location. I think it just opens this beautiful space that was not open to everyone. Now it is, and it is open year-round.
Montage is open to the public. We need and want the public to come here, please. Because the only way we’re going to be able to be here is if we become a center of activity and community for all of our communities, not just one of the clubs or two of the clubs. Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s needed. And that synergy creates wonderful new opportunities. It’s bringing human beings together to celebrate life and connect in ways that can be lasting and memorable. Those are the kinds of connections we thrive on.
Those are the moments that I have the best job in the world. I get paid to make people happy to welcome them in, fall in love, do business, celebrate things. Luxury hospitality fits perfectly on this mountain, at this time, in this community, and we just want to make it available to everybody. That’s the goal. It’s vitally important that we say to the world, please come. We’re ready.
EBS: How does your team help Montage guests experience Big Sky as a whole?
VG: Our guests come in a few different ways. We have loyalists that love our brands, and come to all of our hotels. and they’re excited when a new one opens because it’s almost a badge of honor to go to the one they haven’t been to.
When there is a Montage, they know that there’s a level of quality, and a level of experience. They come to us. The typical hotel visit to us will last anywhere between four to five nights. They’re going to want to explore the town, buy a memento of where they are. They want to go to the local restaurants, the bars, they want to engage and be a part of the local activities. Because immersive travel is a lot of why they’re here. We encourage our guests to go out there.
Part of our work is to become great partners with the local community and make sure that everybody in Town Center—every guide every, every every vendor, every service provider, every real estate developer—that they benefit from our guests being here. Our philosophy is that of abundance and collaboration. As a community, we can absolutely create a memorable experience that’s better than some of the best experiences that can have in Europe, North America, South America all over the world.
EBS: Could you just kind of describe what someone might expect to experience during après at Backcast?
VG: We have a little tubing hill. We have a small skating rink that by no means is a match to what’s in Town Center—that’s the real thing. But our rink anchors the après experience along with Backcast, our poolside bar and grill. We are debuting it for ski season; it’s the perfect location, right on Ski Beach off the lift. You can come in, have a great glass of champagne and have a bite, just relax your muscles.
We’re doing a great collaboration with La Grande Dame, we are going to be the only featured activation they have in North America. The space is meant to be a comfortable lounge for you to come in and enjoy a beverage and meal, warm up a little bit. That’ll be open seven days a week. In the summer, that will be the anchor restaurant for our pool experience.
EBS: What are you grateful for?
VG: I really don’t mean to be cliche, but, of course, life, health, being here as a representative of our hotel, fully open part of a magnificent community. A beautiful snow season, the best that we’ve had in in years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell the world that Montage is here, and ready with open arms to welcome all of our communities, everyone, for whatever reason. Just come in and have some s’mores and tour around the hotel, go bowling, play golf on our simulators; it can be minus 10 degrees, and you can come down and practice your swing.
I’m just thankful for the abundance and the opportunity, we have to create a beautiful relationship with the local community with this beautiful space that we are pushing to operate. And it’s an honor, it’s a pleasure.