Can a new ultra luxury hotel resort actually resemble the pristine mountainscape that forms its backdrop? Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks, currently under construction, only claims to be “inspired by” the Big Sky setting, which means an abundant use of local stone, timber, and a rustic color palette. But when you look at the renderings for the 150-room hotel and 39 residences, you can’t help but notice the soaring gables that subliminally suggest the actual Spanish Peaks that lord over the Big Sky setting.
The harmony between the Montana mountain setting and Big Sky’s first ultra-luxe hotel, slated to open in the second half of 2021, is hardly an accident. Montage may be best known for its urban resorts in soft settings like Laguna Beach and Beverly Hills, but the hotel group has earned its mountain stripes; to wit, Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. Montage has also operated Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in Big Sky for the past six years.
It helps too that Montage founder, chairman and CEO Alan Fuerstman is a genuine mountain aficionado who regards the development as a passion project. “I love what Big Sky has to offer,” he says. “It’s such a tremendous feeling to be in Montana. Running the Spanish Peaks club got us excited about doing a development where you can ski in and ski out, head right out for a mountain bike ride or hike, and the 18th hole of the Tom Weiskopf golf course finishes right off the lobby. You don’t have to be shuttled to golf or ski, and there are mountain vistas in every direction.”
Fuerstman has been characterized by Forbes as the guy who holds the secret formula for what makes a luxury-lifestyle hotel tick. The formula? “It’s definitely not old-world luxury,” says Fuerstman. “The whole idea behind Montage was to strip out stuffiness. Luxury isn’t pinkies out and high tea. When I refer to ‘ultra-luxury,’ I’m talking about a quality level, a style of service. It’s less scripted and highly personalized. Luxury travelers don’t just want to be pampered, they want to experience what the region has to offer. It’s important that our hotels have a local vibrancy to them. And that each hotel design and aesthetic pays homage to the place.”
Which brings us back to the Montage renderings matching the Big Sky setting. “Our approach is to be local in each environment—never a cookie-cutter approach. In Big Sky, enjoying what nature has provided is a big part of the experience. It’s all inspired by what’s there. The palette of materials is regional wood and stones, all of a local flavor. And the quality of the craftsmanship is incredible.”
All the Trappings
For all its local flavor, Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks will serve up the amenities that anyone would expect of a luxury resort. The 150 guestrooms and suites have sweeping views. The 12,870 square feet of meeting space makes the new resort one of the largest in the Rocky Mountain region for events, meetings, and weddings. There’s the Signature Spa Montage and extensive fitness center. Five different dining venues, including a locally inspired fine dining restaurant, café, bar and lounge, gastro pub, and a poolside bar and outdoor grill. Swimmers will have two pools to choose from: an indoor lap pool, and an outdoor family swimming pool. Family-oriented recreation is a Montage hallmark, and that goes for indoor offerings as well as Big Sky’s big outdoors. Look for a game center and arcade, a recreation room, and an adjacent four-lane bowling alley. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of multigenerational travel,” says Fuerstman, “so programming for all generations is exceedingly important. We’ve got parents, kids, and grandparents, and they’re all active.”
For kids in the 5–12 range, Montage’s Paintbox program is a signature slate of daily activities that may emphasize the outdoors, but provides plenty to do inside as well. One morning might include animal tracking, nature art, and wildlife identification, while the next morning might include a meet-the-chef session and making DIY lip balm. In the winter, kids might go tubing, snowshoeing, or indoor swimming. In summer, that might translate into nature hikes, lawn games, and
outdoor science experiments. Each day has a general theme, which ranges from Mountain Wellness (animal-inspired yoga) to Little Naturalists (pinecone painting, geocaching). It all adds up to guilt-free skiing, golf, and outdoor time for the adults and a genuine good time for the kids.
Suites and Residences
Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks will include more suites in the guestroom mix than a typical Montage hotel, plus a development of 39 ultra-luxe Montage Residences. In part, says Fuerstman, the accommodations are a response to the growing trend of multigenerational family travel. Residences range from two-bedroom homes at approximately 2,300 square feet, to six-bedroom floor plans at just over 8,000 square feet. Owners can live full- or part-time at Big Sky, or place their home in Montage’s optional rental management program. They can also count on a range of services that include in-residence dining, housekeeping, maintenance, security, and concierge services. Pre-arrival provisioning—what you want and need, ready for you when you get there—is a key Montage touch. Residents have access to all of the Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks amenities—fitness center, spa, ski valet, dining—and enjoy privileges for spa services, dining, and retail purchases. They’ll also enjoy Spanish Peaks Mountain Club membership at the Weiskopf golf course and skiing from the clubhouse.
But Is There Anything to Do Here?
