He’s a Sugarloafer since 1985. Sam Byrne started working in the
group tour office at The Loaf in 1986. “I was the Julie McCoy of the
mountain,” said Sam Byrne of Manchester, MA. “I met my wife at the
Widowmaker on my 21st birthday. I am a Sugarloafer.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Byrne on a recent visit to Montana at an exclusive club located in Big Sky, near the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Even though his kids are in Sugarloaf’s CVA competition program, his family tags between Massachusetts, Montana and Maine. “We came out to Yellowstone Club in 2005 with a Sunday River family. I was uninterested in the concept of a private club,” said Byrne. “But then I was astounded by the ski experience. By the third run we were keen to be members and that started the path.”
Yellowstone Club is a one of a kind private gated community with a golf course and an exclusive 2,200-acre ski area served by 15 lifts plus cat skiing. Gorgeous groomed runs, plus steep chutes and powder bowls off panoramic 9,860-foot Pioneer Mountain keep the 350 +/- member families amused with abundant first tracks. A beautiful log lodge, The Timberline Cafe, sits near the summit serving hot cocoa by a fire or a catered chef’s lunch in elegant elk skin chairs under antler chandeliers, slippers are provided as respite from your ski boots if you so desire.
Byrne, with his company CrossHarbor Capital based in Boston, and a group of members bought Yellowstone Club in July of 2009 from the original owners, The Blixseths. Tim & Edra Blixseth had opened the elite 13,400 acre Club in 2000. The Blixseths had retained all equity, and proceeded to run up excessive debt (buying jets and a Chateau in France for example), then went into bankruptcy coinciding with their billion-dollar divorce. The Club was a hotly debated asset.
Upon purchasing Yellowstone Club, Byrne brought in a partner, Discovery Land Company - a private club developer/operator with properties in Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mexico, California, and other locations. “It was critical to the region and the membership that the Yellowstone Club survived,” said Byrne. “The most successful people in the country were involved in saving this club.” CrossHarbor Capital also purchased another private ski lodging community next door, Spanish Peaks, wit Big Sky Resort -and in 2013 acquired Moonlight Basin Resort with Boyne for Big Sky to manage. So Byrne has big pockets and buys ski resort holdings at the right time.
I won’t list the roster of Yellowstone Club members since former secret service secure the private compound. Suffice it say they are movers and shakers with millions, who on weekends and holidays want to relax and recreate with their families. Warren Miller has a home here, serves as the honorary director of skiing, and has a gorgeous Lodge named after him that provides the membership with gracious common areas.
One of the first changes Byrne made was to provide members with equity, the next was to improve services to families and tone down the previous snob factor. The stuffy Champagne and Vodka Caviar Bar in the Warren Miller Lodge was transformed into a breakfast snack bar which now gets far more use, according to Hank Kashiwa, former Olympic skier and CBS commentator now involved in the Club’s public relations and media presence. A super cool kids club “20 Below” features an indoor basketball court, climbing wall, a 50’s style diner, and a movie theater in a space previously slated to be a formal ballroom.
All day kids programs with ski instruction and evening activities are again flourishing. Cozy log cabins are scattered about Yellowstone’s ski slopes as refreshments huts, code named “cavity cabins,” where members can stop for cocoa, chili, candy or fresh baked cookies, all included in member dues.
The Yellowstone Club is back in the black, and membership is up. Only one member left in the transition. “A lot of people that were waiting in the wings are now investing. I have earned the trust of the membership,” said Byrne. “Now we are scrambling to keep up with the demand.”
Hank Kashiwa said, “I call it Yellowstone Club 2.0, a new era. It’s all about what’s best for the members now, which is a complete paradigm shift from the egos that were involved before.”
“The Club is not about me, now it’s a member owned club with member equity, that concept had gotten lost in the past,” said Byrne “Yellowstone Club is not just another real estate development. It’s a place where families are extraordinarily accommodated, and our owners are passionately involved.”
Byrne speaks of Sugarloaf with similar enthusiasm. “Sugarloaf has a passionate base of owners,” said Byrne. “The fact that the community is looking to fund a Gondola at Sugarloaf is an example of that.”
All Stories by Heather Burke
All Photography by Greg Burke.
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