Sunlight ski lodge reinvented as temporary co-living quarters for business venture development
GlenX founder Altai Chuluun hopes trial run can be model to roll out co-living communities elsewhere
When the coronavirus pandemic and ownership changes idled the Sunlight Mountain Inn outside Glenwood Springs earlier this year, Altai Chuluun saw a new opportunity to cultivate entrepreneurship.
For several years now, the founder and organizer of the GlenX business success summits and youth career fairs has been promoting the concept of co-working and co-learning as a way for people to do business in a group setting.
Part of that original vision was carried forth in the form of the spin-off nonprofit Coventure business incubator in Carbondale, now run by Chuluun’s former nonprofit partner Mike Lowe and Tyler Moebius.
Chuluun, meanwhile, has continued to focus his efforts more on the co-learning and business education side of that vision.
“It ties back to my passion around rethinking education,” said Chuluun, who in 2016 helped spearhead an effort to enter Glenwood’s Yampah Mountain High School in the national XQ Super Schools grant contest.
“I’m still very passionate about education, and how we can do things differently for future generations outside of the current system,” he said.
An extension of co-working and learning is “co-living.” That’s where budding entrepreneurs live and work in the same place for a period of time, sharing ideas and teaching each other in a more intimate setting while developing different business ventures.
“Co-living spaces are pretty popular in big cities; often a nice complex or shared home where you’re building community together and have shared amenities,” Chuluun said.
It got him to thinking that the same approach could be tailored to a remote setting here in the Rocky Mountains.
So, when the owners of the Sunlight Inn property were looking for someone to take over the lodge business — ever the entrepreneur himself — Chuluun jumped at the chance.
With the prospects of running a full-scale guest lodge on indefinite hold until the public health situation is under better control, Chuluun saw it as a vehicle to test the co-living model.
The lodge is situated at the base of the Sunlight Mountain Resort ski area on Four Mile Road, but is separately owned by a group of property investors.
Since late summer, Chuluun and his small staff have been operating the lodge on a very limited scale as the Nergu CoLiving Community.
Nergu (nergui) means “nameless” in Chuluun’s native Mongolian — “being without ego, and living for others around us,” he said.
Currently, eight people are living at the Sunlight lodge and either working remotely for existing companies, building a new one or developing various technology ventures.
“It’s an exciting prospect to try to help young adults find a more meaningful education, to help real businesses grow, and to develop members of our future workforce,” Chuluun said.
Mostly “digital nomads,” in his words, participants are able to stay focused on their work in the remote, rustic inn setting, complete with high-speed internet and tech support, but without a lot of other outside distractions.
It’s not all work, though, as participants also have the easy escape into the surrounding outdoor environment for a chance to re-energize.
Ellis Garaudy met Chuluun at an Aspen young professionals event a few years ago, and the two have been sharing ideas “over beers” ever since.
Garaudy said he decided to take up Chuluun’s invitation to come to the co-living lodge to develop some computer applications he has been working on.
One is an augmented, virtual reality application that is tailored toward helping children with learning disabilities, or who are on the autism spectrum.
“It allows kids to read a story, and it comes to life where they can interact with the digital characters,” Garaudy said.
Users are also able to play the story game remotely with others on the same application, he explained.
Another of Garaudy’s ventures is geared toward creating a ledger protocol for companies to distribute merit-based equity among employees.
Others plying their trade or developing start-up ventures at the lodge work in information technology, internet coding, property management and food catering.
Lodge staff members themselves are also taking advantage of the down time to develop their skills, including inn keeper Jason Wood, nutritionist Jessica McMinn and head of operations Michelle Elle.
Eventually, the plan is for the lodge to return to accommodating short-term guests looking for a mountain get-away.
Elle is a longtime Glenwood Springs-area resident, with a family background in hospitality and resort operations.
“This is just a great spot for a year-round resort,” she said, noting that neighboring Sunlight is one of the last independently owned ski areas in Colorado.
“It’s kind of the last fun one in the middle of the big global giants,” she said.
The inn is a perfect complement to that, she said, with opportunities to offer guided snowshoe and cross country ski tours in the winter, and nature hikes and UTV tours in the summer.
Originally from Minnesota, Elle is of Native American descent and is versed in teaching about the natural world.
“We had one of our staff members who was followed by a mountain lion the other night,” Elle said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to teach people what to do in those situations, how to look for tracks and interpret nature, and to take that knowledge back to their communities.”
Incubating the co-living model
The temporary co-living arrangement at the Sunlight Inn is giving Chuluun the chance to refine the model and eventually apply it in other settings.
The brand itself will eventually transition to more of its own agency — a school that teaches business skills using the unique co-learning approach, which can then be taken anywhere.
The Nergu approach uses a “quadruple bottom line focus,” Chuluun said.
First, what kind of impact will that business venture have on people? Second, what impact will it have on the planet?
Third is the profit motive that drives any business venture, he said, but with a solid plan to make sure the business is maintaining and growing.
“The fourth is my personal take, which is ‘aligned purpose,’” Chuluun said. “To me, that means aligning our human purpose to help progress humanity for our future generations.”
The lodge setting is just an opportune place to test those ideals, and the concept of using co-living as a way to achieve them, he said.
“If we’re able to build good community around like-minded individuals who care about one another, and respect and try to help one another … that’s the best thing that we could do out of this.”
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