Whatever the sales managers at mountain resorts are calling it these days —“unplugged adventures,” “experiential retreats,” “connecting to nature,” “teambuilding” — corporate planners are finding that organizing winter events at high-altitude venues may be the perfect antidote for groups that yearn for a break from the typical urban business hotel or suburban conference center.
Although warm, seaside meeting destinations can be alluring, especially during Midwestern and Northeastern winters, there is definitely a sobering, esoteric moment about staring up at the towering Rocky Mountains from your hotel’s dining room window, when the morning sun accentuates the crisp, newly fallen snow on its peak and a nearby fireplace offers warmth and the crackling pops of burning logs.
Whether skiing, tubing, ice skating, snowshoeing or taking a ride in a snowcat across a beautiful white meadow, any of these experiences can make your group more than ready for the afternoon meeting or conference that awaits them, or refreshed and relaxed after a morning seminar or training session. And participating in these activities with their co-workers is sure to bring them.
“I started using mountain destinations not so much because of the skiing opportunities, but my groups were looking for a more intimate setting.”
— Steven King
Mountain resorts in Colorado, Lake Tahoe, Vermont, New York, Utah, North Carolina and Idaho are ideal meeting destinations in exceptionally lovely surroundings, with all the amenities available for an enjoyable and very different corporate event.
In Colorado, the most mountainous state in the country, with 25 peaks more than 14,000 feet high, there are many venues to consider. The Vail Marriott Mountain Resort launched the property’s $25 million “Reimagination” redesign project this summer with a new guest room experience and transformed meeting spaces. The comprehensive project is geared toward travelers with high-tech attributes, and its indoor/outdoor design embraces the year-round destination with its chic, modern aesthetic.
The redesign, by the award-winning Simeone Deary Design Group, was inspired by Swiss chalet architecture and small European towns. Natural tones and authentic materials in the newly transformed 350 guest rooms are paired with luxurious metallic elements.
Guestroom bathrooms feature highly upgraded finishes, including gray rift-cut oak vanities with sleek, green marble countertops and matte black metal accents, porcelain tile floors and walls and polished chrome hardware.
With the new rooms introduced in the summer and early fall of this year, the entire first phase of the renovation will debut with the launch of the reimagined Grand Ballroom, Grand Foyer and Colorado Ballroom totaling 25,000 square feet of meeting space. This will include an outdoor veranda featuring a bar, fire features and private settees.
Located at the base of Vail Mountain, just steps from the Eagle Bahn Gondola, guests can enjoy countless activities, including skiing, biking, taking a scenic gondola ride up to Colorado’s highest mountain point, or exploring the cobblestone streets of Lionshead and Vail Village, offering hundreds of shops, boutiques and art galleries. The resort also has an array of programming, including Check-in Sips, Mountain Mindfulness and Hair of the Bear.
Located in the heart of Beaver Creek, the 190-room Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa provides corporate groups access to great skiing and meeting facilities. The resort offers ski-in/ski-out access and is just steps away from shops, restaurants, cultural attractions and outdoor adventure activities. The chateau-style property includes the Allegria Spa with 23 treatment rooms, a slopeside pool and hot tubs and two on-property dining venues.
For corporate meetings, the property offers indoor/outdoor meeting space, including the Sawatch Hall ballroom with its breathtaking views of Beaver Creek Village and Mountain. The convention service staff at Beaver Creek works closely with the food and beverage team and meeting planners to create specialty catering events.
Situated in Colorado Springs, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fly Fishing Camp, cover about 5,000 acres, perfect for winter skiing, mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing and fly-fishing activities for corporate retreat and bonding trips or incentive groups with a desire for a different type of reward trip.
The resort campus has 784 guest rooms, suites and cottages, two championship golf courses, an award-winning spa and fitness center, a nationally recognized tennis staff and program, retail boutiques and 10 restaurants, including the Penrose Room, Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant.
In 2016, The Broadmoor opened The Estate House, a lavish historic mansion designed during the 1920s that is perfect for small, private parties and receptions. Overall, the property features 185,000 square feet of function space, including Broadmoor Hall, and 62 meeting rooms.
