Back in the mid-1990s, Robin and Heather Craigen enjoyed a career that can only be called idyllic: The couple ran charter trips on a 72-foot luxury yacht based in the British Virgin Islands. But even paradise has a downside: piloting vacationing guests aboard a yacht wasn’t exactly conducive to raising a family. In 1997, the Craigens relocated to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a ski town recognized for its family-friendly atmosphere and strong community bonds, and established Moving Mountains Chalet, a single property vacation rental business.
From that modest beginning, Moving Mountains — the name, says Robin, is a phrase to live up to. “We’ll move mountains for our guests”. — has grown to more than 75 properties, with 20 full-time, year-round employees and another 20-25 seasonal employees during the November-April ski year. In its 20 years, the vacation rental has carved out a highly successful niche in high-end luxury ski rentals, yet apart and different from the luxury-glamour markets of Aspen and Vail.
“The feedback we got from guests on our cruises on the yacht was that the best trips provide people with a great experience, with something to really remember,” Robin comments. “The same is true with Moving Mountains — we’re dealing with a clientele that’s looking to have the best experience possible.”
He points out that a big difference between a yacht cruise and a ski trip, however, is that “a ski trip is a complicated thing. There are a lot of uncertainties and a lot of details — lift tickets and packages, ski rentals, clothing, the weather. Therefore, we tell our guests, ‘Now that you’re here, let us do the rest.’ We don’t want any of our guests to feel like they’re working when they’re staying with us.”
Amenities at Moving Mountains properties include organic kitchen and laundry supplies, high-thread-count bedding, plush towels and robes, a grill and hot tub in every home, home movie theaters, and ski-in/ski-out convenience to the slopes.
Most of the homes in Moving Mountains’ program are large enough to easily accommodate eight to 10 people or more. One unit in the program is actually two homes side by side, which are often rented as a single unit. Despite the luxury market niche, Robin says most of his guests are down-to-earth people “who work hard and just want a nice vacation. Steamboat Springs is very deliberately not Aspen or Vail. It’s a family-friendly mountain and resort. You don’t come here to be seen.”
In keeping with Steamboat’s emphasis on families and community, Moving Mountains likewise emphasizes a human touch. “We personally check in all guests. We try to deal with them directly when we can while they’re making their plans and the result of that is that we have a very high rate of return guests,” Robin adds.
Even so, marketing is a critical aspect of Moving Mountains’ success. “We use many platforms,” says Robin. “Our goal is to leverage technology wherever possible, but at the same time to give a very personal experience.” He notes that Moving Mountains spends “probably two or three times” the usual amount on photography of its properties. “If you want to sell the dream, it’s got to look like the dream,” he explains.
Heather is a Cordon Bleu and Culinary Institute of America trained chef, and one of Moving Mountains’ specialties is providing fully catered or chef-prepared foodservice and meals, if desired. Everyday cooking, birthday dinners, anniversary celebrations, holiday parties — Heather will manage the menus, the food preparation and the cleanup. The only job of the guests is to eat and enjoy.
A recent request by a guest sums up both the personal service Moving Mountains provides as well as the length it is willing to go to — the kinds of mountains Moving Mountains will move, if you will. “Our guest wanted a fully kosher kitchen,” recalls Robin. “So we got all new pots and pans and all new china. And then we had a rabbi come in and bless the home and the kitchen.” The result? “It was a great experience.”