ColoradoJune 1, 2014

Setting the Scene for Blue-Sky Thinking By
June 1, 2014


Setting the Scene for Blue-Sky Thinking
Credit: Daniel Bayer/Aspen Chamber of Commerce and Resort Association

Credit: Daniel Bayer/Aspen Chamber of Commerce and Resort Association

An amazing setting can inspire attendees and elevate a meeting. Colorado has no lack of inspirational backdrops and can be as rustic-wilderness or sleekly urban as a group wants. Even in winter the sun is likely to be shining boldly, and that alone fosters an air of positivity. And the physical reality of those brilliant blue skies may inspire attendees into the figurative blue-sky style of thinking, defined as creative thinking unfettered by preconceptions and convention — in other words, brainstorming out of the box.


Colorado’s foremost meetings cities offer two variations on the urban experience.


“Denver has come to symbolize a young, active, innovative and outdoor city, and those are themes that many corporations and incentive groups want to be associated with,” says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver, the convention and visitors bureau. “Having a corporate gathering in Denver brings a spirit of adventure into the meeting room. We have a modern, clean, safe, pedestrian-oriented downtown, but when you look out the window, you see 100 miles of snowcapped peaks. That brings a big-sky, open-minded feeling into the corporate culture that you don’t get in many other cities.”

With so much going for it, Denver keeps many local companies meeting near home. “The global headquarters of Arrow Electronics Inc. is in the Denver area, which makes this city a preferred destination for many of our events,” says Kirsten Lonnquist, CMP, senior event manager. In March, 770 attendees gathered for the Spring Arrow Centralized Training 2014, based at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center. The hotel finished a $23 million redesign of all 1,100 accommodations that same month.

“This event has been held in Colorado multiple times,” Lonnquist says, “but this was the first time it took place in downtown Denver.” She calls Denver’s accessibility to domestic and international visitors a good fit for the company and likes that attendees have so much available to them within walking distance during free time.

The Hyatt Regency’s downtown location, plentiful accommodations and extensive meeting space with what Lonnquist calls “excellent flow” added to the appeal. “Our event was a huge success,” she says, “which can be attributed to the hard work every vendor, especially the Hyatt Regency Denver, and the Arrow ACT Team put in to meet the high standards we set.”

Lonnquist says event managers “should not be afraid to ask that tests or rehearsals be done with equipment or that walkthroughs be conducted for crowd-control or load-in and load-outs.” Problems may still occur, she adds, “but rehearsals offer the principal parties the tools to be able to respond more quickly to an unanticipated problem.”

To those considering Denver, Lonnquist advises booking early. “Denver has become a popular city for events, and finding venues with the necessary meeting space coupled with adequate guest rooms can be a challenge. The convention center can provide more meeting space; however, there are finite hotel rooms available at any given time for those attending large gatherings. Planners need to encourage attendees to meet registration deadlines, thereby lessening the risk of some attendees having to book a hotel room less convenient to the event.”

“Denver has become a popular city for events, and finding venues with the necessary meeting space coupled with adequate guest rooms can be a challenge. ” — Kirsten Lonnquist, CMP

While Denver’s walkability is an asset, so is the city’s bike-sharing program. Attendees can pick up a bike at any of 82 stations and then return it to any station after exploring and gaining a boost from the Mile High City’s palpable energy.

Colorado Springs

If the view from Pikes Peak could inspire Katharine Lee Bates to pen “America the Beautiful,” what might it inspire a corporate group to achieve?

Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, says meeting planners derive many benefits. “Colorado Springs is a vibrant metropolis. Attendees can experience a rich arts scene and 10 minutes later be exploring Pike National Forest. Our amazing blue skies, range of lodging, value pricing and extensive list of activities and attractions are just a few reasons the area entices so many planners year after year.”

Inherently inspiring attractions include the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Garden of the Gods Park, the new Cheyenne Mountain State Park Archery Range (perfect for teambuilding), and, of course, Pikes Peak.