For corporate planners with sustainability goals, The Broadmoor has taken steps toward increasing sustainability in a number of ways throughout its 100-year history, such as embracing sustainable food. The resort’s honey comes from its own bees, its beef comes from the resort’s ranch and produce is grown in the property’s garden. To supplement these offerings, the resort partners with a number of local and international merchants.
Also in Colorado Springs is the 316-room Cheyenne Mountain Colorado Springs, a Dolce Resort, where a vast array of amenities attract corporate and incentive planners whose groups appreciate plenty of indoor/outdoor activities in stunning surroundings. Some of the amenities at this property include an 18-hole championship, Pete Dye-designed golf course; the Alluvia Spa; four swimming pools; 17 indoor/outdoor tennis courts; full-service fitness center; aquatics center and a 35-acre recreation lake.
In addition, there are great mountain views, deluxe accommodations, two restaurants and one lounge, in addition to comprehensive conference facilities.
For planners, the property’s Cheyenne Meeting Package (CMP) bundles all the essential components of a meeting together for one convenient per-attendee price, including accommodations with Alluvia Spa bath products, terry cloth robes, high-speed internet and separate study areas with laptop workstations. A dedicated conference planner and conference concierge work with planners and can help arrange the resort’s signature meeting experiences. These include the Cheyenne Mountain Resort’s take-off on the hit TV show, The Amazing Race, which combines both indoor and outdoor challenge stations, taking advantage of a wide range of amenities available at the property’s Country Club. There is also the seasonal Glow Golf, where participants head out onto the 18-hole championship course in the early evening and golf as the Rocky Mountain sky turns from deep blue to star-filled black.
Susie Cornette, an event leader with Best Buy, works with the resort to bring in the company’s Expert Camera Training Events for employees. “I arrange two groups a year to Cheyenne Mountain, bringing about 125 to 150 participants in each trip to the property, along with professional photo coaches,” says Cornette. “We especially like the 220-plus acres of resort scenery for this group because it provides numerous photo opportunities of not only the resort, but also the surrounding area of Colorado Springs, with Garden of the Gods Park just a few miles away, and of course, Pikes Peak, 32 miles from the property, makes the ultimate backdrop for any picture.”
“The food and beverage options are also perfect for our group, and the views from the Mountain View Restaurant and the restaurant patio are amazing,” says Cornette. “Over our five-night, six-day conference/training sessions, we utilize the Colorado Ballroom for our general session, and the resort has abundant breakout rooms as well, which are great for our one-on-one training sessions.
The property’s Lakeside Pavilion, the Lake, the Alluvia Spa and the golf course with its amazing Rocky Mountain backdrop are also perfect for our associates to be as creative as they like. Last, but not least, the sunrises and sunsets off of the lobby terrace offer amazing photo opportunities as the light continues to change and reflect off of Cheyenne Mountain during this time of the day.”
Surrounded by pine-forested mountains rising more than 4,000 feet above the shore, Lake Tahoe is situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, between the border of California and Nevada. On the southwest shore, Emerald Bay State Park contains the 1929 Nordic-style mansion Vikingsholm. Along the lake’s northeast side, Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park includes Sand Harbor Beach and Spooner Lake.
Since 1955, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe has been entertaining guests in style. The 18-story hotel features 512 guest rooms and offers planners the facilities and services to make their next meeting extraordinary. With an array of guest-pleasing amenities and one-of-a-kind venues, such as its casino, pool and spa, group events will be memorable.
This Caesars-managed property offers 25,000 square feet of versatile meeting space. The Sand Harbor Ballrooms, totaling 11,073 square feet, can be configured to seat up to 680 guests for meal functions or 1,100 in theater-style seating for a major presentation. With their symmetrical layout, the four 812-square-foot Tahoe Rooms can be used separately for intimate programs or joined together to accommodate events of up to 142 attendees. Four 495-square-foot Committee Rooms offer a perfect setting as a boardroom or for breakouts. The 7,000-square-foot South Shore Room boasts a built-in stage with high-tech lighting, sound and audio systems.
With easy access from every direction and resort hotels offering luxury accommodations, fine-dining and top entertainment, Lake Tahoe has become one of North America’s major meeting, conference and incentive destinations.
One of New England’s premier ski resorts is also one of New England’s premier mountain meeting destinations. At Vermont’s Stowe Mountain Resort, there are several unique venues to choose from for corporate events, including the Spruce Camp Base Lodge state-of-the-art function facility, an expansive, two-story building that features plenty of natural light and open floor plans. With an attached, private terrace and vaulted ceilings, Spruce Camp Base Lodge is perfect for large receptions, company dinners or product-launch events.
