HR/Shareholder Outreach Update: Work and Play at Kantishna Roadhouse
By Josie Jakway
Most people are familiar with Denali National Park and Preserve, located in Interior Alaska and starring Denali, the highest mountain in North America. I, however, had little idea of what lay inside the park, especially the services offered to visitors by my very own corporation. I recently had the opportunity to experience the park and all it has to offer.
Ninety miles down the Denali National Park road – the only road that services the vast, 6-million-acre park – is a roadhouse. Kantishna Roadhouse to be exact, owned and operated by Doyon Tourism, a subsidiary of Doyon, Limited.
The 90-mile drive to Kantishna takes close to six hours, with stops for breathtaking views and wildlife all along the way. As a visitor to Kantishna, I had the privilege of riding with Charlie, a bus that is the pride and joy of Kirsty Knittel, a seasoned Kantishna bus driver, tour guide and wildlife photographer. Knittel boasts that Charlie has by far the park’s best windows to photograph out of, and she was right.
(Left: Kirsty Knittel loads Charlie with guest bags in preparation for the 90-mile trip to the Kantishna Roadhouse.)
Arriving at Kantishna Roadhouse was somewhat startling, as I had only just recovered from the awe of seeing both summits of Denali clearly visible and still reeling from the sheer size of that majestic mountain standing less than 30 miles from me. Then, we pulled into the roadhouse, which was not at all what I expected to see in such rugged wilderness. The perfectly manicured gardens and picturesque cabins was a surprising oasis in the remote backcountry.
Upon exiting Charlie, I was immediately greeted by a host of employees, eager to meet me and show me around. I was not prepared for the number of fellow shareholders I found living and working at the roadhouse. As I sat down for a late supper, the other workers began to stream into the staff eating area, each curious about who I was and what I was doing all the way out in Kantishna. Tea was poured and conversation started flowing; I soon found out that there were 11 Doyon shareholders calling Kantishna home this summer; Albert Demientieff, Janet Smoke, Margaret Smoke, Bill Silas, Bess Hausmann, Marie Monroe, Sean Murphy, Emmitt Peters, Jason Esmailka, Frances Esmailka and Jethro Frank.
(Right: Doyon shareholder Jethro Frank prepares greens for the dinner salad.)
On my way to get coffee the next morning, I met Janet Smoke who had the day off from her usual housekeeping duties. Not many people can say that they wake up to enjoy their day off in the heart of one of the most pristine wilderness in the country, I thought. As I finished up another delicious breakfast (something called “French Toast Praline” that was one of the greatest things I have ever had for breakfast), I heard some other guests excitedly discussing the upcoming dog sled demonstration. My interest piqued, I went to the front desk where I found the very knowledgeable Bess Hausmann, also a Doyon shareholder, who gave me the inside scoop. She told me about Emmitt Peters, a Doyon shareholder who cares for Kantishna’s dog team. Peters, who has worked at Kantishna for what he says is “a long, long, long time,” was the star of the afternoon. After a short talk with the guests, during which he explained the significance and necessity of a dog team in Interior Alaska, he led the eager visitors out into the yard to show them how the team is hooked up.
(Left: Emmitt Peters hooks up his team for the dog sled demonstration.)
Dog sled demo complete, I had the rest of the evening to myself. After riding one of the many roadhouse mountain bikes up to Wonder Lake and spending a few hours grayling fishing and picking blueberries, I returned to say my goodnights and prepare for the journey back out the park road in the morning. This time I found Marie Monroe at the front desk. Monroe, a Doyon shareholder and the general manager at Kantishna, is responsible for putting together the amazing team of people who care for roadhouse guests and keep the operation running smoothly.
“For a brief four months each summer, our employees come to live and work together in the heart of Denali National Park,” Monroe shared with me. “Many employees return for numerous seasons. We’ve had the same bartender for 18 years; several other employees have reached the 14- and 15-year mark; and a four- to five-year tenure is not uncommon. Why do they keep coming back? Well, Doyon is a great company to work for and shareholders and non-shareholders alike are proud of the Kantishna Roadhouse and Doyon’s ownership of this unique and beautiful wilderness lodge.”
The bus ride home was long and a bit rainy, but Charlie kept us warm and Knittel kept us safe en route to our destination. During the ride, I had a lot of time to reflect on my experience at the roadhouse. I left there with the impression that all of the employees, including the shareholders who work at Kantishna every summer, might just be some of the luckiest people I have ever met. My advice: find your way to Kantishna Roadhouse, either on a day trip, as an overnight guest or spend a season as an employee. From cooking, housekeeping, tourism, landscaping, guiding and guest services, to mountain bike repairing, gardening, massage, bartending, serving and bus driving, there are many opportunities for employment with Doyon Tourism and at Kantishna Roadhouse – almost as many as opportunities for adventure. So however you find your way there, just make sure you do. To plan your visit and to see more pictures of Kantishna, including rare and beautiful photography by the Roadhouse’s very own Kirsty Knittel, go to https://www.kantishnaroadhouse.com/ .
Kantishna Roadhouse glows in the early evening sun.
Josie Jakway is a proud shareholder and communications assistant at Doyon, Limited.