Tried-and-true conference destinations such as Las Vegas and Chicago maximize amenities of size, access and service that meeting planners look for in creating a program for high-profile corporate events. What most top meeting destinations don’t offer is a change of pace from the hectic city life that most of us wade through day-in and day-out.
For an alternative, a program set in a mountain location offers a literal change of scenery from citified activities. Such was the case for Rhiana Bible, who planned a series of summer regional meetings while she was senior travel director for Maritz Travel.
“What’s nice and unique about having a mountain environment is the wealth of opportunities for adventure within the confines of having to work,” Bible says. “Not only is there a surplus of activities for all, but the slightly cooler temperatures from the higher elevations are refreshing.”
“What better way to break the monotony and routine than to throw in some high-altitude fun?”
Adds Allison London, executive assistant and special event planner at Longitude Capital, “Let’s face it, when you work in the financial sector you’re likely spending long hours in front of a computer day after day. Most communication, even with coworkers, is done electronically. What better way to break the monotony and routine than to throw in some high-altitude fun?”
From the Sierras of California to Colorado to the Adirondacks of New York, there are mountain options in varying degrees of capacity, accessibility and luxury. Here are firsthand reports from six unique locations to consider.
For the annual All-Hands Offsite Meeting of Longitude Capital, a healthcare venture capital firm, London wanted to “meet in the middle” of the country. She choose Ketchum, ID — adjacent to Sun Valley — for last fall’s gathering. The group of 30 was coming from the company’s Connecticut and California offices.
“The mountain location was grounding,” London says. “It provided a solid foundation for our group, and rather than being distracted by city lights and noise, we were able to clearly focus on each other. The fresh air renewed our spirits and the thrill of being in the great outdoors recharged our batteries. We enjoyed the magnificence of breathtaking scenery, wilderness at our fingertips, and plenty of mountain air without sacrificing elegance and style.”
While the nearby, 420-room Sun Valley Resort represents the largest hotel in the state, with 26,000 sf of meeting space, London chose the more intimate, 99-room Limelight Hotel Ketchum for her group, and she glowed over the success of the program.
“Our stay at the Limelight Hotel was the epitome of rustic luxury,” London says. “The quality of lodging was superb. We loved that we could easily walk all over town, enjoy Sun Valley and Ketchum, and feel pampered at the Limelight.” London extolled the hotel’s gorgeous meeting rooms overlooking the mountains, state-of-the-art A/V equipment, and beautiful outdoor dining areas.
“It’s just the spot to feel rugged, while really being spoiled rotten,” she adds. “Senior sales manager Bert Witsil and his entire team went above and beyond — I was blown away by the stellar customer service. The guest rooms were heavenly and the staff was personal, professional and polished.”
For meetings, Longitude Capital used the hotel’s 2,070-sf Silver Creek Room, which was divided into two equal venues, but otherwise London focused much of the schedule around offsite activities.
“We organized a fantastic group hike to Titus Lake,” London says. “I had Rob Caesar of Mountain Resort Services help us with transportation. The next day we spent three hours at the Hurtig Shooting Center where we were provided outstanding instruction before enjoying competitive clay/skeet shooting. Afterwards, we made our way back to Grumpy’s for cold beer and burgers. We sat outside at picnic benches all aglow — and a bit dusty — taking pictures, sharing stories and truly enjoyed the camaraderie of connecting as friends on a wild adventure.”
She adds, “We cleaned up for two beautiful dinners. At the Pioneer Saloon the cuisine was superb and the ambiance was not to be beat. Our group hit The Sawtooth Club for dinner the following night and it was excellent. Just a short walk from the Limelight was another quintessential Ketchum option, breakfast at The Kneadery. We also planned a casino night at Whiskey Jacques’, and Aardvark Entertainment in Boise help set it all up — they brought card tables, chips, dealers; the whole thing. We had a blast.”
While some remote mountain locations can present unanticipated obstacles, London says there were no unexpected challenges in Ketchum and Sun Valley.
“I did a lot of research on my own,” London adds. “But the entire staff at the Limelight Hotel went out of their way to provide more color when I needed it. They moved heaven and earth to provide great comfort and ease.”
While the mountain ranges of the east don’t quite provide the dramatic backdrop of the Rockies or Sierras, the Appalachians offer plenty of soothing vistas and mountain air. That was the setting that worked for a 100-person retreat by Nashville, TN-based Pinnacle Financial Partners.
“The Asheville, North Carolina mountains were a peaceful, aesthetically beautiful environment for the leaders of our firm,” says Kim Owen, executive assistant to Pinnacle’s CEO and president. “Disconnecting from our urban markets allowed our leaders to quiet and distance themselves from the hustle of the office to concentrate on new ideas and strategies for our firm’s growth. It was a casual atmosphere, where golf, cocktail hours, meals and a lobby fireplace sitting encouraged, fostered and built a deeper level of teamwork.”
