From an incentive travel point of view, the draw of the mountains can be comparable to the draw of the sea.
Evidence comes from the incentive programs of Xyngular, a Lehi, Utah-based health and nutrition products company. The Caribbean (via cruise) and Bora Bora are among the destinations the company utilizes for its six to eight annual incentive trips, but competing and perhaps eclipsing those destinations in terms of popularity is Utah’s Sundance Mountain Resort.
After a visit to Robert Redford’s creation, Xyngular’s sales representatives will often ask, “How can I earn my way back to Sundance?” remarks company President Marc Walker. “So we have added our Sundance Return Trip, where if someone gets a certain amount of sales in a month we invite them back to be a mentor for the other people there.”
Xyngular’s sales representatives do love the sun ‘n’ fun destinations, Walker says, but “there is something special about Sundance, and when they’ve been there they want to go back.”
“We know most of the staff (at Sundance Resort) by now, and they know us. And we’ve been treated well since day one. They could get used to you (after seven years) and not go the extra mile, but that’s never happened.”
— Marc Walker
Indeed, the group has been going back for seven years to enjoy the amenities at Sundance, a property that epitomizes the mountain resort. Tucked away in a little valley near Mount Timpanogos, the resort recently added a new ski lift and a new zip tour, one of the longest in North America. Xyngular’s qualifiers have taken advantage of both activities, as well as the Redford Conference Center for their meetings.
Part of nearly 14,000 sf of onsite meeting space, the facility has a rustic feel with plenty of wood accents as well as a lobby with a large fireplace. With 95 guest rooms (undergoing a renovation through the first quarter of 2018), the property is a nice fit for Xyngular’s 40–60 incentive winners and spouses. “We know most of the staff by now, and they know us,” says Walker. “And we’ve been treated well since day one. They could get used to you (after seven years) and not go the extra mile, but that’s never happened. For example, in the winter when we do an outdoor event with fire pits they’ll be out there shoveling the snow to make a place for our people; last year they had three feet.”
Outdoor functions, weather permitting, are practically a must at a mountain resort so that attendees can take in the natural majesty of their surroundings.
Raleigh, North Carolina-based FMI Corporation, a management consulting and investment banking provider for the engineering and construction industry, tries to mix in outdoor gatherings as part of its events at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs. Since 2003, the company has staged client-facing leadership training conferences at the 316-room resort, set on 200 scenic acres. “It’s an incredible setting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the Front Range we call it here in Colorado Springs,” says Mark Hooey, consultant and corporate planner with FMI Corporation, who is based in the Denver office.
A great indoor vantage point to appreciate that setting is Cheyenne’s Mountain View Restaurant, infused with natural light from large windows and offering outdoor seating. “They have an incredible buffet with multiple entrees, a well-stocked salad bar and a dessert bar as well,” says Hooey. “We’re meeting before and after the meal so a buffet works very well for us (as opposed to a more time-consuming plated meal). And if the main restaurant is too busy with a special event for a large group, they’ll accommodate us and put us in a breakout room for our meal. And we’ll have our own mini buffet line with the same selection.”
While bringing in only 10–50 attendees at a time, FMI Corporation receives highly attentive service from the resort staff during the full week of the event. Over the years, the group has convened in a variety of spaces within Cheyenne’s more than 40,000 sf of function space. “They’re very aware of what we do each day, and if we need a quick turn on a meeting space from an open space to a classroom or boardroom setting, they’re right on time to help us make those transitions,” Hooey adds.
When not in sessions, including before and after the conference, attendees have a slew of amenities to enjoy onsite, a highlight being the Alluvia Spa & Wellness Retreat. Seasonal offerings include an 18-hole Pete Dye-designed golf course, a private lake with watersports and five outdoor pools. The resort also creates “Signature Meeting Experiences” for groups, such as The Amazing Race (teambuilding based on the hit TV show), Crafty in Colorado Springs Beer Tasting (the city is home to more than 150 craft breweries) and Glow Golf (a nighttime experience of the Pete Dye course).
