When spring finally comes to the Flathead Valley most people are thinking about planting gardens, getting the patio furniture out and putting the screens back in the windows (if you even remembered to take them out last fall). But for Ted Chase, owner of the Summit Mountain Lodge on Marias Pass, spring often means caved in roofs (most years), busted pipes (almost a guarantee) and lots and lots of snow (a total guarantee).
Ted and his wife Mara purchased Summit Mountain Lodge back in 2013 and it has been an adventure ever since. Located at 5,210-feet above sea level on the southern edge of Glacier National Park, Mother Nature is a little less forgiving in these parts — especially in winter. But Ted says the hardships nature throws at him and his wife are all worth it come summer.
The core of the Summit Mountain Lodge is an old train depot, built by the Great Northern Railway around 1906. The structure stood along the tracks until the 1980s when it was moved up the road to its current location, along a small pond. The station was run as a restaurant for a number of years before being abandoned. When Ted and Mara came along, it took them two years of work just to get the restaurant back in operation. Once the restaurant was reopened, they started adding buildings and now brand themselves as one of “Glacier Park’s best-kept secrets.” That’s because while visitation in Glacier Park has continued to skyrocket in recent years, it is still possible to find some peace and quiet around Marias Pass away from the more popular spots like West Glacier, St. Mary and Many Glacier. Today, there are 18 buildings on the property, including nine rental cabins, the restaurant, a wedding pavilion and a newly constructed, 4,000-square-foot lodge, where guests can read, take in the scenery and relax.
The cabins are usually open by mid-May and the restaurant opens by June, but before that Ted and Mara undergo the at-times herculean effort to prepare the property following a long, hard winter. More than 300 inches of snow can fall in these parts every year and because of that, the roofs on all the buildings must be constructed to handle such intense weight. But even with precautions like that, it’s not uncommon for Ted to get up to the property in the spring and find a few cave-ins (when Flathead Living spoke to him in May, he had just discovered that the roof of one of the employees’ dorms had fallen). For him, it’s just a part of life.
“Some people might look at that as a catastrophe, but I see that as just another weekend project,” he said laughing.
Another common problem in the spring is burst pipes. Every fall, Ted will drain the water in all of the piping but every once in a while some water will get left behind, freeze and then break a pipe. Every spring, they’ll turn the water on in the cabins one building at a time and listen for water where it shouldn’t be, cutting the water off before any damage is done. Then he’ll bust open a wall and start repairing the pipe (Ted says he does most of the work himself because having a repair person come from the Flathead Valley more than an hour away would be a costly and timely expense).
Of course, the biggest challenge of all at Summit Mountain Lodge might just be getting the road to it open. The road isn’t long, but it’s almost always under many feet of snow. Ted often has to snowshoe in from U.S. Highway 2 to get to the garage and the tractor with a snow blower on the front. Then he spends a few days (this year it took five) clearing the road and paths around the property. Like everything up there, it took time because of issues with the tractor (after getting it dug out he needed to get a new battery, then a fix to the hydraulics, then the water pump and finally the snowblower shoot itself). Again, Ted did it all himself. “I’m a graduate of YouTube University,” he jokes.
Despite all the challenges that come with it, Ted says he’s never once regretted buying the Summit Mountain Lodge. All of the pain and frustration of the spring is forgotten, he says, when watching the sunrise illuminate the face of Summit Mountain or spotting moose, bears and countless other animals down by the pond.
“It’s a little piece of heaven up here,” he says. “Even with all the challenges, I just feel so blessed to be here.”
For more information, visit SummitMtnLodge.com.