Tree-house chalets offer sense of whimsy

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  • Two of the Snow Bear chalets are vaulted 25 feet in the air. The third is grounded with a foundation, but has more square footage and bed space. (Seaborn Larson/Daily Inter Lake)

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    From left: developers Darryl Slattengren and Gail Goodwin, builder Gabe Thomas, architect Keith Beck and Nicky Thomas. (Photo courtesy of Gail Goodwin)

  • Two of the Snow Bear chalets are vaulted 25 feet in the air. The third is grounded with a foundation, but has more square footage and bed space. (Seaborn Larson/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    From left: developers Darryl Slattengren and Gail Goodwin, builder Gabe Thomas, architect Keith Beck and Nicky Thomas. (Photo courtesy of Gail Goodwin)

When creating the design for her tree houses at a local ski resort, Gail Goodwin wasn’t going to compromise on the vision for her project.

“I wanted that storybook whimsy,” she said. “I live to create wonder.”

Goodwin owns Snow Bear Chalets, the newest real estate edition to the village at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The project features three luxury ski-in, ski-out tree houses adjacent to Chair 3. Construction crews broke ground in August, and Goodwin is hoping the first dwelling will be open by the end of February, although it’s already booked for several weeks following the opening. Crews expect to complete the next two tree houses in the following weeks in staggering order, and then Goodwin will rent them out by the week, all year long on sites such as VRBO and Airbnb.

Despite being 25 feet off the ground, the 800-square-foot buildings stand out with their swooping roof beams, swinging bridges and the castle-esque turrets below the spiral staircases. When asked to describe the architectural theme for the tree houses, she said “Harry Potter meets Hansel and Gretel.”

“There’s so much that’s just so boring and overdone. I won’t build boring,” she said. “I think we need to add a little magic to the world. There’s a lot of Montana gorgeous, but there’s a whole lot of boring. I want to make it magic.”

The three dwellings can accommodate a maximum of 22 guests. Each tree house is equipped with its own hot tub, top-of-the-line kitchen appliances, luxury furniture and as many amenities as Goodwin could pack in without crowding the space.

The property Goodwin purchased was once owned by Ed Schenck, one of the founders of the Big Mountain ski resort. Schneck’s family kept the property in their family for years, and three years ago put it on the market. After finding out the parcel had an important history on the mountain, Goodwin wanted to make the resort proud.

“We said, ‘What’s the best thing we could do on the mountain?” she said. “I think it’s going to add some sizzle.”

Whitefish Mountain Chief Executive Officer Dan Graves said he appreciates the lodging addition.

“We feel it’s unique and upscale lodging, which is always a good thing for the resort,” Graves said. “It’s definitely a significant development for that area.”

The property is in a wooded area, and Goodwin is leaving as many trees in place as possible. The tree houses are actually held up by beams that tie into rock below the ground surface below.

Each of the tree houses are named for the tree species on the property. The Ponderosa Chalet will be the first unit completed, followed by Tamarack Chalet. The first two are similar in size and design, and the third unit, Cedar Chalet, set in the ground with a foundation, is both larger in square footage and bed count.

Gabe Thomas, head of project contractor GT Builders, said his company has built some pretty “off the hook” cabins before, but never built anything exactly like this.

“Nothing in the air,” he said. “It’s been unconventional.”

Aside from building most of the structures with a crane, Thomas said it was somewhat challenging to get the utilities up into the tree houses, but he’s brought on the experts for that.

“That’s why we’re in business — to build something imaginative,” Thomas said. “This one, I feel like without a doubt puts us in a whole different category of builders.”

Goodwin credited Three Rivers Bank for supporting her with the financial backing for tree-house development.

Goodwin’s Flathead-area projects got rolling about three years ago when she found a piece of private property inside the boundaries of Glacier National Park. She built an equally imaginative cabin to rent out to high-profile vacationers three years ago, and today the property is booked for the next 18 months.

“It has been such a unique property,” she said. “It’s brought people in from all over the world and I wanted to do it again.”

Goodwin’s cheery manner isn’t just limited to building Disney-like vacation homes. She’s a real estate developer by trade, but also has spent some time in the last 10 years on her website, InspireMeToday.com. The website emails out daily inspiring quotes and stories and features posts such as “Become a Realistic Idealist” and the “Foundations of Well-Being.”

“That’s where my philosophy is and the inspiration we take from life,” Goodwin said. “That’s why I could not build boring. The world needs whimsy; the world needs fun.”

The first tree-house chalet is set to open the end of February. For more information or to see design plans, visit www.SnowBearChalets.com.

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