He’s a Sugarloafer since 1985. Sam Byrne started working in the group tour office at The Loaf in 1986.

“I was the Julie McCoy of the mountain,” said Byrne of Manchester, Mass. “I met my wife at the Widowmaker on my 21st birthday. I am a Sugarloafer.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Byrne on a recent visit to Montana at an exclusive club located in Big Sky, near the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Even though his kids are in Carrabassett Valley Academy’s competition program, the family tags between Massachusetts, Montana and Maine.

“We came out to Yellowstone Club in 2005 with a Sunday River family. I was uninterested in the concept of a private club,” said Byrne. “But then I was astounded by the ski experience. By the third run we were keen to be members and that started the path.”

Yellowstone Club is a unique, private-gated community with a golf course and an exclusive 2,200-acre ski area served by 15 lifts, plus cat skiing. Gorgeous groomed runs, steep chutes and powder bowls off panoramic, 9,860-foot Pioneer Mountain keep  about 350 member families amused with abundant first tracks. A beautiful log lodge, The Timberline Cafe, sits near the summit, serving hot cocoa by a fire or a catered chef’s lunch in elegant elk skin chairs under antler chandeliers.

Byrne, with his Boston-based company CrossHarbor Capital, and a group of members bought Yellowstone Club in July 2009 from the original owners. Tim and Edra Blixseth opened the elite 13,400-acre club in 2000.

The Blixseths had retained all equity, and proceeded to run up excessive debt (buying jets and a chateau in France for example). They then went into bankruptcy, coinciding with their billion-dollar divorce. The club was a hotly debated asset.

Upon purchasing Yellowstone Club, Byrne brought in a partner, Discovery Land Company – a private club developer/operator with properties in Hawaii, the Bahamas, Mexico, California and other locations.

“It was critical to the region and the membership that the Yellowstone Club survived,” said Byrne. “The most successful people in the country were involved in saving this club.”

With former Secret Service agents securing the private compound, there are movers and shakers with millions who on weekends and holidays want to relax with their families. Warren Miller has a home here, serves as the honorary director of skiing and has a gorgeous lodge named after him that provides the membership with gracious common areas.

One of the first changes Byrne made was to provide members with equity, the next was to improve services to families and tone down the previous snob factor.

The stuffy Champagne and Vodka Caviar Bar in the Warren Miller Lodge was transformed into a breakfast snack bar that now gets far more use, according to Hank Kashiwa, former Olympic skier and CBS commentator now involved in the club’s public relations and media presence.

A super-cool kids club, “20 Below,” features an indoor basketball court and a climbing wall. There is also a 1950s-style diner, and a movie theater in a space previously slated to be a formal ballroom.

All-day kids’ programs with ski instruction and evening activities are again flourishing. Cozy log cabins are scattered about Yellowstone’s ski slopes as refreshments huts, code named “cavity cabins,” where members can stop for cocoa, chili, candy or fresh-baked cookies, all included in member dues.

The Yellowstone Club is back in the black, and membership is up. Only one member left in the transition. “A lot of people that were waiting in the wings are now investing. I have earned the trust of the membership,” said Byrne. “Now we are scrambling to keep up with the demand.”

Hank Kashiwa said, “I call it Yellowstone Club 2.0, a new era. It’s all about what’s best for the members now, which is a complete paradigm shift from the egos that were involved before.”

“The club is not about me, now it’s a member-owned club with member equity – that concept had gotten lost in the past,” said Byrne “Yellowstone Club is not just another real estate development. It’s a place where families are extraordinarily accommodated, and our owners are passionately involved.”

Byrne speaks of Sugarloaf with similar enthusiasm.

“Sugarloaf has a passionate base of owners,” said Byrne. “The fact that the community is looking to fund a gondola at Sugarloaf is an example of that.”

Heather Burke is a ski/snowboard journalist who lives in Kennebunk. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]