Montage CEO Alan Fuerstman doesn’t talk long about the nascent development without circling back to Big Sky’s inspiring mountain setting and its out-the-door recreational opportunities. It’s all in keeping with the Montage philosophy of honoring the location. “We want to impart a sense of discovery,” says Fuerstman. “That means programming that introduces our guests to what makes a place distinctive. In Maui, that may mean surf lessons. In Big Sky, that may mean guided fly fishing.” Of course, direct access to 5,850 acres of skiing on 4,350 vertical feet served by 36 lifts at the second-largest ski resort in the U.S. means there’s a lot of discovering to do in the winter. That includes 85 kilometers of Nordic trails, and snowshoeing as well. Naturally, Montage’s unstuffy approach to luxury intersects with the big-mountain vibe. “We make the whole skiing experience exceptionally comfortable—getting fitted, great equipment—we make it all very pleasant.”
By summer, of course, the hiking is endless, and the 18th hole of Big Sky’s Tom Weiskopf–designed golf course finishes right off the lobby of Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks. Fuerstman speaks in terms of “curating” the activity offerings, and in that regard, Montage looks to the experts—locals. “Local outfitters have done all the homework,” he says. “They know the terrain. The local community is one of Big Sky’s strongest attributes.”
For example, Montage’s mountain biking offering starts with the option of instruction—learning the finer points of balance and weight transfer—as well as guided rides. “You may find yourself starting at one skill level, then advancing,” say Fuerstman, “that goes for hiking and fly fishing, too.” Big Sky famously has five blue-ribbon trout streams in the neighborhood. One of them, the Gallatin, is just a few miles downhill from the resort, and was the prime setting for Robert Redford’s film version of A River Runs Through It. Also nearby are the Madison, Big Hole, Yellowstone, and Missouri Rivers.
Fuerstman also regards the new hotel as an ideal base camp for Yellowstone excursions. “We are, after all, closer to Old Faithful than Jackson Hole is.” Montage will call on its Deer Valley experience in creating a Yellowstone syllabus. “We’ve gotten really good at packaging experiences, in introducing our guests to all that Utah has to offer. We’ll be customizing some of these programs for our proximity to Yellowstone in Montana.”
Montage’s Deer Valley experience has also given Fuerstman’s group plenty of experience with the vagaries of seasonality, both in terms of operation and construction. A short building season comes as no surprise. “But I’m amazed and impressed by how well the construction is going and what a great job our contractor is doing with the elements. We’re in the midst of it now,” said Fuerstman in late November. “But a lot of work can be done in inclement weather. We’ve got committed professionals focused on quality.”
As for who’s who on the project, the principal sponsor of Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks is CrossHarbor Capital Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm. The developer and landowner is Big Sky–based Lone Mountain Land Company, and the contractor is Suffolk Construction out of Boston, with a significant percentage of the work being executed by skilled Montanans. Montage consults on every aspect of the design and construction, and will, of course, manage the hotel and residences. The resort is rising from the heart of the 3,530-acre Spanish Peaks enclave within greater Big Sky. Given the way Montage honors each of its local settings, it’s no surprise that sustainability is woven into the company’s approach to construction and hotel operation. “We view sustainability as part of the fabric of who we are as a company,” says Fuerstman. “That means environmentally preferred purchasing, sourcing product and selecting materials in a sustainable way. We use LEED metrics to guide our decision-making process. We take our responsibility as stewards of these incredible destinations very seriously.”
In Alan Fuerstman, Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks has an executive who not only loves Montana, but is deeply rooted in the hotel business. He started as a part-time doorman at a New Jersey Marriott while in high school, and continued through college. He did stints at a Marriott in Rancho Mirage, California, worked at the Phoenician in Arizona, and opened the Bellagio in Las Vegas for Steve Wynn. Along the way, says Fuerstman, “I saw a niche in the marketplace. I thought there could be a much more gracious and humble approach to luxury. I thought a newer luxury customer wanted greater attention to spirit of place.” Montage International comprises eight properties. Fuerstman has also founded a sister chain of “new luxury” hotels called Pendry Hotels & Resorts, and he foresees a Pendry in Big Sky’s future as well.
Build It and Who Will Come
Fuerstman anticipates that patronage of the new resort will come from a mix of folks—some who know and love Big Sky, and others familiar with the Montage formula, but not necessarily Big Sky. We asked him how each of these potential customers might be surprised by the new Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks. “I think people who know Big Sky, but not Montage, will appreciate how welcoming we will be to the community, how great our place will be for gatherings and entertainment. Our lobby will be filled with hotel guests and community alike.” As for Montage regulars unfamiliar with Big Sky, “There hasn’t been a luxury product in this marketplace, so it will certainly attract visitors to Big Sky who’ve never been. They’ll appreciate the incredible skiing, the tremendous golf course, and our proximity to Yellowstone. They can stay with us and enjoy the park, and all our outdoor programming and experiences. Montage guests will love Big Sky.”