Archive for the ‘Buying a resort’ Category

Happy Belated Anniversary to Us

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

On July 20th we celebrated the one year anniversary of buying Bearskin Lodge. We actually did have a little party in honor of the day. Crystal made delicious soup and a cake for the occasion and the entire staff (except poor Kate, stuck at the front desk) set aside their chores for a short while to briefly celebrate. And then, because it was a hectic Saturday with many cabin “turnovers,” the moment was quickly over and everyone returned to the hustle and bustle that pervades Bearskin Lodge on a summer Saturday.  Typical of our first year at Bearskin, we were far too busy to contemplate the amazing fact that we had somehow survived a year.

I began writing Bearskin Blog around this time last September by attempting to answer the questions that everyone consistently, repeatedly asked us at first.  (“The big questions” Now, a year later, the standard questions differ but the consistency with which people ask similar questions remains.  “How is it going?” people ask now.  “Do you like it?  What has been the most difficult?”

The answers to those questions, of course, depend on what disaster befell us just before the question was asked.  But in the big picture, we’d have to answer that it is going very well.  Our summer reservations were way up; we had the best August in the records since 2003. Fall looks very strong.  Given the state of the economy and the high gas prices, we wouldn’t have been surprised at a downturn in bookings.  It certainly could still happen, but the Bearskin experience is so unique that people continue to make the commitment to come here.

Our days of working at the resort are hard, but fun.  We are surrounded by a happy bunch of people, both guests and employees. We are blessed to be living in a beautiful environment.  We miss some aspects of life back in Plymouth, but the trade-off is worthwhile.

What has been the most difficult?  That’s a no-brainer. Losing Dee, the heart, soul and brains of Bearskin.  There were dozens of procedures and policies at Bearskin that only resided in Dee’s head. We make them up again as we go, mostly on a “WWDD?” basis.  From time to time a guest will intone, “Oh no, that’s not how Dee used to do it,” and we’ll realize they know more about it than we do.

And while losing such a valuable staff member was difficult, the gradual process of finding a new group of enthusiastic, energetic Bearskin employees has been a joy.  Dave Tuttle once told us that staffing was the toughest part of running Bearskin; it didn’t take us long to learn how true that was. Running Bearskin last winter with too few people was a grueling experience that none of us want to repeat.  But bit by bit we are putting together a team that could make the next year at Bearskin even more successful.

Andy McDonnell, perhaps best known for his backwards moose escape (, has embraced the challenge of mastering the management of our front desk and reservations.  That we somehow survived the transition from Dee without any booking disasters is a testimony to how hyper-careful Andy became as he grew into his job.

The arrival last March of Crystal “I love to clean” Clemons was a new beginning at Bearskin. Guests have been commenting ever since on the meticulous cleanliness of the Bearskin cabins.  Plus, having an employee who owns a gorilla suit and is not afraid to use it provides us with lots of good stories. She takes great moose pictures, too.  (

And of course, the opportunity to work with our son Quinn is a family-bonding experience many parents would envy.  He’s been very patient with the persistent, annoying presence of his parents in his daily work life. Quinn has mastered many new skills and seems extremely well-suited to this environment. 

Laura, from Florida (sister to former long-time employee Adde), and Megan, from Louisiana, have recently joined our staff. It’s been fun to see them acclimate to our, um, “cold” weather. Pssst, hide all those shockingly cold thermometer pictures people took last winter, OK?  JoAnn, a retired Cook County art teacher, is putting in a few hours at front desk each week; we hope to hire a few more part-time employees for winter. Staffing has gone from being a struggle to one of the more positive aspects of the future at Bearskin.

Looking back on the year, it’s been an extraordinary learning experience.  We survived Bearskin and even better, Bearskin has survived us.  Ask us again next year after our 2nd anniversary. 


Summer goodbyes — so soon!

Sunday, August 17th, 2008



I always meant to write a blog about our remarkable summer staff this year.  Before I ever found the opportunity to write about them, the season zipped by and it’s already time for our summer help to start heading back to college.

We’ve been told repeatedly that we’ll probably never be lucky enough to hire so many multi-talented employees again.  Of course, we’re hoping that we always find such an extraordinary group but we’re well aware that this team was exceptional.  What we will especially remember about this group is how well they got along at work and socially, in spite of their widely divergent opinions and greatly differing personality types.  The “Bearskin Family” for the summer of 2008 lived healthily, cared about their environment, liked to cook and socialize (or eat and socialize—it takes both kinds!), and routinely made the most of the beautiful outdoor world surrounding them.  They didn’t willingly kill chipmunks or dandelions, and they were good humored about co-existing with a little dog named Kisses.

Kari and Kate were the first to leave today; both will be heading back shortly to Columbia University.  Kari presented us with this watercolor tableau, humorously depicting memorable moments from the summer for our staff.  She totally captured the essence of this group.  We’ll look at this for years to come and smile about the memories of the Bearskin staff of summer 2008.