Toward the end of FMI’s conference, many attendees make time to visit some of Colorado Springs’ remarkable attractions, from Garden of the Gods to Seven Falls to Manitou Springs. “The experience and the setting has been phenomenal,” says Hooey in sum. “Our program has been going for 20 years, and it’s largely successful because clients go back to their home company and say, ‘That was amazing; we need to send more people.’ So the marketing has been word of mouth.”
Another popular option for groups in a state known for its mountain resorts is located in Keystone, amidst three mountains: Dercum Mountain, North Peak and the Outback. Similar to FMI’s relationship with Cheyenne, Louisville, Colorado-based CableLabs has found a long-standing partner in Keystone Resort, taking its annual meeting there for about 18 years.
Keystone offers 1,200 lodging units across three neighborhoods, a good logistical match for the approximately 850 cable operators, internal associates and vendors who attend CableLabs’ annual meeting. Options range from the Keystone Lodge & Spa to the centrally located Inn to Ski Tip Lodge, converted from an 1880s stagecoach stop. The Keystone Conference Center houses more than 60,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space, complementing an additional 40,000 sf of meeting space resort wide. “We find that the Keystone Conference Center meets our needs; it’s an independent building so we can really own the building when we’re there. And it’s just the right size for our event,” explains Annette Smith, manager corporate events at CableLabs.
“The other thing that makes Keystone unique for us is certainly the self-contained services,” she adds. “They handle the shipping themselves. Our electrical needs are also met: We require a Comcast cable feed in for our broadband service; we have a one gigabit fiber line that drops in.” In addition, Wi-Fi is available throughout the meeting rooms and common areas.
Taking full advantage of its natural environs, Keystone offers several unique spaces for special events, including Keystone Stables, Decatur Field, Keystone Lakeside Gazebo, the Mountain View Terrace, Mountain House and Summit House, Key Top Overlook and more. “People love to be in the mountains,” says Smith. “There is biking, hiking and gondola rides to the top of the mountain. It’s almost a game with them to sight wild animals: a moose, a deer, a black bear, even a mother bear and her babies behind the convention center.”
Smith also commends the resort’s culinary creativity and service. “I think that the Keystone F&B organization is probably one of the most interesting in the area. They rival anybody because of the way they bring in interns to the F&B staff. They bring in culinary students, and that gives them a freshness; you’re not seeing the same person doing the same thing all the time,” she explains. “If I say I need to do an event that focuses on Thai cuisine, I would guarantee you I would have a good menu, and it would taste like it should.” For a taste of classic Colorado beef, the CableLabs group sometimes buys out the Keystone Ranch steakhouse, set in an authentic 1930s homestead.
Keystone is managed by Vail Resorts, a few of whose properties are undergoing improvements. The Pines Lodge, a RockResort set among aspen and pine groves on the slopes of Beaver Creek Mountain, is conducting a renovation of its 60 guest rooms, as well as tech upgrades with the addition of 55-inch televisions and USB ports in every room.
In Park City, Utah, the Grand Summit Hotel is closing for renovation from April through mid-summer. A ski-in/ski-out, AAA Four Diamond resort, the Grand Summit Hotel offers 350 lodging options and several on-mountain venues for groups, such as the recently expanded Red Pine Lodge accommodating up to 450 guests.
In February, Vail Resorts entered an agreement to acquire Stowe Mountain Resort, in Stowe, Vermont, from Mt. Mansfield Company Inc. for a purchase price of $50 million. Stowe Mountain Resort will be Vail Resorts’ first mountain resort on the East Coast. Stowe Mountain Resort includes the 312-room Stowe Mountain Lodge and offers 56,000 sf of function space, a world-class spa, two 18-hole championship golf courses, the Spruce Peal Performing Arts Center and some of New England’s finest skiing with more than 100 trails.
Farther down the East Coast lies a classic mountain resort in Bolton Landing, New York. Set on Lake George within the Adirondacks, the Sagamore Resort was built in 1883 and pairs Victorian architecture with AAA Four Diamond quality and service.
Ideal for smaller groups, the property offers 137 guest rooms and a generous amount of indoor meeting space: more than 32,000 sf, including the 15,760-sf Conference Center and the 10,080-sf Sagamore Ballroom. Several improvement projects have been completed or are underway at the Sagamore. Wireless connectivity and download speeds are being increased from 3MB to 10MB. The 32-inch flat-screen TVs in the main hotel have been replaced with 50-inch TVs, and nano doors have been added around the indoor pool so it becomes more of an open-air concept throughout the seasons. In addition, room renovations to the entire main hotel are being planned.