A variety of dining options are available, such as the exclusive Cliff House mountaintop restaurant. And recreational activities for groups include the new ZipTour Adventure, TreeTop Adventure and Stowe Rocks Climbing Center, as well as the Gondola SkyRide. Other onsite options include outdoor ice skating and indoor shopping and dining in the Spruce Peak Plaza entertainment area at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.
Corporate meeting, seminar or incentive groups who enjoy skiing can experience the excitement of competing in a professionally run race with bibs, timekeeper and two runs per person. Bringing home a video of individual runs is a great way to remember the event. For spring, summer or fall group visits, popular onsite amenities include the private 18-hole Stowe Mountain Golf Club and the 21,000-square-foot spa and wellness center. The property offers its own in-house Destination Management Services, Alpine Destinations, to handle transportation arrangements and develop personalized recreational options, themed events and entertainment.
“I arranged a two-day seminar at Stowe Mountain Lodge in 2016, for about 100 participants,” says Steven King, event director for The Oxford Club, a private network that publishes and markets financial investment advice. “I used to plan different types of seminars for our customers, including cruises and tours, but I started using mountain destinations not so much because of the skiing opportunities, but my groups were looking for a more intimate setting, and off-season dates in ski areas worked well.
“What I loved about Stowe Mountain Resort is that it had this reputation as being a great location in both winter and summer, and my seminar participants added on pre-days and post-days to their Stowe Mountain dates,” says King. “It was a winner for everyone. I used most of the resort’s meeting rooms for the seminar functions and dining venues for our food and beverage events.”
King says that a strong, summer lightning storm caused a change in plans for one of his dining events. “I had arranged a reception at the property’s Cliff House restaurant, situated high up on Mount Mansfield. I liked the interior of the venue, as it has a spectacular panoramic-view through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the food is great, as well,” he says. “But a summer lightning storm meant that Stowe Mountain Resort had to shut down the gondola, which was going to take the group up to the restaurant. Fortunately, we were able to move the group to the Alpine Clubhouse, part of Stowe Mountain Resort and located nearby. The restaurant seats 120 persons and often does private corporate dinners, so it worked out perfectly for our group. From the Alpine Clubhouse, there were nice views of the mountain and the Village Green, the dinner was enjoyable, and we watched the lightning storm from the comfort of our seats.”
The Mohonk Mountain House in New York’s Catskill Mountains is a Victorian castle-like structure that dates back to 1869, and has hosted all manner of notable names, from Andrew Carnegie and Theodore Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Mohonk has 14 meeting rooms with varying capacities that range from an expansive Victorian Parlor to intimate wood-paneled studies. They are all equipped with the latest AV technology and complimentary high-speed wireless internet access.
In 2016, Mohonk unveiled Grove Lodge, its first accommodation outside of the main Mountain House in its 150-year history. Located by a fern grove on the northeast side of the 1,200-acre property, the 7,000 square-foot, two-story lodge utilizes native stones, reclaimed wood, natural finishes and sustainable materials throughout. It features six rooms and a Great Room with cathedral ceilings, exposed wood beams, a natural hardwood floor and artwork from Hudson Valley artists.
Mohonk’s group recreation team works with corporate meeting and incentive groups to personalize and customize activities that cater to group needs. The property offers more than 40 different activities, ranging from scavenger hunts and wilderness survival challenges and ropes courses to more relaxing campfire sessions and creative “egg protection” module building.
Mohonk also recently introduced Mindful Meetings, a package that incorporates holistic practices into group meetings to increase productivity, creativity and more. Participants open their meetings with a guided 15-minute mindfulness session, setting the tone for the rest of the meeting and day. Guests receive refreshing breaks offering healthy snacks and drinks, such as fresh fruit and green juices, to recharge the mind and body after heavy brainstorming sessions.
As part of the package, each group member also gets a cellphone “sleeping bag” to discourage digital distractions during the meeting. Perhaps it is the pollution-free atmosphere of the Catskill Mountains, or the quiet nights in the countryside, but corporate planners are almost always impressed by the location of the property.