Accommodations can be inspiring, too, especially the historic Broadmoor with its European-influenced elegance. For Laurie Barr, event director and corporate secretary for the Denver Gold Group, The Broadmoor is a perfect setting for the company’s Denver Gold Forum because “It is the best.”

The group of 1,200 met at The Broadmoor in September 2011. Barr says the staff was proactive to the organization’s needs and everything was first class. “I have only good things to say about The Broadmoor,” she adds. “The food was marvelous, the hotel staff was delightful, the venue was superb, and everyone enjoyed it.”

While everyone appreciates The Broadmoor’s impeccable service and surroundings, Barr underscores that the purpose of the forum is to facilitate business. The Broadmoor does that impeccably, too. Denver Gold Group will gather there again in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

For something completely different, The Broadmoor recently announced an exclusive agreement with a private sporting ranch in northern Colorado, allowing groups to book a four-day/three-night private hunting-and-sporting experience, October through March.


Rocky Mountain panoramas offer inspiration on every level, but each town has its own personality.


Audi of America has a long history with Aspen — an uber upscale enclave with mining roots — that includes sponsoring ski events and local youth programs. Its meeting being held this month, the Audi A8 Dealer Launch and Incentive Event, is ideally suited to the town.

“The location absolutely plays a part,” says Erin Keating, senior manager, events and experiential marketing. “For this particular meeting, we are focusing on the launch of the benchmark of ultimate success in our product lineup, the A8. Therefore, we wanted a location that embodies the spirit and lifestyle of our ideal A8 customer.

“We have an ongoing partnership with the Aspen Skiing Company based on matching demographics of audience, the premium nature of the facilities and resorts, the availability of high-end culinary establishments and the affinity with skiing, a core brand pillar for Audi.”

In keeping with its brand attributes, Audi booked The Little Nell, a Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel. Some attendees stayed at the Forbes Four Star, AAA Four Diamond St. Regis Aspen as well. “The staff have been easy to work with at both properties,” Keating says, “with high attention to details and customer service. They have been very willing to assist us with items outside the purview of the hotel properties, and allowed us a lot of time in the planning phase.”

Audi also arranged for a function at one of Aspen’s magnificent private homes, and a “lunch around” at various restaurants in town. While Aspen is a perfect geographical embodiment of the Audi brand, Keating notes that it comes with a price. “While we are a luxury brand and expect to pay for premium experiences, I will say the only thing planners really need to be prepared for are the high costs. There is definitely a premium price to pay for the privilege of hosting an event in Aspen.”

For the right group, it’s money well spent. “Aspen offers corporate and incentive groups an unparalleled setting where they can unwind and take a break from the everyday grind while still being productive,” says Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “The ability for groups to get around Aspen by walking, biking or on a free bus makes planning a program here easy and efficient. Attendees have access to world-class mountains and hotels, over 100 restaurants and internationally renowned art and culture right at the doorstep of their hotel.”

In the end, though, Braun comes back to the setting. “The natural setting inspires greatness and motivates individuals to be their best self on both a personal and professional level.”

What better results could a meeting planner ask for?

Vail, Breckenridge & Keystone

January meetings in a Colorado ski town are anything but dreary. Slopes blanketed in snow under sunny skies are as enticing to some as palm trees and beaches to others.

Water Pik Inc., based in Fort Collins, Colorado, traditionally holds its executive meeting in January, combining a business agenda with time for employees to hit the slopes. The 2014 meeting was held in Vail, where old-school Alps intersect with today’s mountain chic. It was based at The Lodge at Vail, which completed a $1 million renovation to its pool area last summer and will refresh guest rooms this year.

“We like that you can step outside and be on the ski lift,” says Carrie Busteed, executive assistant to Water Pik’s CEO and planner for the meeting. “We also enjoy Vail Village and the great restaurants. There was good service all around, and Nicole Spurlock, our event manager, was great at communicating with us up through the event.”

Dinners were held at different restaurants in town, with Game Creek among the standouts. “Game Creek was phenomenal, and the staff was wonderful,” Busteed notes. “The atmosphere of the dining room was lovely — flanked by a fireplace along one wall and window views of the mountainside.”

