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Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Award + The Bright Side of 2020

On the Bright Side

2021 is looking brighter. The first reason is we’ve just earned our 8th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! We are proud of that achievement in a normal year, but during a pandemic, we are thrilled that our staff’s dedication is being recognized for the incredible that feat it is. We congratulate each property that achieved a Forbes Travel Guide destination, judged on 900 separate standards, even as the rules of travel were being rewritten.

General Manager Jon Martin added, “Early in 2020 we were faced with adjusting to a growing pandemic as we tried to anticipate how it would affect our business. Our focus for the entirety of 2020 was to prioritize the safety of our guests, employees and community, without diminishing our levels of service.  Each and every member of our team made adjustments and added new service experiences whenever we had to remove something in response to the pandemic.”

Stars at The Ranch during the announcement that The Ranch has won the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the 8th consecutive year
The Ranch’s summer starscape from Top of the World peak. Photo by Robert Cole Photography.

“When we could have easily found excuses, our team found solutions. It is an honor to see their hard work and dedication rewarded.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

We closed in March and reopened with strict protocols that have proved extremely effective. As we approach a year since our closure, we are looking back to see what has allowed us to remain successful – an exercise in counting our blessings, because we have so many things we are grateful for despite a tough year. We hope you’ll enjoy a helping of stardust from today’s happy announcement.


5 Silver Linings from 2020

1.Rooting in Nature

From the moment The Ranch at Rock Creek became a guest ranch, almost 11 years ago, owner Jim Manley wanted the experience to be rooted in nature. Guests received a bike upon check in for transportation but they were also encouraged to walk and take in the scenery. At a minimum, they would see more wildlife, but more likely, they would adopt a slower pace of Ranch life. This act of trading horsepower for horses and bikes would give us the break we all need on vacation – trading daily stresses and routine for a deeper connection to the world around us.

a corporate group mountain bikes across The Ranch's trailsCross-country biking on our new trails.

We invested in e-bikes to empower our guests to ride around the property and tackle our new cross-country mountain bike trails, and we encouraged people to spend more of the day outside than they would in the course of their daily life. We developed 12 new activities, including sapphire mining, with gravel from the Sapphire Mountains that abut The Ranch, Ride Along with a Rancher, Respite on Rock Creek, and a five peaks challenge. We found over the course of the year that these were competing with horseback riding, fly fishing and shooting sports for the honor of being some of our guests’ favorite activities.

British TV presenter Simon Reeve recently wrote about travel in a recent piece for The Telegraph “Travel is part of our make-up – we need it in our lives. Montana, in a land of neck-craning views, where vast skies are a stage for troupes of dancing clouds, possibilities for adventure are endless. A higher end option for exploring the landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek offers horse-riding, hiking trails and a chance to test your limits with a survival course in frontier skills.”


2. Lower Capacity, Higher Connection

Upon reopening we lowered our capacity to 60% in the summer and 40% in the winter. Many businesses had to make this change to keep indoor environments safe, even as they knew it would limit the viability of their business. Our dining team pivoted to make experiences customizable to people’s comfort levels – whether they were comfortable dining in our dining rooms or in their accommodation.

Food & Beverage Manager Marilyn D’Angelo said, “As peoples’ comfort levels differed, we needed to engage guests on an individual level. We have always styled cuisine to their needs, but now serving had to be styled and customized. The result is that we got to know them even better. We were socially distant but we gained a better connection to our guests.”

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
A couple enjoys coffee on the porch of one of our creekside glamping cabins.

Fresh pastries from our French-trained pastry chef are the best way to start a morning, which is why they’ve been a staple in the Great Room for years. We pivoted into personal service – delivering coffee & pastry orders to our guests each morning to avoid an influx of people in the Granite Lodge. Feedback showed our guests loved reading the news on their scenic porch with their favorite coffee and decadent pastries before heading to their breakfast reservation. Likewise, we created Happy Hour on the Porch as an option for the summer, where a bartender would bring hors d’oeuvres and make an artisan cocktail on their porch at golden hour.

Watch our Relais & Châteaux Delicious Journeys film about Preserving the Legendary West thorough our cuisine.

These new dining experiences posed challenges, but Executive Chef Drage has always sought ways to meld the Montana farm and ranch landscape that produces the ingredients with the elevated finished product. This year our team achieved that in weekly Cowboy Breakfasts on Piney Pond and with daily experiences on the Aspen Deck or on the Granite Lodge Patio.


3.Off the Beaten Career Path

When you live and work in the middle of nowhere like we do, you learn to approach work ready to lend a helping hand. Our employees are trained in ranch-wide Forbes Travel Guide standards and most of our employees train in multiple departments. That was a key to our success this year. Employees were paid to stay home when they were feeling ill, encouraged to seek testing immediately, and given a safe environment to quarantine–with management ensuring that they have everything they needed to be comfortable. When these precautions took place, our staff stepped up to cover for other departments that needed help.

