Lodge and its general manager recognized for turnaround
In 2013, Mountain Lake Lodge was in trouble. The historic resort needed lots of work, and the numbers of guest staying at the resort had fallen nearly as drastically as the water level at Mountain Lake. The lake had receded to the point some people were calling it Mountain Puddle.
The Mary Moody Northen Endowment, a charitable foundation that owns the Giles County resort, decided to give the place one more chance.
That gamble appears to have paid off. The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association named Mountain Lake Lodge its 2018 Hotel of the Year and its general manager, Heidi Stone, Hotelier of the Year.
“The change of direction, leadership and management that propelled Mountain Lake’s growth and rebirth is remarkable,” says Cora Gnegy, Giles County’s tourism marketing director. “For a board to have the grit to make those hard decisions and then put in place a fantastic leadership team to make it happen is truly the biggest and, as seen, most rewarding risk they could have taken.”
Stone gives a lot of the credit for the turnaround to her team. “It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t any one thing. It really has been six years and lots of layers,” she says.
Those layers included renovations to the guest rooms and the lodge’s major event space, part of “a continual, perpetual five-year plan” for improvements that will include a new pool complex this year.
“We went back to its original mission, which was to connect people with nature,” Stone says.
Instead of focusing on the lake, whose depth has been waxing and waning for about 6,000 years, the endowment added a ropes course, sporting clays, a five-story water slide and other outdoor facilities.
The lodge also added farm-to-table dining and a tavern that offers craft cocktails. Employees overhauled the website and developed a social media marketing plan.
In addition to guests seeking outdoor adventure, Stone says, Mountain Lake hosts 50 weddings a year and offers “an awesome location for teambuilding and corporate retreats.”
“We really did move the whole property into the right century,” she says.
At least one recurring attraction still reaches back to the 20th century — weekends built around “Dirty Dancing,” the 1987 movie starring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and Mountain Lake’s 82-year-old main lodge.
Consultants had recommended abandoning the movie connection, but they didn’t recognize the movie’s attraction for certain demographics. “Dirty Dancing” weekends remain an important piece of the lodge’s marketing.
It’s not surprising the consulting team missed that. As Stone says, “It was a whole bunch of guys.”