There’s something about the mountains, whether the cloud-piercing peaks of the Rockies, the high slopes of the Sierra Nevadas or the Appalachians folded into green forests and valleys in the east. Mountains can humble. Mountains can challenge. Mountains can inspire — all of which makes them ideal for corporate meetings and incentives.
The Sierra Nevadas offer more than a few mountain towns worthy of a planner’s attention. Among them, Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas.
Sandra DiDomizio, CMM, MBA, founder/chief experience officer at Green Fox Events & Guest Services, brought 75 neurosurgeons to Mammoth Lakes, California, for an annual retreat. The group was based primarily at The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth.
One reason for the choice of Mammoth was personal. “The primary of the group, Dr. Dorsi, loves Mammoth Lakes and has a personal connection to the area. The date also originated around his birthday, so he decided to invite all his colleagues and industry peers to his favorite place during his favorite time of year. The client wanted access to snow sports and activities for all the attendees and their families.”
DiDomizio says, “Neurosurgery is one of the most stressful professions in the world. It’s relaxing for these doctors to be in the mountains and enjoy daily outdoor activities, while convening in the mornings and evenings. They also enjoyed the camaraderie. Some brought their spouses and children who could also enjoy all the winter recreational opportunities. In addition to snowboarding and skiing, there’s tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding, natural hot springs and more. Many of these attendees don’t have time in their personal and professional lives for much recreation, so having a meeting in a recreational mecca makes their time together more special and makes the event more memorable.”
“Mammoth is a place where you can get your group outdoors doing something they cannot normally do at home.” -Sandra DiDomizio
DiDomizio calls the drive from Southern California to Mammoth Lakes beautiful. “And while some might deem it difficult to get here, the surroundings and recreational activities make up for it.”
The group took part in much that Mammoth offers. “We included family activities and games on the ski mountain and a scavenger hunt in town. We included a pick-your-own-adventure day of various activities, a brewery tour, a bowling tournament at Mammoth Rock ‘N’ Bowl and we had special dinners at private restaurants for the group. We work with Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Rock ‘N’ Bowl often,” she adds. “They’re great partners. It’s important that we maintain good relationships with all venues in the area — especially the big ones with a lot of space and activities.”
The group used space at both the Westin and at other venues operated by Mammoth Resorts. “To be honest,” DiDomizio says, “Mammoth Lakes lacks large meeting and convention space, but for groups of 40-90 it’s perfect. We have many spaces — meeting spaces, restaurants, event spaces — that we use creatively.”
DiDomizio admits the group has at times experienced strong snow storms, closed roads and winds during event days. “We try to predict and be proactive, such as providing guests with alternate means of transportation. We work with a local shuttle company to drive down to Los Angeles to pick up guests if their flights are cancelled. We find alternate activities and create indoor games if it’s unsafe to go outside.”
A major upside to a meeting in Mammoth, DiDomizio notes, is that “Resort communities offer so many nontraditional, team-building experiences.”
She advises anyone considering Mammoth Lakes for a meeting to be open. “Don’t restrict yourself to one season. While winter in Mammoth Lakes is popular, the summer offers almost more, and different, recreational opportunities. Always ask about ‘shoulder’ seasons when the resort is a bit slower and quieter. These are usually the weeks in which you can get great pricing, though weather may be a bit unpredictable. Additionally,” she points out, “local guides, pros and athletes are often excellent speaker resources.”
Most of all, DiDomizio says, “Mammoth is a place where you can get your group outdoors doing something they cannot normally do at home.”
The Rocky Mountains have an ‘embarrassment of riches’ when it comes to mountain towns and resorts that can draw attendees to a meeting.
While The Broadmoor is not exactly a mountain venue, it sits at the base of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. Some 3,000 feet above the main property, on top of Cheyenne Mountain, is the aptly named Cloud Camp, the resort’s private rustic wilderness retreat with stunning views and The Broadmoor’s exemplary service. This is where Conner Wege, regional marketing strategist with Envirosight, brought a group of 20 for the company’s marketing seminar.
“Logistically, we needed a secluded, mountainous, yet premium location located in the middle of the U.S. to which our attendees — who were coming from all over the country — could easily travel. Denver International Airport offers a wide availability of direct flights, which made travel convenient for them. We needed the perfect mix of high-end accommodations and fully functional meeting space along with catering options, quality food and available entertainment for group activities all packaged up in a one-of-a-kind setting. Cloud Camp offered just that and more with precise and professional event planning and incomparable customer service.”
