On the Job – Working for a Guest Ranch

Jennifer Dunn has an undergraduate degree from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She spent one summer while she was in college working at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana. She discusses her experiences below.

The Mountain Sky Guest Ranch is well known in the Montana area where I’m from, and I had unsuccessfully applied to work there two times before.

The ranch used to hire its workers mainly from the college in Bozeman, but the school recently changed from a quarter to a semester system, and Bozeman students now have to be back in school before the ranch season ends. Because of this, the ranch now recruits at campuses outside the immediate area and hires students from all over the country. After applying a third time, I was accepted and began work in the housekeeping department.

I had never before worked at a job where I had to be at work at 5:30 in the morning, but fortunately, the early morning hours were almost the only drawback to working there. Our department was responsible for cleaning all of the guest rooms in addition to the lodge and pool area. We also washed all the sheets and towels for the guests. Mountain Sky hosts about ninety guests each week from June to mid-September; so when the ranch houses (cabins for twenty or more people) were fully occupied, we were a busy crew. We usually finished with our cleaning by late afternoon , and then we would help the grounds crew by mowing lawns or weeding flower gardens.

The other forty or so employees at the ranch kept equally busy. The wranglers took guests on trail rides and staged rodeos every few weeks. The kitchen and wait staff served three meals a day, including an outdoor BBQ every Wednesday night and a gourmet dinner once a week. The grounds crew worked outside managing the lawns and putting up fence posts and volleyball nets. There was also a child care activity area, to which employees from all departments were scheduled on a rotating or volunteer basis. Employees in all department normally worked six days a week.

Although most of the day was spent working, there were evening parties for the employees every week or so. These parties usually had a theme – once we all watched a lunar eclipse from the roof of the buildings, and another time we held Christmas in August as the owner of the ranch passed out presents to the employees. Fellow employees could always be found at the pool or on the trail rides on their days off. At night, employees and guests could drive to the Old Saloon in the town of Emmigrant, about ten miles from the ranch, or to the restaurant and bar at Chico Hot Springs Resort, five miles farther down the road, to listen to music or dance the night away.

Many people visited Yellowstone Park, which is only thirty miles away. The dude ranch often schedules rafting trips on the Yellowstone River, and employees are welcome to go whenever there’s enough room. Many people also fished for trout in the Yellowstone, in the stocked pond on the grounds, or in the creek that runs near the ranch. If I felt the need for civilization, I could drive thirty miles to Livingston, or sixty miles to the college town of Bozeman.

The best thing about working at Mountain Sky was being so close to the outdoors. The ranch is located in a small valley in southwestern Montana, near the Rockies. you can go hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding in any direction and quickly be far from any signs of humankind. The area has recently become very popular because of this unspoiled quality, and several celebrities visited the ranch while I was there. Dennis Quaid once spent a boozy evening playing Jerry Lee Lewis songs on the piano, and I even led a campfire sing-along in front of Diana Ross, who didn’t join in at all.

Working at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch was an unforgettable experience for me, as it would be for anyone who loves the outdoors and meeting interesting people.

For more information on working on a dude ranch check out our Guest Ranch Jobs section.

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