Wednesday, July 17, 2024

‘Everyone who comes here is in a great mood’

| July 10, 2024 7:10 AM


Hungry Horse News

For 42 summers now, Roger Elliott has been managing the Big Sky Waterpark in Columbia Falls.

Back in 1983 he was fresh out of college and was hoping to get a job as a lifeguard, but the owners at the time found out he had a business degree and put him to work doing the books and the day-to-day operation.

The pay was $5 an hour.

“I jumped on it,” he recalled.

The summers were super busy, and he worked seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The water park was the only one around at the time, and in 1985 they had 2,200 guests in one day.

Today there are more options for folks, so a good day is about 1,000 or so. Still, the park, which is owned by Mike Maddy of Polson, employs a staff of 85.

Generations of families have worked at the park.

Lifeguard Ridley Samuell is one of them. The teen was overlooking one of the slides recently as a lifeguard.

Her dad Kurtis worked at the park as did her aunt and uncle.

“I’m a legacy,” she quipped.

Elliott said it’s a fun place to work.

“Everyone who comes here is in a great mood,” he said.

The park has been revamped over the past six months. Last fall crews from Amusement Restoration Company either rehabilitated or replaced all of the slides, about a $1.5 million investment for the park.

The rehab included sanding down the slides and spraying a new slippery gel coating on them. They also rebuilt the tower to the two steep slides Geronimo and Bonsai, which had been closed since the pandemic.

Geronimo drops about 75 feet at a 65-degree angle.

The park isn’t just water slides. It has a hot tub, kids pool, 18-hole miniature golf course (with new carpet), bumper cars, a water wars game and much more.

As far as a hotel is concerned, there are plans for one someday, but not this year, Elliott said.

Elliott said about 50% of the customers are local and the rest are from out of the valley.

Day rates for people over 4 feet tall are $39.99 and $29.99 under 4 feet.

A season pass for folks over 4 feet is $159.95 and under is $119.95.

Elliott’s favorite part of the job?

“It’s really enjoyable working with the kids and the great variety of the staff,” he said.