WEST GLACIER — When Andrew Still-Baxter first started working at the historic Belton Chalet, he was 16 years old and microwaving nachos in the basement for customers taking advantage of the Belton’s storied hospitality.
Nearly two decades and a few different jobs and life experiences later, Andrew and his wife, Ali Still-Baxter, are taking over as owners at the Belton from Andrew’s parents, Cas Still and Andy Baxter.
“This has been a big part of my life for pretty much all of my life,” Andrew said from the Belton’s cozy offices last week. “It’s always been such an important part of my life and our relationship.”
Andrew’s parents purchased the Belton in 1997, when the chalet sat largely unused (except for intermittent periods) for the previous 40 years and had a major to-do list of maintenance issues.
When it was built 108 years ago, the Belton Chalet was modeled after popular Swiss chalets when the Great Northern Railway needed a place for people to stay while visiting the newly formed Glacier National Park. After World War II, a series of owners tried running the chalet, but it began losing its former glory as deferred maintenance piled up.
The whole site was nearly bulldozed in the 1970s, when the state’s highway department rerouted U.S. Highway 2. However, the Luding family, which owned the chalet and the lodge behind it — completed in 1913 — was able to stop the demolition and put the Belton on the National Register of Historic Places. But the train depot moved across the highway, with the pavement separating the Belton and passengers who showed up by train.
Cas Still and Andy Baxter came from Yellow Bay with experience in restoring historic buildings. Andrew was 10 or 11 when his parents took over at the chalet, and it became a regular part of his life. Each summer was spent working there, even after high school. He started microwaving nachos for guests, but the Belton continued to evolve, and his parents eventually hired a chef to cook fantastic meals for the guests.
Currently, Chef Earl James Reynolds helms the kitchen with a focus on locally sourced and sustainable ingredients.
As a teenager and into adulthood, Andrew washed dishes, worked as a prep cook and waiter, and basically did every job around the chalet. Then 10 years ago, when he met his future wife Ali, she got in on the fun. During their first summer together at the Belton, they lived up the hill in a cabin without a toilet, which Andrew joked was all part of his plan to “woo” her.
The couple has lived all over, from Colorado to England, but the last seven years have been in San Francisco where Andrew worked in communications for a tech company and Ali worked for an e-commerce website.
When Andrew’s parents brought up retirement, the younger couple knew it was their chance to work in West Glacier while also maintaining a family and community tradition.
“It’s one of the few family-run businesses here,” Andrew said.
The couple moved to the Flathead last May and got to take in a summer of activity before making plans to change anything. And those plans, if they exist, aren’t major. The Belton is popular because it hasn’t changed much in the last century — there is no phone service, no TVs in the rooms, and no air conditioning. The Belton’s slogan, “The Way It Was, Still Is,” reinforces this idea.
“It’s really about taking a pulse and seeing how it all works,” Ali said.
“We are for a very specific clientele,” Andrew said. “We’re staying true to who we are and what we’re founded on: a great guest experience.”
So much of their business depends on their location and how the weather is that year, how early Going-to-the-Sun Road opens, and how fiercely the wildfires burn, Andrew said, that they don’t have major plans to expand much out of summer for now, but the shoulder seasons are getting shorter.
This year, July and August are already booked up, with most people making reservations at the Belton at least a year in advance to stay in one of the rooms. The Belton begins 2019 operations on June 1.
“We want to stay true to the community who has been so loyal to us,” Andrew said. “We want to ensure that we support them the way they’ve supported us.”
For more information on the historic Belton Chalet, visit www.beltonchalet.com.