Masseuse Candace Sellman
Spa Massage Therapist, Supervisor and Employee of the Year Winner Candace Sellman (photo taken in 2018).

This was a silver lining, but it also led to other unforeseen benefits – people in different departments became closer and people felt they were in this together. We even created an Employee of the Year category called “Mountain Mover.” The winner, Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman, helped in housekeeping, food & beverage and transportation – doling out a dose of her positivity to each department she helped.

Manager of the Year Award Winner, Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry noted, “Staff came together more than ever before, but you could also see them developing new skills, venturing into areas they may not have tried if it wasn’t for this pandemic. I saw a number of employees find new career paths where they feel even more fulfilled with the work they do and resolved to stay longer in a place they felt even more at home.”


4.Safety as a Foundation

Other employees stood out in their commitment to making The Ranch a safer place. Our HR Manager Cat Johnson believes that this process began with management’s approach to the pandemic, “We count ourselves very fortunate to have ownership that was inclined to keep and support staff we had hired for the year and those that are with us long-term. Our staff is instrumental in the guest service for which we are known. Being able to avoid mass layoffs was an incredible boon for us. It helped that our staff was on board for our newly implemented protocols.”

“These protocols still allowed them to take pride in what they do, where they are and maintain a genuine desire to provide our guests with an amazing experience.” ~ HR Manager Cat Johnson

Group snowshoeing at The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith leads a staff snowshoeing adventure (taken in 2019).

Safety and preparedness play an important part of life in frontier Montana. Recreating responsibly took on a whole new meaning this year as emergency and hospital services were stretched across the country. Another Employee of the Year, Homestead Hero, Eli Smith, was recognized for making The Ranch safer by being an EMT, but for also watching out for ways employees and guests could be safer.

Activities Director Patrick Little is certified to train EMTs and has done so for years. We often have multiple EMTS on property and our community is also safer because we feed more emergency personnel into Granite County. We’ve made countless upgrades to safety, from our horse mounting deck to cleaning procedures that guests may not notice, but have resulted in a foundation of enhanced service standards.


5.Mindful Management

An elevated appreciation for mental health has been imbued into travel and hospitality – an industry known for long shifts and a work hard, play hard mentality. This year has allowed us to put ever more value into work/life balance. The Ranch paid for employees’ health insurance during closure; we encouraged staff to speak with General Manager Jon Martin with any concerns; and when we reopened, we brought in a local therapist to provide free one-on-one sessions with our staff members. The accessibility of a mental health therapist led employees that might not have sought help to find it, but it also emboldened a spirit of mental health support that helped us all. The Ranch was named a Community Leader in the 2020 Trip Savvy Editor’s Choice Awards for our efforts in supporting employees and the environment in 2020.

Woman reads a book by the banks of Rock Creek in Montana
Respite on Rock Creek

We believed that having a healthy staff would also help keep our guests safe. Meanwhile, we found our guests reducing their mental and physical stresses while at The Ranch, just like we were as we skied, hiked and biked the stress away in our time off. Our Granite Spa opened up with a litany of new safe protocols which have been extremely effective. We noticed a spirit of people wanting to take better care of themselves. More than any other year, we’ve seen our guests rebook spa services during their stay. Our spa team heard so many stories of people appreciating the healing power of touch in a year when it’s so markedly missing. A massage can help sooth muscles, but it also has the ability to fill a basic human need of connection to others.

Our meditation and Art in Nature activities both provided a therapeutic approach for guests. These activities, as well as no touch treatments like wildcrafting, tea blending and Respite on Rock Creek have inspired us to offer our inaugural Roam & Restore Wellness Weekend this spring – using what we’ve learned through the year to help people reconnect and learn skills to better handle the stressors of pandemic life.


As we look forward to 2021, we are emboldened that our efforts have resulted in better experiences for both employees and guests. Thanks to each of our guests for putting your confidence in us and writing to us or reviewing us on TripAdvisor. Your business and feedback has been invaluable.

As Forbes Travel Guide Editor Jennifer Kester wrote today, “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It’s more important than ever before that properties demonstrate the utmost regard for their guests’ wellbeing: 75 percent of a hotel’s rating is based on its service and genuine care and concern shown by the staff, while 25 percent is determined by the quality of its facilities.When you’re ready to travel again—whether it’s to embark on a far-flung escape or a low-key staycation—check into one of the best hotels in the world.”

The pandemic reminded us that we never know what tomorrow will bring, but we know our team has shined light on the path ahead. We look forward to sharing our sky high standards with more of you in the coming years.