One of Montana’s most popular skiing destinations is under new ownership, but don’t expect drastic changes under the new person in charge.
“We’ve been doing this for 48 years and it’s kind of a labor of love, so you hate to just pass it off to some bozo who could care less just trying to make some money,” said former owner and now Showdown Montana consultant George Willett.
Willett says selling to a family member wasn’t always the plan, but it was the best option.
In September 2020, after 48 years, Willett handed over the ownership reins and operator duties at Showdown Montana to his daughter Katie Boedecker.
Boedecker said recently out-of-state interests from Colorado expressed in interest in purchasing Showdown. Now the popular ski area will remain in family hands and maintain a local feel.
“Part of the success is the authenticity of the ski area,” said Boedecker. “My dad has always been central Montana; he’s never tried to be anything other than what we are.”
"It’s always been a local place. It never had the glitz and glamour of the other places,” said Willett. “It brought a certain friendliness and a certain atmosphere to the area where the people become part of us.”
Showdown began in 1936, and Willett assumed ownership in 1973. Showdown boasts 640 skiable acres and 36 trails. Willett says thinning projects in the woods offer even more terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
The family business includes Katie’s sons. Will serves as a snowboard instructor and is working on resort development and planning, shadowing George Willett to learn more about the daily operations on the mountain. Katie’s son George lives in Minneapolis but helps with marketing. Her son Bridger also helps and has developed computer software for the mountain to help deal with the challenges of Covid-19. Katie’s daughter Avery Patrick handles marketing.
“It's fun to have my brothers involved and everybody,” said Patrick. “It’s just like one big family up there.”
Patrick came to work at Showdown in December of 2012 after graduating from Carroll College. She intended to stay on for just one season but has been a part of the business for nine years and says she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Katie’s younger brother Charlie also helps with marketing and her sister Jamie helps where needed.
Katie admits she has lot to learn in the new role, but not much will change in the day-to-day operations. She is excited about future improvements and expansion, including a land exchange with the Forest Service which could pave the way for a new hotel.
“We really need a place up here in the Little Belts like that,” said Boedecker. “It’s a very popular recreation area year-round. Elk hunting, mountain bike riding, trail bike riding, cross country skiing, 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. It's just a mecca for recreation and a little hotel up here would be a nice asset.”
Katie is proud to be one of the few women ski resort owners and operators in the world, blazing a trail in an industry largely dominated by men.
“You know when we’re at Showdown she’s just doing her things like she does,” said Patrick. “But when you go to conferences or when you reach out to people in the industry that’s when you really realize how rare it is. But she does an awesome job.”
Avery and her husband Shawn have come on as investors in Showdown and will be added as shareholders, making the odds of the ski area staying in the family even greater.
“They have my first grandson Callan,” said Boedecker. “So just to see it go not just from my dad to me but then in a very short time include Avery and then future ski area operator Callan Patrick is pretty exciting.”
Showdown has tackled challenges in the nearly half century Willett has been a part of the operation. But he says they’ve been blessed with great snow. He says there’s been only two seasons when a lack of snow has been a serious issue.
Boedecker says the most obvious challenge as of late has been the Covid-19 pandemic. Last season it forced the mountain to shut down early which she says was traumatic for customers and staff. This season, the Showdown has been diligent to follow health and safety protocols.
As for George Willett, he’ll remain on as a consultant, enjoying the snow and preaching the company line.
“Skiing’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on and it still is happening here,” said Willett.
Saturday, February 13th marks Willett’s 80th birthday. Skiers are encouraged to drop off well wishes for the Showdown patriarch in boxes that will placed around the mountain.