A very different but equally beautiful mountain experience lies out West in Arizona and California. The Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, located on 53 acres in Paradise Valley, Arizona, offers 109 guest rooms and has recently unveiled $2 million in renovations to its Spa Casitas and Spa Suites. Conducted in three stages, the project also saw the 2016 introduction of Spa House (a 3,500-sf mountain enclave for groups of up to 16) and a complete redesign of the resort’s Mountain Casita accommodations in 2015. The 12 Spa Casitas surround the resort’s infinity-edge pool and award-winning Sanctuary Spa. The 12 Spa Suites feature glass rock fireplaces and panoramic views of Paradise Valley’s Sonoran landscape.
The Lake Tahoe experience is also a “paradise” for groups, whether they’re skiing, hiking or just taking in the alpine village of Northstar California. An upscale resort choice ideal for incentive groups is The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, the area’s first AAA Five Diamond resort. Expected to open this summer is the Lake Club, an elegant, multilevel dining and bar facility with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. The facility features a 650-sf indoor gathering area and bar, a 600-sf ground-floor dining terrace, a 950-sf upper-level dining deck and a 2,000-sf lawn area, complemented by a private boat pier, outdoor whirlpool, fire pit and barbecue.
Groups currently have more than 15,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space at the 170-room Ritz-Carlton. During free time, attendees can repair to the 17,000-sf spa and fitness center, or get a little adventurous by taking a gondola ride to the Village at Northstar or a six-mile trip to historic downtown Truckee.
Speaking of adventure, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe has recently launched a resort-wide program called Après Adventurist, offering guests both summer and winter packages of activities. An “Adventurist” acts as a host and escort for activities ranging from wine tasting to stargazing to snowmobile tours.
A mountainside environment tends to bring out the outdoorsman in any attendee, and exploring nature can certainly become a team experience that breeds cohesiveness. Vail Resorts has recently introduced new teambuilding experiences in partnership with CBST Adventures. Available at Vail Resorts properties in eight destinations across Colorado, Utah and California, the menu of activities includes Beaver Creek Winter Rush, based on Winter Olympic games; Vail Resorts RiverVentures Expedition, a rafting or float trip combined with strategic challenges; and Team Tune Up at Lake Tahoe, a corporate wellness/holistic program that features full-body circuit training, yoga and meditation out in nature.
Another notable example of a mountain resort curating outdoor teambuilding activities is Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. Founded in the 1800s like the Sagamore, Mohonk is a Victorian-style National Historic Landmark nestled in the Hudson Valley. Surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest and protected wildlife, the resort is well positioned to offer groups a “back to the roots” selection of meeting activities that integrate survival skills, nature awareness and an “escape from technology.” The new program includes options such as Explore “Man Vs. Wild,” where participants work together to master the “Basic 4” elements of survival while learning to effectively communicate; Fire-Building, a mini-break where groups practice this ancient skill; Nature Walks, led by Mohonk’s naturalist, Michael Ridolfo; and Forest Bathing, an ancient Japanese form of meditation led by Mohonk’s Director of Mindfulness Programming Nina Smiley, Ph.D.
Planners who want their group’s lodging experience to be “close to nature” can consider renting Mohonk Mountain House’s newest accommodation, Grove Lodge, which debuted in September. Located by a fern grove on the northeast side of the 1,200-acre property, the 7,000-sf, two-story lodge utilizes native stones, reclaimed wood, natural finishes and sustainable materials throughout. It features six rooms and a 1,080-sf Great Room with cathedral ceilings, exposed wood beams, a natural hardwood floor and artwork from Hudson Valley artists.
Overall, a mountain resort promises immersion into some of our country’s most inspiring landscapes. And from an incentive perspective, it’s a path historically less trodden than the beach destinations. But as the Xyngular group’s longtime partnership with Sundance Mountain Resort shows, even after any novelty has worn off, attendees are still keen on earning return trips, which require achieving an elevated sales quota. The lure of the mountains, it seems, incentivizes them to greater heights of performance. C&IT