Moving Mountains Chalets celebrates 15 years of catering to the needs of affluent clientele
December 1, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Robin and Heather Craigen have moved a lot of mountains on behalf of their guests since they first introduced their concept to the Steamboat market 15 years ago of fully catered vacations.
Today, their company, Moving Mountains Chalets, manages 44 luxury vacation lodgings and has a year-round, full-time staff of 12 and a seasonal staff of 30.
The pair were fresh off another boat when they came to Steamboat Springs from the Caribbean in 1997 to open their first ski chalet. They purchased a six-bedroom, six-bath home tucked away on Burgess Creek Road.
After spending several years as captain and chef on a luxury sailing yacht, the couple had decided to start a family and realized that lifestyle wasn't compatible with raising toddlers.
The Craigens already knew that catered vacations were widespread in Europe. Robin (his family heritage is Irish/Scottish) worked in several catered chalets as a young man and took that concept to sea with Heather aboard a chartered sailing yacht named Endless Summer II. Their new challenge was to translate that experience to a ski resort in the Rocky Mountains.
Their goal was to establish a reputation as hosts who would go to great lengths to please their guests, hence the company name: Moving Mountains.
"Fully catered vacations are really the top echelon of what we offer," Robin Craigen said this week. "But it's quite popular for many of our guests to have one of our chefs prepared one special dinner for them."
For those who want to be pampered with three meals a day, catering can include afternoon tea and scones with cocktails to take the edge off a day on the slopes before appetizers are served.
The homes managed by Moving Mountains are expensive to rent, and that helps them reach a customer base that expects to pay four figures for a night in the level of vacation accommodations they aspire to. There are periods of the ski season when the highest-priced accommodations sell out first.
Craigen said a night in one of Moving Mountains' homes begins at about $1,000 in low season and reaches $3,000 to $3,500 in peak weeks of the ski season. But when you consider that they typically are designed to sleep a dozen people and include complete kitchens, the rates aren't as expensive as they first appear, he said.
However, for the client for whom money is no object, there is a home in Henderson Park that rents for $10,000 a night and comes with minimum stay requirements.
Since the Craigens purchased their first guest home and then built a second home on Burgess Creek Road that was designed to provide all of the qualities their guests wanted most, Moving Mountains has grown to a full-service management company for luxury properties that includes 44 residences, from single-family homes to penthouses.
"We've found a niche with large duplexes," Craigen said. "Those large groups really like the experience of staying in a home."
Even better than side-by-side duplexes are duplex units linked by an interior passageway or door, he said.
"We find large family groups really want that convenience of being able to move from one side to the other without having to go outside. One downside is that sometimes we find all of the dishes in one of the kitchens," Craigen said with a sense of humor.
The concept underlying the high level of service offered at Moving Mountains is to provide guests with hassle-free vacations. They are encouraged to consult with the staff weeks in advance of their arrival, Reservations Manager Elisabeth Mullen said, so that advance arrangements can be made for dinner dates, stocking of refrigerators and liquor cabinets, delivery of rental ski equipment and prepaid lift ticket vouchers, right down to booking their preferred ski instructor.
The staff even has learned from experience to send a floor plan of the home to the guests ahead of time so that all of the adults can sort out in advance who will occupy which bedroom, avoiding any hurt feelings upon arrival.
Mullen said the staff is well-prepared to respond to unexpected requests at the last minute, like a child's birthday party or a Mexican-themed dinner, for example.
Individually owned, custom homes can present unique challenges for a resort property manager, however. Craigen said that when one guest checks out and preparations are under way for the next guests to arrive, the staff's goal is to leave everything in perfect condition. But each home has its own sound system, television and Internet systems, for example. So the staff has to learn the idiosyncrasies of each home.
"We don't want to get a call from a guest at night saying their cable TV isn't working," Craigen said.
That level of detail has earned Moving Mountains a good deal of loyalty.
Mullen said that 17 to 18 percent of their guests annually are returning to Moving Mountains and that the percentage of guests who return the year after their first visit even higher.
Craigen said life was simpler when it was just himself and his wife operating a single home and doing all of the work. But the continued success of Moving Mountains and its ability to expand has been rewarding, too.
"As our business has grown, so has our family of staff and guests," he said. "And with our guests, we share their excitement for Steamboat."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com