The Making it in Big Sky series is sponsored by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and written by the Explore Big Sky staff.
BIG SKY– Nestled amidst the scenic landscapes of the Gallatin Canyon, Rainbow Ranch Lodge beckons travelers with a true promise: Weddings. Whiskey. Wine. Water. Four simple yet powerful words that encapsulate the essence of this enchanting destination.
For this issue of Making it in Big Sky, Explore Big Sky journeyed into the heart of Rainbow Ranch, uncovering a legacy steeped in history and a vision that seamlessly blends rustic charm with refined elegance. We had the chance to interview Thomas Nolan, the General Manager, who has dedicated his life to preserving the ranch’s rich heritage and creating a haven where guests can immerse themselves in the beauty of the mountains and the tranquility of the Gallatin River.
This series is part of a paid partnership with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. The following answers have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: First, tell me a little about yourself—when did you come to Big Sky and what brought you here?
Thomas Nolan: My name is Thomas Nolan, and I relocated to the Big Sky area from Phoenix, AZ, in May of 1999. The primary reason for my move was to provide my children with the opportunity to grow up amidst the beauty of the mountains. I initially joined Big Sky Resort as a Kitchen Manager at the Huntley, which allowed me to immerse myself in this picturesque location.
EBS: How did you get involved with Rainbow Ranch?
TN: When I saw the General Manager position open up at Rainbow Ranch, I was immediately drawn to the opportunity. The natural beauty and rich history of this place resonated with me, and I felt compelled to be a part of it. So, I reached out to the owner and expressed my interest in contributing to the legacy of this unique property.
EBS: Tell me a little about the history of the ranch.
TN: Rainbow Ranch holds a fascinating history, dating back several decades. Originally known as the Halfway Inn and Mercantile in the 1920s, it served as a vital stop for travelers journeying between West Yellowstone and Bozeman. Over the years, it also functioned as a wilderness outfitter. In the last 25 years, the ranch has seen three ownership changes, with the current owner acquiring the property after the 2008 fire.
EBS: Under your leadership, how does the business honor that history today?
TN: At Rainbow Ranch, we pride ourselves on maintaining a strong connection to the property’s rich history. We foster a close-knit and empowered team that collectively works toward preserving the legacy of this place. The photographs adorning our walls and the stories we share with guests allow us to celebrate the ranch’s past continually. We remain true to our rustic yet refined roots and still utilize the authentic early 1900s barn as a functional part of our operations.
EBS: What kind of services and activities do you provide on the ranch?
TN: At Rainbow Ranch, we offer a wide range of services and activities to our guests. We host events such as weddings, family reunions, corporate meetings, and dinners. Our fine dining restaurant boasts an extensive wine cellar, catering to wine enthusiasts. Additionally, guests can enjoy a stocked trout pond, hiking trails, an outdoor infinity hot tub, a winter snowshoe program and special wine dinners.
EBS: What are you known best for?
TN: Rainbow Ranch is best known for several aspects. We have earned a reputation as a premier wedding destination, providing couples with a picturesque and unforgettable setting for their special day. We are also renowned for our exceptional selection of whiskies and wines, which add to the overall experience of staying at our ranch. Lastly, we take pride in offering access to water-based activities such as river access, fishing pond, and our popular hot tub. We call them the four W’s. Weddings, Whisky, Wine, and Water.
EBS: Is there any business advice you’ve received in the past that has helped guide you?
TN: Yes, a valuable piece of business advice I’ve received is quite simple yet profound: “Care.” By investing in our team and demonstrating genuine care and support, we foster a strong and committed workforce. This, in turn, positively impacts the success and growth of our business.
EBS: Anything else the Big Sky community should know?
TN: We at Rainbow Ranch extend a warm welcome to all members of the Big Sky community and beyond. We are thrilled about our future and have been actively working on various renovations and property improvements. Last summer, we completed the renovation of our riverside rooms and expanded our wine cellar to accommodate a larger inventory. We also upgraded our hot tub deck and gave the lodge’s exterior a fresh look. Moreover, we continue to protect our property from spring floods, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for our guests.