Many Glacier’s Winter Keepers Broadcast Remoteness to Outside World

At Many Glacier Hotel, one local couple tends to Glacier National Park's century-old 'Gem of the West'

By Tristan Scott
The historic Many Glacier Hotel set against a bluebird sky in Glacier National Park. Courtesy photo

The Many Glacier Hotel receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer, but for one couple its remote winter on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park offers a cloistered relief from that frenetic pace.

And for visitors interested in a glimpse of the century-old Swiss-alpine style hotel’s winter torpor, David and Rebecca Wilson, the Gem of the West’s winter keepers, have been chronicling their adventures through their blog at mghwinterkeeper.com.

Although the Many Glacier Hotel blog doesn’t receive the same amount of visitors as the hotel during the busy summer months – the Wilsons see more four-legged guests than humans – their website has been enjoying plenty of traffic.

“We started the blog mainly to keep in touch with family and friends but people really caught on,” David Wilson said. “I guess everybody is interested in what it’s like up here in the winter because not many people see it this time of year. We mostly just post mundane daily life things, but there’s something special about being up here that draws people in.”

They’ve been maintaining the blog since they took up residence in a cabin near the hotel in October, posting photographs and journal entries about the weather, the wilderness and the critters they encounter.

In October, David had to haze away a sex-crazed ram glaring at the dining room window, knowing that one season a ram shattered three windows in the hotel’s breezeway.

“They see their reflection in the glass and bam,” he wrote on the blog.

Workaday chores include snow shoveling, walking the property to check for damage, removing snow-blasts from windows and doorways inside of the hotel, and reassembling the plumbing, which he drained at summer’s end to prevent the pipes from freezing in the unheated building.

The black bear hibernating beneath the employee dormitory doesn’t disturb them, but the colossal snowdrifts that block the entryway to their chalet can be nettlesome. So can the drifts that occasionally accumulate inside the hotel.

“It’s pretty annoying after a winter night’s storm and a door has blown open and there is snow in the room,” he said. “Sometimes my entire work day is shoveling snow.”

On Dec. 29, temperatures fell below zero and when David picked up his 38-inch pipe wrenches, they were too cold to handle.

“I picked up my pipe wrenches today and almost immediately couldn’t stand to hold them, so I had to set them in front of a heater to warm them up,” he posted. “There’s no other place on Earth I would rather be right now!”

When they venture outside, David and Rebecca wear an armor of snow gear, including goggles and avalanche beacons. An avalanche chute above the road between Many Glacier Hotel and Swiftcurrent Motor Inn has delivered several slides, and relentless winds have caused the four-story hotel to lean toward Swiftcurrent Lake.

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David and Rebecca Wilson, the Many Glacier Hotel’s winter keepers, have been blogging about their season of solitude at mghwinterkeepers.com. Courtesy Photo.

 

Snow falls from the eaves of the pitched roof in dense slabs, crashing to the ground like thunderbolts of lightning.

Their wildlife encounters have involved moose, bighorn sheep, a wolf, and scores of mountain lion tracks, which one morning led to the carcass of a ram.

It’s easy to draw parallels to Stephen King’s classic horror novel “The Shining,” which Stanley Kubrick adapted into a film of the same title. Kubrick even filmed a portion of the movie on Glacier Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, and on Halloween David paid homage to a famous scene, repeatedly posting “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

But the couple is enjoying the solace, and David said the days are peaceful and active, filled with sledding and snowshoeing.

“Actually, the winter is going by too fast. We wish we had another six months of this,” said David Wilson.

They’ll hold the winter-keeper post until April, when David transitions back to his summer gig as a maintenance worker at the hotel. Because he knows what jobs must be finished before the hotel opens for the summer, the winter-keeper position has allowed him to prepare for the spring and get ahead.

“We love the valley anyway and I could live here year round,” he said. “But the winter is a nice opportunity to catch up on maintenance so in the spring it’s not such a push.”

As a maintenance worker for three years, David learned the inner-workings of the hotel from a crew who had been there for decades, inheriting an institutional knowledge born of an immersive relationship with the building and its surroundings that dates back to its construction in 1914.

“It’s like a tradition being passed along,” he said. “When you’re up here, you kind of take ownership of the place.”

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