One of the Columbia Valley’s world class dining experiences has unexpectedly closed down for the remainder of the winter season to the dismay of customers and employees.

Eagle Ranch Resort shut the doors of its clubhouse shortly after Christmas. The decision to close the clubhouse, which normally offers a popular fine dining option through the winter months, was made in December, Guy Turcotte told The Valley Echo. Turcotte is the president and CEO of Stone Creek Resorts, the parent company of Eagle Ranch Resort as well as Silvertip Resort in Canmore.

“What we’re going to be doing is upgrading,” he said. “We’re rebranding our restaurant a little bit to what we have up at Silvertip. We have a steakhouse and seafood concept there; we want to bring that dining experience to our clientele at  Eagle Ranch.”

The new concept will require new state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, such as a high temperature grill. Renovations will also extend to the dining room, which will be remodelled to create more of a private atmosphere.

“We’ve had very good success with this in our Canmore operation so we’re going to be doing that at Eagle Ranch,” Turcotte said.

Additionally, the patio will see the installation of a pergola with wooden beams as well as gas heaters and night lighting to allow for comfortable outdoor dining in the summer.

“Something we’ve had significant demand for,” said Turcotte. “This will help expand our dining operation.”

The unexpected announcement came as a surprise to employees, who were informed of their impending layoff on Boxing Day. Several staff quit on the spot, leaving the resort in a lurch for its New Year’s Eve celebration, which it was forced to cancel. Clientele with reservations were informed they had to go elsewhere.

“I feel extremely badly about that for both our customers and our employees,” said Turcotte.

He admitted Stone Creek Resorts could have been more forthcoming with its employees.

“There’s never a good time to lay off anybody but this is absolutely temporary and it is for an upgrade that we’re doing in earnest to revamp our kitchen and patio,” he said.

Turcotte also laid to rest any rumours that the layoff was orchestrated to allow the resort to start over with fresh faces. All former employees would have the opportunity to be hired back, he said. The goal is to reopen in April for the golf season.

“This wasn’t a concept of where we’re laying off people not to hire them back,” said Turcotte. “That’s not a correct rumour because we’re trying to run a very high quality operation. We always have actually and this isn’t changing; this is even going higher.”