Under the Radar with XOJET: The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
It’s not every day you hear the CEO and Chairman of one of the world’s largest private-equity placement firms, say this: “Forget how much money you put in.” Or this: “If I just break even, I’m happy.”
But this is Jim Manley—the unwavering lead of Atlanta Pacific Capital—and money was never going to stand in the way of his childhood dream of owning a ranch out west. That is, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana.
A 50-minute drive from Butte Mooney Airport—where XOJET clients can fly in and skip the layover-laden commercial flight into Missoula, 90 minutes away by car—The Ranch is a 10-square-mile lifestyle Ponderosa with unique cowboy chemistry. Think of it as part high-end dude resort (with a rodeo arena and a party barn), part hunting-and-fishing preserve (a Blue-Ribbon-designated river actually runs through it), and part roll-back-the-decades play camp for adults. Then add surprise touches like a bowling alley, movie theater, and winter survival challenge.
If it all seems a bit out of the ordinary, that’s because it is. The Ranch is one of the most luxurious ranch-resorts in the Rockies—it was recently voted among the “Top 10 Best Resort Hotels in the West” by Travel + Leisure and is the only one awarded five stars by the Forbes Travel Guide—but that’s just the background music. Really, The Ranch is intent on letting you be a kid again for a good part of the day.
The Ranch’s Rod & Gun Club has everything required for fly fishing (waders, poles, lures, free fly-tying workshop, and gillies), skeet shooting (shotguns and ammo), cross-country skiing (boots, gloves, skis), snowmobiling and snowshoeing, hiking and mountain biking, and of course, horseback riding, all of which take place on property. And off-property, there’s Discovery, a downhill ski and snowboard area 30 minutes away—which guests love because it’s so old-school—as well as myriad fly-fishing excursions during the summer.
The center of The Ranch is Granite Lodge, which houses the main public spaces and eight guest rooms. It’s done in a style that could be called Ben Cartwright with an interior design degree (ditto for the seven freestanding houses, designed for families.) But then there’s another unconventional Manley touch: nine luxury tents made of 20-ounce canvas along Rock Creek, each 1,000 square feet and completely tech-ed and lux-ed up (two en-suite bathrooms, cast-iron fireplaces). The wine cellar holds 4,000 bottles and the cuisine is shrewdly done—i.e. just elegant enough to satisfy high-end clientele looking for a cowboy-boot escape.
Since it opened, The Ranch at Rock Creek has become a hit in Hollywood—Vince Vaughn, Lee Ann Rimes, Eddie Cibrian, Carrie Underwood, and Simon Fuller have all stayed—and in corporate America, too: Toyota, InterMedia Outdoors, and Energy Capital Partners have used The Ranch for retreats or to entertain top clients. So did Barrett Productions, creators of the Fly Fishing Network, because a river runs through it.
It took Manley 20 years of searching to find his boyhood fantasy because he had a non-negotiable wish-list: alpine beauty at low altitude (he suffers severely from altitude sickness), a river on property, no rattlesnakes (a phobia), an old-west town, and a ski resort nearby. “By the time you buy a ranch, you’ll be too old to ride,” his son Connor kidded him. But, as if scripted for Hollywood, the phone call from his Hall & Hall broker about Rock Creek came at the moment he was looking out his office window thinking of throwing in the towel. Max Watson, President of BMC Software, had put his ranch on the market for $25 million.
Manley bought the property as a family retreat—“my dream was to build a one-of-a-kind ranch”—and only decided to open it to guests in order to keep it in the family. “If it’s profitable, my kids can keep it when I’m gone,” he says.
Where will it end?
“There will always be something,” says Manley. “I won’t get the money back in my lifetime anyway. I have a diamond I have to polish.”
*All photos courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek.
About the Contributor
Gary Walther has been a travel journalist for 40 years. He has been editor-in-chief of Departures, Expedia Travels, Luxury SpaFinder, and Forbes Life magazines, and for the past five years a freelancer with a column on Forbes.com called The Hotel Detective. He has passport stamps from 61 countries and is a million-miler on American Airlines. He writes for the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Departures Europe among other publications.