The 14 attendees took advantage of some of Vail’s top activities. “Free time was up to the individual,” Busteed says. “Everyone who participated in the ski lessons really enjoyed the instructor. And the Mountain Musher dog-sledding tour was terrific.”

One regret Busteed has is that she did not go to Vail ahead of time. “I had not spent time in Vail prior to the meeting, so it was hard to get a feel for the town, where things were, restaurants, etc. I wish I had taken a day to visit prior to the meeting.”

Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone are all part of Vail Resorts. Each town has something different for groups in terms of ambience, lodging and, of course, the slopes themselves.

Vail’s excellent meetings hotels include Vail Cascade Club; Vail Marriott Mountain Resort; Arrabelle at Vail Square, a Rock Resort; and The Sebastian-Vail, which claims the most meeting space in town with 8,500 sf. The hotel is currently undergoing a guest room redesign to be completed in December.

A classic Colorado mountain resort, Keystone is committed to green initiatives and meetings. Its Meetings That Move You programs educate and inspire groups, and connect them to nature. Also enticing groups is the 60,000-sf Keystone Conference Center. “Surrounded by beauty, built for business” is both tagline and spot-on description.

The highest of the three resorts is Breckenridge, its base a lofty 9,600 feet up. Among its coveted venues is Tenmile Station, which accommodates 200 attendees at a view-centric 10,234 feet.


Many Colorado ranches offer meeting space, welcome groups and provide an experience that impacts conferences in surprising ways.

Workforce Insight wanted an amazing setting for its October 2013 company retreat, and found it outside of Frasier, Colorado. “Devil’s Thumb Ranch is the perfect location for us,” says Meghan Emswiller, vice president of HR and planner for the event. “Our headquarters is in Denver, and we wanted to be away from the city but not a four-hour drive into the mountains. DTR is about two hours, so it’s away, yet accessible. The fact that it’s somewhat isolated is perfect. Everything we needed was right there. Our employees weren’t driving anywhere or going off on their own instead of being present at the event. It was good for the company because it kept everyone talking and interacting in a way that doesn’t always happen. The fireplaces, both inside and outside, seemed to pull people in and bring them together. It was wonderful. “

The group of 70 ranged in age from 23 to mid-60s, and Emswiller says the ranch engaged them all. “Everyone loved the location and had only good things to say about the ranch, the people at it and the food.”

Emswiller found the staff willing to help plan and facilitate everything — even some unusual requests. “We wanted to do fun things in addition to the meetings. We have some jokesters in our group so, for example, one of our owners rode into the first event on a donkey, dressed in a toga. We told the ranch staff what we wanted, and they made it happen.”

The retreat was a reward for employees and a way to bring the far-flung group together. “We have employees all over the U.S,. and many have never been to the real Colorado,” Emswiller says. “We’re a very virtual company, and while our employees work together via computer, they don’t often interact in person.”

The first day was designed for fun and bonding. Company Olympics took place on the ranch lawn — a huge success to be repeated next year — and afterward employees tried fly-fishing, zip-lining or mountain biking with their workplace team or individually. Some chose simply to network around the fireplace.

Networking occurred elsewhere, too. “I liked that we had options in terms of how to accommodate everyone,” Emswiller says. “Some stayed in cabins, some in the bunkhouse and some in the main lodge area — all wonderful. But the bunkhouse became a gathering spot, a very organic way of people from all parts of the company getting together, and that was beneficial to the whole experience.”

Two days of business included breakfast and lunch in the expansive meeting space and dinner in different locations, including a buyout of the main dining area and bar.

But that first day set the stage for success. “Highlights for me included standing on that lawn and doing the Olympics, and afterward having so many employees come up to tell me how much they loved where we were and what we were doing,” Emswiller says. “They were so happy and appreciative. That set the tone for the whole meeting.

“We do profit-sharing, so this retreat was paid for by all of the employees. They were glad we did it even if they maybe could have used that money for something else. It was a success from every perspective.”


