As the new general manager of Montana’s historic 320 Guest Ranch, Amber Brask is heir to a proud tradition of authentic Western hospitality, pioneering spirit and female independence and leadership. The daughter of the ranch owner, Ms. Brask takes charge of the historic property as the third female general manager since the ranch was founded in 1898. Today, the 320 Guest Ranch is a full-service property that looks to the future while preserving its storied past in the 58 fully restored and modernized log cabins and mountain chalets, set on 320 scenic acres along the Gallatin River. The wonders of Yellowstone National Park are just 45 minutes away.
Amber Brask is inspired by the examples of the many bold and courageous Montana women that included rodeo cowgirls, Native American women warriors, medicine women, doctors, labor organizers, teachers, suffragists, ranchers, homesteaders and politicians. Throughout the State’s history, Montana’s women were pioneers in every way, forging a progressive path under the Treasure State’s legendary Big Sky.
“These indomitable Montana women made a strong impact on their communities and on the 320 Guest Ranch,” Ms. Brask notes. Her family purchased the ranch in 1986 and she grew up working in every aspect of the property’s operation from front desk, housekeeping, restaurant and outside sales to riding the ranch’s mountain trails with the staff wranglers and fly-fishing in the Galatian River that runs through the ranch.
The first woman general manager and owner was Dr. Caroline McGill, who bought the 320 Guest Ranch in 1936 and created a healing community for those in need of treatment for body and spirit. For many years, the ranch had served as Dr. McGill’s refuge from the stresses of her medical practice in Butte, then a rough and ready mining town. Dr. McGill treated victims of accidents, delivered babies and worked to improve public health, especially for women and children. Dr. McGill’s influence is still felt at the 320 Ranch with the cabin that bears her name. “For over a century, the 320 Guest Ranch has provided a retreat where our guests can relax and reconnect with the life-force of nature, as Dr. McGill envisioned,” says Ms. Brask.
Providing leadership in the community is also a proud tradition at the 320 Ranch and the second female general manager, Pat Sage, was a prominent figure in Big Sky, working to promote tourism and involvement in public affairs. Sage was one of the very few women general managers of a significant ranch in the country. During her 12-year tenure, she successfully transitioned the property to a full-scale guest ranch, offering authentic and comfortable accommodations, fine dining and a host of year-round activities, fishing, riding, cross-country skiing, rafting, hiking and skiing at the nearby Big Sky Resort.
“Pat Sage was an inspiration to everyone at 320 Guest Ranch and we have all learned from her example,” says Amber Brask, who also credits the many women leaders in Montana’s history. “They met the challenges of the rugged territory and macho, Wild West culture, proving themselves the equal of men and a powerful force in the state’s development,” she affirms.
A former slave and healer, Annie Morgan found freedom as one of Montana’s first homesteaders. Running Eagle, a Crow warrior, rode, hunted and fought alongside the men of her tribe. Dr. Mollie Babcock, whose first job was as a doctor in a mining camp had a huge impact of the state’s health and women’s rights. When Montana granted women the right to vote in 1916 – four years before American women won universal suffrage, Jeanette Rankin, a prominent suffragist and rancher’s daughter, became the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives. Throughout its history, Montana’s women built, healed, educated, organized and developed the lands that today are the cornerstones of Montana’s agriculture, livestock and tourism industries.
Amber Brask is well-qualified to follow in the footsteps of these strong, visionary women. She attended Montana State University and received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from Boise State University in Idaho. With a passion to create and a love of the hospitality industry, she spent her college years working in hotels, learning every aspect of the business from operations and food and beverage to sales and marketing. Her culinary interests were honed in Washington State, working in a fine dining restaurant. The restaurant had its own kitchen garden and maintained a close relationship with local farmers, emphasizing fresh, local ingredients.
The property’s 320 Ranch Steak House operates a restaurant, and Ms. Brask is looking forward to bring her creative vison to an already acclaimed dining room.
Ms. Brask returned to Montana with her partner, Dane, an experienced outdoorsman and fly-fishing guide, to start her family and is now the mother of a young son. Management of the ranch has been a family affair since 1986 when patriarch Dave Brask, originally of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and the son of Swedish & Portuguese immigrants, bought the ranch as part of his company, Brask Enterprises, now a global business selling compactors and equipment. In 1993, Ms. Brask moved to the ranch with her family. Her maternal grandparents spent summers there too – her mom’s father was a painter and stained the ranch cabins and her mother ran a boutique selling Native American silver and turquoise jewelry.
At age 80, Dave Brask has no plans to retire and Amber Brask and her brothers DJ and Michael rely on his advice and experience. Many other family members are returning to Montana too to raise their families and enjoy the beauty and sense of community. Running a ranch, now led by Amber Brask, is a family affair indeed.