Managing Moosilauke: ‘Experiential Learning at Its Best’

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Running Dartmouth’s lodge in the wilderness provides an invaluable learning experience.

Maddie Lesser standing in front of Moosilauke Lodge
“I’ve learned so much from this job,” says Maddie Lesser ’13, who works as the manager of Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. “You learn a lot about running a business and managing people.” (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

August 29 had been one of Moosilauke Ravine Lodge’s busiest days of the year, and by nightfall Madeline Lesser ’13 just wanted to get some sleep. A little after 10 p.m., though, her phone rang.

“I was in bed,” she says. “All of the sudden New Hampshire Fish and Game was on the line.”

A group of five hikers were lost without food, flashlights, or sleeping bags on nearby Mt. Moosilauke, the state rescue officials told Lesser. Fish and Game had another emergency call and couldn’t respond to the situation on Moosilauke. They asked Lesser to organize a search party.

“You get thrown into serious situations that you can’t predict or prepare for,” she says. “That’s the crazy thing about this job.”

Lesser’s job as manager of Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, the Dartmouth-owned lodging establishment in Warren, N.H., comes with a long list of responsibilities. Depending on the season, Lesser supervises five to eight employees—Dartmouth students or recent alumni who are known as “the crew.” She manages the Lodge’s finances, upkeep, and events, which include film screenings, lectures, and musical performances. She coordinates rooms and meals for the daily influx of up to 110 guests, who take advantage of Moosilauke’s picturesque scenery, its network of 30 miles of hiking trails, and its rustic accommodations.

Managing Moosilauke presents all the challenges of running a hotel, with the additional obstacle of being located on a dirt road in the rugged White Mountains, more than an hour’s drive from the Lodge’s major suppliers.

And that’s not to mention the unexpected challenges.

After receiving the call from Fish and Game, Lesser quickly roused several crew members out of bed and led them up the 4,802-foot mountain. Armed with headlamps and flashlights, the group spent hours combing the mountain, shouting into the darkness for the hikers. A little after midnight, Lesser and her crew finally tracked down the five, who had lost the trail.

“They were really scared,” she says, pausing, “and relieved.”

Lesser recalls the search and rescue on a recent fall day as she sits on a deck looking out on Mt. Moosilauke. Wearing blue jeans and a green sweatshirt that reads “Moosilauke Ravine Lodge,” the English major is quick with a smile and her eyes light up when she talks about one of her favorite places. “I feel really at peace here,” says the Florida native. “It’s a wonderful, simple lifestyle.”

Last year, having worked as a crew member during the summer of 2010, Lesser decided to apply to become manager.

“I couldn’t really think of anything else that I wanted to do more,” she says.

That said, she had no idea what the position would offer her in terms of experience.

“I’ve learned so much from this job,” says Lesser. “You learn a lot about running a business and managing people. It’s been really interesting to learn how people work, and also about my own leadership style.”

Lesser’s style is an easy-going one. Wearing fleece-lined slippers, she cracks jokes at a morning meeting. She teases a co-worker for falling asleep while doing renovations on one of the bunkhouses. As guests begin to arrive in the afternoon, she greets them with a handshake and a smile.

“I’ve really been struck by how well Maddie leads,” says crew member Remy Franklin ’13. “She is dedicated to the tradition of the Lodge, but always willing to consider ways to do things better. She is firm about upholding professional standards of a lodging establishment, and serious about having fun while we do it. She’s a fantastic manager.”

Lesser knows how rare it is to gain managerial experience right out of college, and she is grateful for the opportunity. “I think what’s been most rewarding has been the opportunity to mentor my younger peers,” she says. “The Lodge brings out the best in a lot of people.”

Lesser, who will serve as manager through next summer term, has begun the process of applying to literature PhD programs. Whatever her path, her experience as manager of Moosilauke will be invaluable, she says.

One of her predecessors can vouch for that.

“Managing Moosilauke was experiential learning at its best. At the Lodge I learned to apply my knowledge, to problem solve, to lead a team, to delegate, as well as so many practical skills,” says Jessie Griffen ’10, who works for Green Mountain Farm Direct in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. “My current career managing a food hub grew out of a passion that I developed at Moosilauke, where I learned firsthand about sourcing local, sustainable food directly from farms.”

Moosilauke holds a place in the hearts of many Dartmouth alumni, though, not just those who have worked at the Lodge. Since many First-Year Trips spend a night at the Lodge, Moosilauke serves as one of students’ first impressions of Dartmouth. The Lodge’s guestbook is littered with the notes and signatures of alumni of all ages. A few times each year, a Dartmouth couple gets married at the Lodge.

But a recent Thursday is not one of the wedding nights. It’s a quiet, chilly evening at the Lodge. Only eight people come for a dinner of chowder, salad, and a chicken pasta dish with a side of sautéed zucchini, capped off with a rich rum cake for dessert. Afterward, Lesser helps clean up the kitchen.

The evening winds down with a few crew members and guests chatting as they sit on couches next to the massive stone fireplace. Lesser joins the conversation for a little while. She yawns. It has been a long day; she returned from a shopping run to Hanover and spent the afternoon unloading food, cleaning materials, and other supplies. She is still looking for one more thing, a certain commodity that, for Moosilauke’s manager, can prove elusive: sleep.

A few minutes after 10 p.m., Lesser tells her crew goodnight, and heads off to her room. But she’ll leave her phone on next to her bed.

After all, you never know when New Hampshire Fish and Game might call.

For more information on jobs at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, visit the Dartmouth Outing Club website.

See slideshow on Dartmouth’s flickr site.

Keith Chapman