By Lee Hicks
An era has ended in the Methow Valley.
For only the second time since it was built, Sun Mountain Lodge and related properties including cabins at Patterson Lake are under new ownership.
Sun Mountain is well known, even “iconic” as the recent sale announcement in the News reported. But not as much recognized is the quiet generosity of the Haub family of Germany, who have owned the resort and been the valley’s largest landowner since the late 1980s.
As publisher in 1997 of the Methow Valley News I knew of the family’s 1987 purchase of the lodge and related properties for $3.2 million, and the millions they were investing in the struggling operation.
Through John Barline, a now-retired attorney and former longtime board chairman of Sun Mountain, I scheduled an interview with Erivan and Helga Haub.
We met on a brilliantly sunny Labor Day weekend in a Sun Mountain conference room, then had lunch in the dining room. One person long close to the family had prepared me with an apt description of Erivan and Helga: “You’d never get the impression they were billionaires.”
How true that was. I was immediately engaged by the Haubs’ warmth, informality and easy conversation in their fluent English.
I learned that were it not for legendary horse packer and trapper Jack Wilson’s kindness to strangers the Haubs’ embrace of the Methow might never had happened.
They reminisced of their first trip in 1973 to the valley by way of the recently opened North Cascades Scenic Highway with Tacoma friends, whom Erivan had met while working and studying in the United States. The friends on an earlier trip had run out of gas near Washington Pass, and Jack Wilson had come to their aid.
The friends introduced them to Wilson, the genesis of a friendship that led to coming back for years with their three sons, then ages 8 to 12, to fish, hunt and horse pack. Wilson was also one reason they purchased the ranch up the East Chewuch originally owned by Kay Wagner. It appealed to them that Wilson had been a builder there.
Unique and special
It was through Wilson that the Haubs had met Sun Mountain developer and Sunny M Ranch owner, Jack Barron. And that new friendship eventually led to purchasing Barron’s properties from his estate after his death.
For Erivan, Sun Mountain and related properties needed substantial repair and rebuilding but were treasures to be conserved.
“I thought this place was so unique and special that I didn’t want to see it disappear or run down,” he noted back then.
The Haubs renovated the existing main Sun Mountain lodge, including adding rooms on another floor, then upgraded the Mt. Gardner wing, constructed of the new Robinson wing, and rebuilt of existing Patterson Lake cabins.
Within a few years Sun Mountain had gained an enviable reputation in the hospitality industry, with the prestigious AAA Four Diamond designation and honors from Wine Spectator, Travel & Leisure, Zagat’s and others.
By some estimates the investment had already surpassed $30 million in 1997, and over the years has provided hundreds of construction jobs during their stewardship along with permanent and parttime employment for hundreds of Methow Valley residents.
To better grasp the Haubs’ contributions to the Methow, ask those who’ve been in the valley for 30 years or more: Don Portman, a founder and director of what is now Methow Trails, who recalls Helga’s encouragement to build a community trail that runs through the Sunny M Ranch; John Hayes, whose work on trail easements extends back decades; and Sally Portman, Don’s wife and author of “Smiling Country,” which the Haubs commissioned.
And ask Sarah Brooks and staff at the Methow Conservancy, who continue to work on conservation projects for Haub land that was not included in the recent lodge sale.
Talk to Brian Charlton, hired by the Haubs as Sun Mountain general manager, who discovered a company and a place he cherished and never left. Or ask lodge employees, who found jobs that offered decent income and the added benefits of health insurance.
The Haub family
The Sun Mountain sale comes not long after a milestone, and a tragedy, within the Haub family. Erivan passed away in March of 2018 at the 6,000-acre Pinedale, Wyoming, ranch acquired a few years before Sun Mountain and the Sunny M.
Only a month later his eldest son, Karl-Erivan, known as Charlie, disappeared after departing on a solo ski mountaineering training trip in the Swiss Alps. His body was never found.
Charlie had been heading the family business after Erivan’s retirement in 2013. Erivan’s youngest son Christian returned to Germany from his home in the Northeast to take the helm company helm. Middle son, Georg, is also in Germany with the company.
Erivan, who retired in 2013, had built the company, Tengelmann Group, to sales in the tens of billions from one founded in 1867 by his great-grandfather. It is now one of Europe’s largest retailers in apparel, home and garden and household stores. It also has retail and residential real estate and venture capital investments.
Now Helga’s surviving sons and grandchildren are back in Europe. She also lives in Germany, but still spends time at a family home in Gig Harbor. She recently visited Sun Mountain after the sale, which she said was a chance to gather with old friends and staff that she remembers fondly.
And, she added, “I’m so happy to see it owned by someone who can realize their dream, as it was my dream, and Erivan’s.”
A comment by Erivan in our decades ago interview illustrates his capacity for incisive analysis and vision, such as he brought to Sun Mountain, against today’s geopolitical landscape.
“I’m afraid, almost positive, that Russia will revert back to a military dictatorship,” he said. “Essentially the conversion from a communist to a capitalist or free market system cannot be achieved neither in East Germany, least within Russia, in 10, 20 or 30 years … at least a generation.”
Lee Hicks is the former publisher of the Methow Valley News.