The Omni Grove Park Inn was the location for the Leadership Team Retreat Owen arranged last fall. The 513-room hotel is just 2 miles from downtown Asheville, but the summit of Mount Mitchell — the highest point east of the Mississippi River — is just 32 miles away along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“The Omni Grove Park Inn was a great fit for our meeting,” Owen says. “Our firm’s footprint includes Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, so it was a centralized meeting point. The Omni Grove Park Inn offered enough lodging with comfortable sized meeting rooms for all executives.”
The property features 86,852 sf of meeting space, including the 17,760-sf Grand Ballroom along with a wide variety of breakout rooms plus outdoor venues offering mountain views. The meeting facilities offer state-of-the-art technology with services backed by Encore Event Technologies.
“Pinnacle has a great relationship with the Omni brand,” Owen says. “We hold several meetings at the Omni Nashville Hotel throughout the year and all of their properties work together. They utilize our profile to know our style, likes, and desires before we ever get there. The different Omni locations even talk to each other to make sure they read their clients perfectly.”
Owen notes that the function spaces were beautiful, but it’s worth paying attention to which venues have windows, especially when a Power Point presentation is planned. Owen also shared that the size of the property requires a lot of walking.
“The property is so beautiful and interesting, so you enjoy the walks,” Owen says. “But it’s important to give the attendees a heads up so they allow plenty of time before meeting functions start. Go on a site visit so you will know firsthand the exact location of your meeting and eating spaces, the rooms and their size. It will help to make sure no details and needs of your meeting are overlooked.”
Team-building events Owen scheduled included golf with a box lunch, and a scavenger hunt through the hotel. “They were very flexible in allowing us to use all public accessible areas of the property,” Owen adds, calling out two staff-members for special mention.
“Robert Sponder, the associate director of sales, is an outstanding partner. He always followed up to ensure the entire meeting experience was exactly what we wanted. He has a knack for the client and matching them with the perfect conference services manager to execute the event. He stayed in touch and kept communication open throughout the year, an invaluable resource.”
She adds, “And Natalie Broadwater, my conference service manager, is a front line expert. She made everything happen. On arrival, I was concerned that the overhead screens weren’t large enough, but she quickly called the A/V team, including Matt Casale, and they had the screen swapped out in no time. Also, we changed meeting rooms after day one of our event, but Natalie had all of our materials, along with tables moved and set in the new room before I even arrived early the next morning. She made me look like a superstar,” Owen says.
The Broadmoor, recipient of the Forbes Five-Star award for over 50 years, and the Award of Excellence from Corporate & Incentive Travel magazine for over 35 years, is an unmatched destination for memorable events. The Broadmoor understands the unique needs and attention meeting planners require to create memorable and successful meeting and incentive travel experiences. The resort’s history of innovation combined with distinctive service culture and exceptional team-building opportunities has made the resort one on the country’s premier destinations.
Whether you are planning a board meeting for 10 attendees or a meeting or convention for 5,000, the resort can accommodate groups of all sizes in an ideal setting among the 185,000 sf of innovative event space and spectacular outdoor venues. In addition to being inspiring, with the resort’s technology-rich meeting spaces, planners will also find a professional staff of event planners, culinary and audio visual professionals with a support staff ready to elevate your group to its greatest potential. Planners should check out this outstanding one-of-a-kind resort with nearly 100 years of providing award-winning hospitality.
Of course, some mountain meetings are planned with snow in mind, as was the case for the Fitch Group, which held its annual CMBS Winter Roundtable in January 2019 at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, just west of Vail.
The 190-room resort at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain offers a state-of-the-art conference center and more than 20,000 sf of meeting space, much of it with floor-to-ceiling windows, including the 8,631-sf Sawatch Hall. But most importantly: It’s a ski-in, ski-out resort offering challenging slopes right out the door, just a 30-minute drive from the Vail-Eagle airport.
“This event serves as a kickoff to the new year,” explains Gina DellaCava, CMP, global head of events for the Fitch Group. “So what better place to host in the winter but a mountain resort? Honestly, you cannot beat the Park Hyatt location. Literally walk out the door and within minutes you can be on the chair lift and hitting the slopes. That proximity allows guests more time to ski after our meetings conclude each day.”
The event drew 70 Fitch employees, while guests and family brought the total attendees to 162. There’s a full-service 30,000-sf spa, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. The hotel lays on the creature comforts in multiple ways, from complimentary s’mores kits made available for the outdoor fire pits to a ski valet situated just off the lobby.
“The Park Hyatt does a good job of anticipating the needs of a planner and a skier,” DellaCava says. “The ski valet is great — you don’t have to lug your gear around. And our program falls over football playoffs, so they helped us with TVs so we could see the games.”
But not all of the Fitch Group’s events are tied to the resort. “We host a family dinner night at Toscanini in Beaver Creek village,” DellaCava says. “It’s ideal because there is a beautiful outdoor ice skating rink located in front of the restaurant entrance, and families are invited to ice skate. The kids love it.”
DellaCava cautioned that winter snow levels can be unpredictable. “My experience from previous years where there wasn’t much snow is that you have to be adaptable. Maybe you offer a snowmobiling tour that’s half snowmobiling and have quads, still a lot of fun. But our attendees want lots of snow, and luckily this year we had plenty, which made for great ski conditions.”