The mountain setting underscored an important theme. “An underlying message we wanted to communicate to our attendees was that we were all ascending to greatness together by being there,” Wege says. “The ascension up the mountain from The Broadmoor to Cloud Camp was a literal representation of our intended goal to elevate our guest’s marketing acumen. The sheer beauty of Cheyenne Mountain combined with the authentic rusticity of the main lodge and guest cabins only made Cloud Camp’s location and setting more impactful to our attendees.”
Wege notes that the group has met in the past at other ranch-style locations, and after discussions with Cloud Camp’s sales manager, he thought the camp had all the amenities necessary “to create a memorable and one-of-a-kind experience for our guests. The quality of location combined with a fantastic meeting space and unique activities made Cloud Camp the most exceptional venue to host our event.”
Among the activities the group took part in were a guided hike, archery, disc golf, a mixology class and various lawn games. The food, Wege says, was a major highlight. “The attention to quality and preparation of the meals was amazing.”
Wege points to the camp’s sales manager as a standout. “She was highly professional, organized, accommodating and a pleasure to work with. She made the experience from planning to execution a very positive experience.” That said, he also notes, “Every staff member of Cloud Camp provided unmatched professionalism and customer service.”
In terms of meeting space, the group used the camp’s stand-alone Overlook meeting space, perched on the mountain with stunning views. “The Overlook meeting room was the perfect setup for our seminar,” Wege says. “The A/V system was simple, easy to use and effective for our purposes. The Cloud Camp staff allowed us to set up the day before, which was very helpful. When we arrived, the room was ready for our use with tables and tablecloths arranged, charging stations, water and coffee and snacks nicely set up. We ordered lunch catering for our final seminar day, which was very well put together. The staff consistently checked in to make sure we had enough coffee, water and snacks without interrupting our meeting — not to mention, the back-deck view was incredible.”
There were some challenges, but the Cloud Camp team worked to solve them. “Due to the logistical nature of the drive from Denver’s airport to The Broadmoor and up to Cloud Camp, the arrangement of our guest’s flights and travel time to the venue was challenging at times. The staff helped us resolve these issues by working diligently with us to coordinate our arrival timelines and facilitating custom shuttle pickup times. If we were to do it again, however, we would direct attendees to fly into Colorado Springs.”
To planners considering Cloud Camp, Wege advises, “Ensure you have a solid plan of what you want and need to accomplish it. Be aware of the 1 1/2- to 2-hour drive from the Denver airport to The Broadmoor, which doesn’t account for check-in time and the 35-minute shuttle from The Broadmoor up to Cloud Camp. The altitude did have minor effects on certain guests, but nothing to worry about as long as plenty of water was consumed.” However, he adds, “Guests need to understand that although the accommodations and venue are premium, climbing staircases and walking on gravel or dirt to get around is necessary, which could be challenging for certain guests. I would recommend planning three to six months out, have a detailed event plan and share all event-related details with the sales manager, who will aid in the planning process.”
Challenges aside, the end result was clear. “Nearly all our guests commented that Cloud Camp was one of the most amazing experiences, venues and locations they’ve ever visited.”
Colorado is not lacking in spectacular mountain settings, but few towns have the cache and global recognition of Aspen. Jeanie Seehof, president of Docherty Incentives & Meetings, brought an executive retreat of 32 to Aspen earlier this year, basing the group at the equally renowned Hotel Jerome, which underwent an expansion and renovation last year.
“The group was looking for a high-end location for an executive retreat with top-quality restaurants, an abundance of activities and easy to get to. Aspen offered all that and more,” Seehof says. “Most of the group flew directly into Aspen which was easy. Some chose to fly to Denver and rent a car to see more of the beauty of Colorado.”
Because this company typically does ‘sun and fun and Europe’ for its incentive programs, they felt that for the executive retreat, “the mountains would offer enough variety for everyone and yet be different from the incentive programs they do,” Seehof says.
Biking, white-water rafting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, golf, jeep tours and a spa were among the activities. And because they were on their own for two nights, Seehof says they were able to experience some of Aspen’s highly regarded restaurants, “including The Wild Fig, Campo de Fiori, element 47, Steakhouse No. 316, Cache Cache, French Alpine Bistro – Crêperie du Village and Jing.”
About the Hotel Jerome, Seehof says, “The team at the Hotel Jerome is amazing — great food, flexible, detail oriented, customer-service oriented and supportive. I can’t say enough good about the team there.”
Seehof set functions in the hotel’s various spaces. “We used A/V for lighting our function and nightly hospitality space,” she says. “Our welcome event was in the Aspen Times Room with the reception outdoors at the property. The food and beverage was excellent. I used Aspen Branch for florals and they were great to work with.”
