Opening Day at Sperry Chalet

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | July 23, 2020 5:35 AM

Grace and Landon Gardner of Missoula got up bright and early Saturday morning. They wanted to be the first guests at the new Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. So they spent the night with friends in Whitefish and were on the trail at 6 a.m. and made it to the chalet by 10 a.m.

Not bad, considering Grace is 8 months pregnant.

“I got the green light from my doctor,” she said. She said she drank plenty of water.

“It’s very gradual, it’s not, too, too bad,” she said of the hike.

If you haven’t guessed, the Gardners are avid hikers and skiers. Landon spent eight years on the U.S. ski team.

The hike to Sperry is a dog for most — more than 3,300 vertical feet over 6.7 miles. But well worth it for the guests staying at the grand opening on the chalet Saturday night.

The chalet has been closed since the summer of 2017. The main dormitory — where guests stay, was gutted by the Sprague Fire on Aug. 31, 2017. Despite the best efforts of firefighters on the scene, an ember was able to get under the eave as the fire went on a run, stoked by high winds.

They were unable to get it out. All that remained was the stone shell of the building.

Shortly after the fire, the Glacier National Park Conservancy raised about $90,000 in emergency funding to buy materials. Park Service crews then went to work stabilize the structure so it would survive what turned out to be one of the snowiest winters in recent history.

In 2018, Dick Anderson Construction of Helena was awarded the contract for the first phase to rebuild the chalet.

The first phase was $4.08 million, which stabilized the structure. Anderson was then awarded the second phase to do $4.73 million to finish the work. Subcontractor Anderson Masonry of Kalispell did the masonry work, rebuilding and cleaning stones and mortar that were damaged in the fire. Belton Chalets Inc. is the concessionaire that operates the chalet. The Luding-Warrington family has operated Sperry and its sister chalet at Granite Park for the Park Service since 1954.

Michael Warrington is the grandson of Ross and Kay Luding. The Ludings took a chance on operating the chalet after World War II, when there were far fewer visitors to Glacier. Warrington is the onsite manager this summer.

“It’s been three years since food’s been put on these tables for the public,” he said. “We’ve got a great crew and we’re looking forward to a wonderful summer.”

He commended Anderson for the work they did on the chalet over the course of two summers, working seven days a week to get the job done.

Because of coronavirus concerns, the chalet and the dining hall are not open to the general public and guests must wear masks when they’re inside the buildings except for dinner.

The chalet was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913 and opened to guests in 1914. It was made from rocks quarried onsite.

The first evening had 42 guests — most were from Montana. Landon Gardner said getting a reservation, which is done solely online, involved using two laptops with multiple tabs open when the rooms became available last winter.

The chalet booked in just a few minutes.

Friends Linda Anderson, Laurie Schmitt, Linda Goldeski and Millie Nesladek, part of a group of Montana women who hike together called the Glacier Lilies. They too were fortunate enough to get a reservation. Like the Gardners, they said the chalet was fabulous.

“We’ve been looking forward to this since January,” said Goldeski. “We were worried they might not open.”

The were also looking forward to a turkey dinner that night.

“Happy Thanksgiving at Sperry Chalet,” they said in unison.