Hotel Online  Special Report



Opening the Old Faithful Inn for the Summer After
it has Been Closed for Six Months Is a Major Job

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, April 22, 2004 - Opening a hotel for the summer after it has been closed for six months is a major job under the best of circumstances. When the hotel in question is the 100-year-old Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark located in an area marked by harsh winters, the challenges increase exponentially. 

Not surprisingly, lodge operator Xanterra Parks & Resorts' engineering and maintenance department handles most of the work required to open the Inn. After the National Park Service crews have plowed the roads so that administrative travel can occur as far as the Old Faithful area, Xanterra's "Bull Crew" brings in heavy equipment to begin the week-long process of clearing the sidewalks and driveways of packed snow as deep as six feet as well as digging out windows and removing shutters.

Next comes a group of 15-20 seasonal employees skilled in plumbing, carpentry, electrical and kitchen work. "This group is truly the key to getting the Old Faithful Inn ready to open," said Dan Tompkins, Xanterra's assistant director, engineering. "Collectively, they have close to 100 years of experience working on this building, and that is necessary to pull this job off."

While the crew works hard in November to prepare the building for winter by draining water and radiator pipes, storing soft goods and even wrapping much of the kitchen equipment in plastic, they expect the unexpected the following April. The Inn does not weather the same year after year, said Tompkins. Broken pipes and shifting of the building create different challenges.

Typical repairs involve replacing broken pipes, adjusting doors that bind because of the shifts and painting. All repairs must also be made in accordance with the original design and techniques. "It is not our position to go into a building like the Old Faithful Inn and make a statement," said Tompkins. "Even though today's techniques are much more technologically advanced, we still use the original methods such as the knob and tube electrical system and the steam heating. The crew that works on the building has an affection for its history."

Years of experience have taught the crew the best repair and record-keeping techniques, but even four solid weeks of work is cutting it close. "I'm not kidding when I say that we are heading out the back door as guests are coming in the front," said Tompkins.

Some 350 seasonal employees work in the Inn each summer, and they arrive in the park approximately five days before the Inn's opening. Upon checking in with human resources, this group undergoes training to learn jobs in the housekeeping, front office registration, kitchen, dining room and other assorted areas. During this short period, these employees spend their time cleaning rooms, dusting rafters, making beds, unpacking new items ordered over the winter and the other countless jobs needed to open the property. "Unless you have opened hotels for a hospitality company before, it's hard to understand this whole process," said Scott Cote, Xanterra's executive director of operations. "Fortunately, we always have a returning core group that knows what it takes to complete the job."

About half of the Inn's employees work in the food and beverage department. In a typical year, they need to learn three menus as well as their responsibilities. "This year (2004) will require even more preparation," said director of food and beverage Lu Harlow. "There will be so much attention placed on the Inn this year because of its centennial, but we are ready."

Commemorative centennial items will also be available for the special event and for sale to the general public, said Harlow. Those items will include custom china, wine glasses, beer glasses and private label wine.

While the Inn's centennial year will generate additional excitement and challenges, it does have its advantages. According to director of lodging Marti Tobias, more returning employees than normal have requested an assignment so they can say they worked at the Old Faithful Inn during its 100th anniversary. 

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Inc.  operates lodges, restaurants and other concessions at national parks and state parks and resorts. Xanterra is the country's largest national park concessioner. The company operates concessions in the following locations: Yellowstone National Park, the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Death Valley National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Everglades National Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and at the Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif.; Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and eight Ohio State Parks. 


Also See: Preservation of Legendary Old Faithful Inn Reflects Old-fashioned Ingenuity of Preservation Crew / Oct 2002
Built 100 Years Ago - The Old Faithful Inn a Model of Parkitecture / April 2004

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