Two other areas DellaCava advised staying abreast of in high-altitude settings: Heavy snow can slow down shipments, and shipping early is advisable; and altitude sickness happens, so stock up on oxygen cans.
“If you do a mountain program, definitely do après-ski. It’s great to have people come off the slopes to a warm, cozy room with fireplaces. We have plenty of food and drink for the adults, while the kids have a hot chocolate bar and s’mores kits to use at the outdoor fire pit.”
She adds, “We chose the Park Hyatt because it’s a great resort. But again — location, location, location!”
When planning a series of regional meetings for a major financial services company, Bible sought a family-friendly setting that allowed for meetings in the morning and afternoon and play in the evening. In all, 300 attended the program last summer at Big Sky Resort.
About one hour south of Bozeman, MT, Big Sky Resort is the second-largest ski resort in America by acreage. But in summer, golf, zip lines, archery, tennis, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are offered in and near the resort’s Mountain Village, and tram rides take guests to the summit of 11,166-foot Lone Peak.
The resort’s Yellowstone Conference Center avails 55,000 sf of meeting and function space and 9,000 sf of boardroom and banquet facilities, and a variety of lodging options can accommodate more than 2,000 guests. This summer, Big Sky is investing $13 million in upgrades to facilities in the Mountain Village, including a modern food hall featuring sushi flown in fresh from both coasts, stone-fired pizza, a taqueria and ramen station.
“This company puts an emphasis on the importance of family and having a work-life balance,” Bible says. “The spaces at Big Sky were conducive to getting business and work done in the morning, while the afternoons were open for families to enjoy the resort and the surrounding areas. The rooms were very functional for families of all sizes and ages. The abundance of adjoining rooms and flexibility of the hotel staff made arrivals easy.”
There are several hotels on the property, with multiple venues at each hotel, and Bible recommends using a map to plan out the flow of events. “Also, if you are looking for some sleek contemporary resort, you won’t find it there — the bellmen are cowboys. However, you will find a traditional, rustic, classical mountain cabin environment and feel like you really belong in the beauty surrounding the resort.”
The resort presents the challenges typical of remote, mountain environments, such as loading up supplies in Bozeman, 50 miles away. Cell phone service can be spotty, so walkie-talkies can be useful. And depending on where guests are coming from, altitude sickness can be an issue.
“It may snow even in June,” Bible says. “It snowed the week before I arrived on site and I had forgotten to pack warm clothes for a summer trip. The biggest challenges we faced were weather-related, such as heating an outdoor pavilion, or trying to cool a room with the sun beaming directly into it. The hotel moved quickly, and was able to make all the accommodations I ask for. They even dealt with the big personalities that made up my group — they took the bullets and let me play good cop, I can’t thank them enough for it.”
She adds, “Our group is pretty plane-Jane and doesn’t have many unique and custom needs, but Big Sky was more than flexible when we needed last-minute things or when events happened. Even though they were in the beginning of their summer season, and operations were not quite up to speed, they still reacted quickly with any help that I needed.”
She continues, “Jaime from the sales department and Rachel in event operations made my life incredibly easy. I travel over 300 days a year and they made sure to make me feel welcome and that Big Sky could be my home for the next two weeks. Both of them went above and beyond to take care of me.”
Some challenges of a true mountain environment can be overcome at the gentler setting of Hocking Hills, a state park about 60 miles southeast of Columbus, OH. While known for its unusual topography of cliffs, gorges and waterfalls, the elevation doesn’t exceed 1,200 feet above sea level, alleviating typical mountain issues of extreme weather and altitude.
“We love having access to the beautiful Hocking Hills State Park right in our backyard,” explains Deborah Dreifort, MBA, finance and operations manager at Snider, Fuller and Stroh, an Athens, OH-based provider of business insurance, employee benefits and retirement plans. “It’s nice that we can largely unplug from the daily grind of the office and take time to focus on business building activities.”
For the annual Company Retreat this April, Dreifort used the family owned Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls — the same location Snider, Fuller and Stroh has selected for 20 years. Located just outside the state park, the inn has 29 rooms, plus four standalone lodges in the surrounding area. The inn features a 1840s log cabin called the Gathering Place, which offers 2,500 sf of meeting space for smaller corporate retreats and workshops, along with a 450-sf Fireside Lounge and various outdoor areas suitable for events.
“The atmosphere is high-end with a rustic charm,” Dreifort says. “There is easy access to the Cedar Falls hiking site so we can get outside and have a beautiful walk in the woods when we’re done meeting for the day.”
The inn can accommodate all meals, and Dreifort says several people in her group have dietary restrictions. “The inn always works with us on that and they have been very flexible with us every year providing customized brown bag lunches for us in our meeting space so that we can have a working lunch. We have fabulous dinners and breakfasts in the dining room.”
She adds, “The nearest town with conveniences is 20 minutes away by car on a hilly and curvy country drive. We definitely like that for our company retreats, but I can see where it would be challenging to someone who is accustomed to having a Walgreens a few easy minutes away. We love the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls for its well-appointed meeting space, easy-to-work-with and professional staff, beautiful woodsy setting, comfortable lodging, delicious food and drink and affordability.” I&FMM .