It’s been 35 years since “Dirty Dancing” was a hit movie. You wouldn’t think it’s been that long, since the film has become a cult classic, with many devoted followers continuing to discuss it. There’s also been a reality series built around it (“The Real Dirty Dancing”) -- and, set for 2024, a sequel featuring some of the same stars (Jennifer Grey) as in the original.
Another classic that has had a storied history is Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia, which sits on 2,600 acres and was the setting for the movie -- although it was called Kellerman’s in the film. The 175-year-old resort is unique in being owned by a philanthropic organization called the Mary Moody Northen Endowment. When Northen passed away in 1986 and left the property to the endowment run by a board, proper investments were not made and over time the resort fell on hard times and seemed about to close.
Then in 2013 came Heidi Stone, brought in from a resort in Lake Placid, New York, she said “to essentially save Mountain Lake Lodge.” She came in as director of sales and marketing, but six months into her tenure, a new general manager left. Stone -- after initial resistance by the board -- was named to the post.
Slowly, she started to turn things around. Although the property was clearly an outdoor recreation facility, there was little to do in the way of activities. She brought in archery, guided hikes, yoga and much more. And she gradually overhauled the infrastructure. Also, while the board was about to stop promoting the “Dirty Dancing “connection, Stone decided that an affiliation with the film could be key.
It turned out the resort did not have an official licensing agreement for the movie, but Stone put that together and now has joint logo rights with the studio that owns the film. So the first-ever Kellerman’s gift shop is opening soon. The property had long been open seasonally, but Stone made it year-round with winter sports, cozy fireplaces and more. And she significantly enhanced the food and beverage offerings by capitalizing on produce from nearby farms.
Last year, the “Real Dirty Dancing” reality show was filmed at the resort, and Mountain Lake’s six annual “Dirty Dancing” weekends are sold out a year in advance. With a location about 300 miles from Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, Mountain Lake is mainly a drive-to destination. However, guests fly internationally for the “Dirty Dancing” weekends.
Stone has been rewarded for her efforts. Not only was she the first female general manager of the property, but she was recently named the first president. Because of the growth, Stone was able to promote five of her directors to vice president -- two of them women who started out with her. “Being able to promote and grow women’s careers is a big deal,” she said.
Bottom line: Mountain Lake had its biggest year ever in 2021, as travelers looked for places that felt like home. Half of the resort’s accommodations are cabins and cottages. And the property has become sought-after for meetings and weddings. When she arrived, said Stone, there were four weddings on the books. Now there are 50 a year, because of the scenic views and the “Dirty Dancing” connection. And the resort is about to expand with a new outdoor pub and pizza kitchen, a new retail center and a rooms expansion to be announced later.
To paraphrase the most famous line from the movie: “Nobody puts Heidi Stone in a corner.”