Attendees find diverse cuisines and a sense of place in local restaurants.

La Biblioteca, in Denver’s Riverfront Park neighborhood, serves Latin-Asian cuisine and a huge selection of tequilas. Private dining accommodates up to 40, a full buyout 60–100.

Hard Rock Cafe reopens in Denver this June following major renovations and a reimagined menu. The Red Rocks function room accommodates up to 80; buyouts are for up to 600 indoors while Block Party galas accommodate 3,000.

In Colorado Springs, groups can try some of the 115–130 bourbons on hand at Bourbon Brothers Southern Kitchen, some crafted by Colorado small-batch distillers.

Set high above Vail, Game Creek Restaurant is a stunning mountain chalet open only certain nights and accessible via the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Buyouts accommodate up to 120, private dining, depending on the room, 28–60.

Prospect at Aspen’s beloved Hotel Jerome is a modern, three-meal American bistro. Private dinners can be booked for up to 25, buyouts for 75–90.


The big news in Denver is the July unveiling of historic Union Station.The new dining/retail venue also will house the elegant 112-room Crawford Hotel, which will share meeting space with its historic affiliate across the street, The Oxford Hotel.

The 230-room Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center opened in May in the historic Colorado National Bank Building, melding neo-classical architecture with a sophisticated contemporary aesthetic. The 6,000 sf of meeting space includes three of the original vaults.

As part of its $28 million redesign, Grand Hyatt Denver transformed the 38th-floor Pinnacle Club into striking function space with horizon-to-horizon views. Upgrades also included refreshing the 516 guest rooms, a stylish new lobby and Fireside, the lobby bar with its dramatic wall fireplace.

In March, Four Seasons Hotel Denver announced new sustainability measures including biodegradable room keys and biodegradable water bottles for meetings. The new Level 3 Salon within the spa is available for buyouts, a nice VIP treat.

Elway’s, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver’s signature steak house, now features a Chef’s Table with a window into the kitchen. The 12-seat table is ideal for executive boards and VIPs.

JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek’s Fireside event space received a $1 million refresh. Accommodating 250, it features LED chandeliers with color enhancement and two walls of glass doors opening to a patio with two fire pits and lounge seating.

Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs invested $3.8 million in its championship golf course, which reopened in May. Renovations include rebuilt bunkers, elevated tee boxes and an additional 47 yards.

The Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp opens in August, offering a unique option for an executive retreat or small group booking. Perched 3,000 feet above The Broadmoor, the Cloud Camp feels like a wilderness mountain getaway yet it’s just a shuttle ride away from hotel’s meeting space and amenities. There are 11 one- and two-bedroom guest cabins, seven accommodations in the lodge, and best of all, 360-degree views of all the surrounding alpine wonder.

A new entertainment venue opens this month at The Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel in Colorado Springs. The two-level Gold Room features a mezzanine, stage, bar and adjacent kitchen, and accommodates up to 180 for dinner, 350 for a concert or reception.

Renovations to meeting space at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa wrapped up in May, giving the Vail Valley its largest ballroom, which is bathed in natural light. Guest rooms were refreshed in November.

The Gant, by Destination Hotels & Resorts, in Aspen, debuts a $5 million renovation and expansion of The Molly Campbell Conference Center this month. The conference center offers a panoramic rooftop terrace, a new specialty café, expanded flexible indoor and outdoor floor plans, and contemporary new furnishings and accessories.

The hotel-wide renovation at DoubleTree by Hilton Breckenridge in October included 208 guest rooms and 9,000 sf of function space. What’s new: an outdoor patio, and sound and lighting controlled via iPad.

Construction on the 519-room The Westin Denver International Air­port is slated for completion late 2015. It will include a 26,000-sf conference center with 12 meeting rooms and three ballrooms.

Opened in May, Woolley’s Classic Suites, Denver Airport is business-ready with 9,000 sf of meeting space, complimentary Internet, free airport transportation and a Hertz Rent-a-Car kiosk with 24/7 vehicle availability. C&IT

Back To Top