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Navigating the Guiding Business
Remodeled Glacier Outdoor Center readies for busy summer season
Glacier Outdoor Center
Manager John Malison, left, and fly fishing guide Chad DuBose discuss fly orders for the recently renovated Glacier Outdoor Center near West Glacier. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
WEST GLACIER – Last week there was still snow on the ground in West Glacier and spring flurries flying in the crisp air, but all minds at the Glacier Outdoor Center are focused on summer.

The Glacier Outdoor Center, headquarters for the Glacier Anglers Fly Shop and Glacier Raft Company, is headed into its 36th year in business. And, in preparation for the approaching summer season, the shop has undergone a bit of a facelift.

Sally Thompson, who owns Glacier Outdoor Center with Darwon Stoneman and Onno Weiringa, said the remodel allows for better flow through the shop and a more consistent feel in the building.

“We wracked our brains to try and make it more efficient,” Thompson said.

Glacier Outdoor Center closed for the winter for the first time in six years, during which crews worked to remodel the inside of the West Glacier business. Anglers will find a corner of the interior dedicated to fly fishing, with hand-built tables showcasing the flies and plenty of gear to support any fishing trip.

There is also space for the outdoor clothing section, as well as a rental counter nearby where customers can find an array of items to help them in their adventures.

“We rent everything from rafts to sleeping bags,” Thompson said.

On the other side of the building sits the “war room,” where employees book reservations for customers. It can get a little complicated organizing the various rafting and fishing trips throughout the summer, which is why the walls are one, big, color-coded calendar.

Stoneman said his business is typically engaged in some sort of remodeling or sprucing-up project in the fall and spring, since Glacier Outdoor Center also rents 12 cabins. This latest project began with the need to replace the floor in the fly shop and took off from there.

The Glacier Raft Company opened in 1976 as a sliver of its current state. Stoneman said then there were only the three original owners running the show; one to drive the van to the river, one to guide the trip and one to man the shop. If only two people could make it that day, they would have to close.
Glacier Outdoor Center

Fishing flies are temporarily organized in small bins at the recently renovated Glacier Outdoor Center near West Glacier.

Over the next decade, the business would expand to Polson, Utah and Canada, Stoneman said. Thompson bought in as an owner in 1985. She had been answering phones for the company at the point.

In the late 1980s, Stoneman said the owners’ families started growing, making traveling more difficult. They sold off pieces of the company and kept it centered in West Glacier, and built cabins and a rental store.

Now, Stoneman estimates employees of the Glacier Raft Company have taken about 325,000 people out on the Flathead rivers.

Thompson said she looks back on how Glacier Outdoor Center got to where it is now and credits its success to working with honest, hard-working people.

“I don’t think we ever thought that it would become what it is,” Thompson said, “but it was opportunity and guts.”

Not only does Thompson feel fortunate for Stoneman and Weiringa, but she also believes the dedicated summer staff – which can number near 100 in the warm months – is a critical part of the business.

“Mostly what I look forward to is the returning of our crew,” she said.

Working with young people also helps the business stay up to date on technological changes in outdoor gear and communication, Thompson said.

Like many businesses in Badrock Canyon, Glacier Outdoor Center does the lion’s share of its work in the summer. Thompson estimated that 90 percent of the revenues come in between June and August.

There is a perennial push to bring tourists in during the shoulder seasons, she noted, and Glacier National Park is open year-round. But the big surge is in the summer, and taking the winter off helped relieve some of the pressure to get ready for the rush.

Thompson said the center would likely stay closed during the winter from now on.

But with summer looming and plowing already beginning in Glacier Park, the shop is open everyday and Thompson expects another big season.

“We’re always optimistic,” she said. “You’ve got to be.”

The Glacier Outdoor Center is located at 12400 Highway 2 East in West Glacier. For more information, visit www.glacierraftco.com or call 800-235-6781.
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