For more than 30 years, the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, just outside Park City, has established itself as one of the best mountain meeting venues in the West. With its 360-degree views of the Wasatch Mountains and sunny skies almost every day, the property has been a favorite mountain meeting venue for corporate planners for decades. With 385 guest rooms, including 177 in the Lodge, 139 in the Chateaux and 69 residences, the resort is continuing to expand and add to its inventory of recreation and meeting spaces. The new Stein Eriksen Ballroom, on the second level of the Event Center, accommodates flexible seating capacities of up to 500 guests and is divisible by a retractable air-wall and sliding glass doors with mountain-facing views. The refurbished Olympic Ballroom, on the ground level of the Event Center, has two grand fireplaces, and attendees can easily access the entry lobby and plaza, allowing the pre-function area to convert to an indoor/outdoor space. In addition to the event center, coffee bar, movie theater and pool, the new outdoor plaza space will add firepits and heated walking paths to enhance corporate meetings and events. Located five miles from Park City, the property is 45 minutes from Salt Lake City Airport.
“Our team has organized a great number of corporate events at Stein Eriksen Lodge,” says Michelle Palmer, director of sales and business development at the destination and event management firm DSC, an AlliedPRA Company. “One of our recent corporate events at Stein Eriksen Lodge was a top achievers forum for an online consulting agency with 155 participants.
“With the Stein Ballroom’s cathedral ceilings, fireplaces, rich wood and paneled wall surfaces, rear wall perimeter that has the capability to fully open and flow into a pre-function foyer, as well as onto a terrace showcasing dramatic ridge-top views of Deer Valley and Park City Mountain resorts, we were able to curate an authentic mountain destination-focused event,” she says. “This flexible space proved very worthwhile for this group, as we were able to arrange the Flying Aces to perform. This is an athletic exhibition where expert aerialists perform maneuvers on trampolines with skis and snowboards reaching heights of more than 20 feet, which is possible due to the greater-than-average ceiling height.”
Palmer also thinks highly of the property’s Flagstaff Room, which is conveniently located in the heart of Stein Ericksen’s mountain lodge and features floor-to-ceiling windows and a walk-out deck with sweeping views of Deer Valley Resort’s Flagstaff Mountain ski slopes. She says the cozy fireplace and overall intimate setting provide an ideal space for her group’s dinner gatherings and as a hospitality lounge.
Another advantage of working with the Stein Collection is the opportunity of utilizing both Stein Eriksen Lodge and Chateaux Deer Valley. “When a group size exceeds the capacity of Stein Eriksen or firm date patterns challenge availability, the Chateaux provides an alternative with equitable merit at a price point that may provide an entry point for mid-tier budgets to achieve a luxury experience where they may otherwise be out of their financial range,” says Palmer.
When Edwin Wiley Grove, known as the “Father of Modern Asheville” and his business partner Fred Seely opened the Grove Park Inn in 1913, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivered the keynote address at the hotel’s opening banquet, saying that the monumental property “was built for the ages.”
The gentleman did not know how prophetic that statement would be. Today, the 105-year-old Omni Grove Park Inn is a National Landmark, known for its distinctive architecture and scenic mountain location.
The lobby, also called the Great Hall, measures 120 feet and features 24-foot-high ceilings and two 14-foot stone fireplaces, which add warmth and atmosphere to the space. The andirons alone weigh 500 pounds each. Another unique feature of the fireplaces are the original working Otis elevators, concealed within the rocks alongside the chimney shaft.
The property has long been a favorite for corporate meeting planners looking for a mountain location with easy access, and one that blends its historic ambience with modern conveniences. The hotel recently unveiled its new Seely Pavilion, an Arts & Crafts-inspired space designed to serve guests, as well as corporate groups. The Seely Pavilion is named in honor of the Grove Park Inn Resort designer and original general manager, Frederick Loring Seely.
The pavilion is built in the style and craftsmanship of the historic Main Inn. Design details include exposed trusses, reclaimed wood and a stacked hearth around a large fireplace, polished concrete flooring, six pairs of floor-to-ceiling picturesque doors and windows offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountain range and a Donald Ross-designed golf course.