In spite of all our jokes about wanting our staff to quit school and stay to work at Bearskin, in reality we would never encourage our help to leave college.   But we do need to hire replacements, the next “Bearskin Family” for fall and winter – or maybe all the way through summer, 2009.  We know there are many young people out there who could use a break from school or who have finished their studies but want the experience of working in a variety of interesting places.  The hunt is on for a few outdoor-lovers who would benefit from being part of our Bearskin family for fall and winter.  If you know somebody who fits that description, do send them our way. 

The big 3 questions: #2 Did you stay at Bearskin a lot?

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

There is remarkable consistency in the questions curious people ask us about buying Bearskin Lodge. The inevitable 2nd question always seems to be whether we were regular Bearskin guests – did we fall in love with the place and decide to stay?

I always feel a little embarrassed to answer, “No,” because we should have stayed at Bearskin.  Our family was perfectly designed for a Bearskin stay. Our kids loved the northwoods, our family enjoyed being together, and we had grandparents living then who would have valued the time spent with us.  But we were teachers, living for many years on one income while I stayed home with our kids.  Decisions were always made based on economics, on how we could get by on the least amount of money. We did a lifetime of fun family trips, but they were always cheap fun trips.  We didn’t repeat enjoyable experiences often enough for them to develop into traditions and it was a rarity that our extended family was included.

Now when we see the families who are here all together — with Grandma and Grandpa, mom and dad, the aunties and uncles, the cousins, the newborn infants — we can’t help but feel a little envious of the memories they are creating together as a family group.  Bearskin is not the least expensive place for people to spend their family time, but it is exceptionally memorable and special.  It’s readily apparent that most families seem extraordinarily contented and close while they are together here.

So no, we didn’t come to Bearskin with our children.  But we really wish we had.  Watching families together at Bearskin, we can see Bearskin is a worthwhile investment in making family memories, the kind of family investment that we now wish we had made more often.

Little Quinn in ski shelter

Here’s a picture of Quinn when he and Bob almost went to Bearskin.  They skied all day at Bearskin, where Quinn encountered his first moose on the Summer Home Road Trail.  They walked around the Lodge and admired the stone fireplace.  They went out again after dark to ski on the lighted trails at Bearskin, an experience they’ve both talked about often ever since.  And then they left and drove to the cheapest Cook County motel they could find. 

While the “cheap” part of the story is endearing now, both Bob and Quinn look forward to repeating the entire Bearskin experience right this winter—skiing the trails for hours, warming up in the sauna, soaking in the hot tub, sleeping in a cozy Bearskin cabin and then doing it all again the next day.  No, we didn’t stay at Bearskin when our kids were little, but we still plan to make Bearskin memories with them.

The big 3 questions: #1 Did you always dream of buying a resort?

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

When we bought Bearskin Lodge in July, we never expected that total strangers would find the purchase of a resort to be so intriguing.  Living on the Gunflint Trail seems to be a secret wish for many folks, so they are often intensely curious about our purchase. Almost without fail, people have the 3 same questions — two that they ask right away, and one that they hint at but are usually too polite to ask outright. 

Question #1 is usually:  Did you always dream of someday buying a resort? The answer to that question is “no.”  And “yes.”  Or maybe “sort of…” 

Living the dream

The above photo is of Bob crawling out of a malfunctioning Bearskin septic tank last week.  This was not exactly the dream. Thanks, Dave Tuttle, for the borrowed septic ladder.  Who knew there even was such a thing as a special skinny septic system ladder??? 


No, the actual dream probably started back in the 1970’s, one summer evening after backpacking into Paradise Valley in Banff National Park.  We’d pitched our tent, secured our food, and we were sitting together on a log, quietly waiting for grizzly bears to come and eat us.  The view of the mountains was magnificent. After a long while, Bob said, “Don’t you wish we could buy this and just stay here out in the wilderness?”  The Canadian park system is not exactly Highway 61, with its multitude of giant signs proclaiming “SPECTACULAR VIEW FOR SALE! CALL. US.  NOW.”  We weren’t going to purchase Paradise Valley. But the seed of an idea was planted.

Over the next decades, Bob’s occasional hobby became searching for that wilderness paradise.  The form that “paradise” took went through many permutations.  An island near Ely.  Numerous pieces of land on the edge of the BWCAW, invariably only reachable by long, uphill portages.  Countless cabins, often in questionable condition, on almost every conceivable BWCAW area lake.  A few outfitting businesses. A ski shop.  A southern Minnesota bike shop. (Whoops, lost focus for a few weeks!) And every now and then, a resort. We’d mull over each new idea, imagine the lifestyle changes—and then inevitably decide not to uproot our kids from their running camp rituals, drama club activities, ski team friendships or choir & orchestra trips. The potential “paradise” was never perfect, the time was never right.

 The night after the 2007 Birkie, Bob saw an ad for the perfect place of our dreams, an unnamed resort on the Gunflint Trail, at an almost perfect time in our life. It had 77 km of ski trails, a wilderness setting and, of course, it turned out to be Bearskin. Many of our guests do think of Bearskin as their personal wilderness paradise, and we agree. Funny thing, though, the ad didn’t mention that “paradise” would include trips down into a septic tank