In addition to hotel staff, Seehof highly recommends planners work with the Aspen Chamber of Commerce during planning and throughout the event. “The Chamber was a huge help with the program. They provided insight, ideas, maps and brochures. They have a lot to offer in terms of updated current events, etc.”
She also worked with local destination management company PRA Colorado, which she calls “fabulous.” In the end, she says of Aspen, “considering the variety of activities, restaurants and shopping offered, you won’t be disappointed. And the sheer beauty of the city of Aspen surrounded by all of the mountains has so much appeal.”
Other venues include the W Aspen, which opened late summer. Among other niceties, it features a 12,000-sf rooftop bar and pool. Another venue, The Little Nell, underwent a refresh this past spring, and Hunter Loft is the town’s newest venue, able to accommodate up to 200 guests.
Last year, a $600 million development at the base of Snowmass Ski Area made its debut. It includes the new 99-room Limelight Hotel Snowmass and a reimagined base village around a plaza that features an ice rink in winter and grass lawn in summer. Inside the Limelight is a five-story climbing wall. Lodging also includes One Snowmass, with ski-in/ski-out residences, new shops and restaurants. Viceroy Snowmass also got a refresh this spring, including complete redesign of all guest spaces.
This year the Grand Hyatt Vail opened, the first Grand Hyatt in a mountain destination. The hotel features ski-in-ski-out convenience, 285 rooms and its own chairlift exclusively for hotel guests, a nice touch for incentive groups.
Yes, the mitten-shaped state has mountains, ski areas and resorts that provides a mountain magic of its own.
Among the recent improvements at this Midwest ski resort is a new pavilion tent near the base of the slopes. It has a concrete floor and can hold 250-300 for receptions. The Inn at the Mountain’s rooftop terrace is part of a $12 million expansion the resort completed last year. The space-with-a-view can host private functions of 70-80. Over at the Crystal Center, the resort’s conference center, new carpeting and furnishings provide a nice refresh, and new screens have been added to many of the resort’s conference spaces. And for meetings that have a bit of free time, attendees should know that Crystal Spa was recently rated the top spa in Michigan.
The Green Mountains are part of the impressively long Appalachian chain, and the setting for one of the state’s revered ski areas.
In the northeast, Topnotch Resort provides the perfect spot for the annual sales and branding meeting of Cabot Creamery, with about 65 in attendance. The resort is tucked into Vermont’s Green Mountains, and Kurt Weber, Cabot Creamery senior vice president, says as soon as he saw it, he knew it was right. “The second I saw Topnotch and the facilities, rooms and access to Stowe, I was convinced.”
The company has held at least four meetings at Topnotch, which Weber calls ideal for events with fewer than 100 people. “The resort sets the right tone for a meeting,” he says. “People are out of the office, outside their comfort zone and there are fewer distractions than in the office. I want people to be more open and let their guard down a bit. For what I’m doing it’s a great spot.”
Typically the group comes in on Monday and leaves Thursday afternoon. “I usually do two dinners on the property,” Weber says. “One is a barbecue and the other, in the upper restaurant, is buffet style. We take over the whole restaurant. On Monday night they’re on their own. Some stay on property and others might go into Stowe.”
Weber’s group uses the resort’s meeting spaces, workout facility and many of the available amenities. Weber says they spend the majority of time in meetings — beginning with breakfast at 7:15 a.m. and concluding at 5 p.m. But when they’re not working, there’s hiking in summer and skiing in winter. “And Stowe is just five minutes away,” he adds.
Topnotch isn’t a typical ski lodge though it captures some of that rustic warmth. “It’s very light with a contemporary feel,” Weber says. “It has good food and good access and activities including tennis, pools and spa. It’s the whole package.”
He says the area offers many opportunities for team building, and the group often volunteers as well. “We might do something at a trailhead, such as trail cleanup. We have a good connection with the state of Vermont.”
Of the staff at Topnotch, Weber says “All the staff is great. I’m very picky about my meetings and how they’re run and how they’re set up, especially with food because as I’m a healthy eater. They always come through and do a good job. One of the reasons we’ve been coming back is because they’re so great to work with.”
Topnotch has fewer than 100 rooms. “This year they didn’t have enough rooms but it wasn’t a problem. There are condos on the property and I used those as well,” Weber says.
To those looking for an excellent meeting hotel in the mountains, Weber recommends a site visit. “I’ve done 25 years of meetings in a lot of rooms and Topnotch does a really nice job. If you have an opportunity to go there, you’ll be convinced just like I was.”
Whichever mountain range, town or resort a planner chooses, the meeting is likely to be atop the list of a group’s memorable events. C&IT