Though it’s the largest hotel in the Carolinas, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, managed by Caesars Entertainment, Inc., is getting even bigger. The current expansion will add 725 rooms and 83,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 32,000-square-foot ballroom with 22 breakout rooms, 11,100-square-foot prefunction ballroom, 900-square-foot boardroom, 33,000-square-foot exhibition hall and a 6,000-square-foot prefunction exhibition hall. Once complete, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort will have 1,833 guest rooms and suites and 115,794 square feet, respectively.
The 56-acre property, about 50 miles west of Asheville, sits at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When attendees have down time, they can hike up the river-lined trails to the observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome, offering scenic views of the mist-covered mountains.
Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort was built in 1936 by the Union Pacific Railroad and has more outdoor recreational activities than at any other destination resort in the U.S. Between the legendary Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn, as well as nearby apartments, cottages and condos, the resort can accommodate 1,200 with 480 guest rooms and 26,000 square feet of convention space.
The historic Sun Valley Inn will complete a major renovation in 2019, revamping almost 100 guest rooms and opening the new Village Station restaurant. There have also been updates to The Ram Restaurant and Ram Bar. This major Sun Valley accommodations renovation includes new décor, carpeting, 55-inch televisions, wall coverings, bathrooms, linens and amenities adorning the guest rooms, all while retaining the traditional look of the historic hotel. Enhanced wireless internet and energy-efficient windows were also a part of the modern updates.
In addition, Sun Valley Resort has been improving its huge ski area. A special place to glide down a wide-open bowl, navigate through trees and descend deep chutes, the resort’s Cold Springs Canyon Project area will expand the skiable terrain at Sun Valley Resort by 380 acres, thus bringing the skiable acreage within the Sun Valley Resort boundary to 2,434 acres. By next fall, the resort’s oldest chairlift, Cold Springs (#4), will be replaced with a new high-speed detachable lift, providing a seamless transition to The Roundhouse, the Roundhouse Express Gondola and Christmas (#3) chairlift. For those who prefer groomers and gradual pitches, the Lower Broadway run is being extended 3,400 feet, lined with highly efficient snowmaking guns, all the way to the new Cold Springs lift lower terminal.
Jim Crystal, president of The Revelry Group, a Portland, Oregon-based marketing and communications firm, contracts with the Sun Valley Resort several times a year. “Our first event was held in Sun Valley 25 years ago, and these days, we do five events each year at the destination; all are food, beverage and hospitality conferences,” he says. “One is a CEO event, one a CFO event, one a CMO event, and the other two are purchasing and R&D events. Our dates are September, October, February, March and June, and each event has about 125 attendees. The purpose is to bring leaders together who are peers in the industry to share knowledge, experiences and insights.”
Crystal explains that Sun Valley was the venue choice because the destination offered his participants an opportunity to conduct business and have a unique personal experience in the same week. “The goal for our conferences is to reconnect people to the planet, people and families,” he says. “In order to do this, we had to select a place that was geared to outdoor activities, as we plan our agenda around giving people experiences they normally would not be able to participate in. For instance, in our spring/summer/fall conferences, each attendee is issued a bike at check-in, and this becomes the primary mode of transportation to all activities and meetings. Group activities include hiking, biking, fly fishing and snowmobiling. Even though Sun Valley has incredible golf courses, we do not engage in golf as an activity because you can do that anywhere.
“We use all of the facilities at Sun Valley during each conference — the conference rooms at the Sun Valley Inn, the boardrooms at the Inn, the boardrooms at the Lodge — and we also use the ski lodges in the off-season as meeting facilities,” says Crystal. “For accommodations, we have people stay at the Inn, Lodge and in some of the apartments nearby. We also use all the restaurants at Sun Valley, including the resort’s catering department for evening meals and activities.”
Crystal’s corporate groups always spend time at the Sun Valley Club, which has all the trappings of an exclusive golf club. Among the most popular places in Sun Valley to eat, drink and relax, the wraparound terrace offers stunning views of Bald Mountain, Dollar Mountain and the 18-hole Sawtooth Putting Course. Open year-round, the club serves as a luxurious Nordic and snowshoe center in the winter and a golf clubhouse in the summer.
During the past decade, the trend to hold corporate events in deluxe mountain meeting venues has increased tremendously, especially in the fast-growing western states of Colorado, Utah and Idaho, where high-tech start-ups have found lower costs and a business-friendly environment, combined with great weather and recreational opportunities for employees. C&IT