When you meet in the Rockies, you’re in the heart of the Old West. Venues that reflect an authentic sense of the region’s ranching, mining and pioneer history can be found across all of these mountain states. But so, too, can contemporary venues that are the equal of any in the world.
And there’s more. Skiers can hardly beat the options without leaving the U.S. and inspiring conference retreat centers and resorts are situated around every valley. Heading into Colorado’s famous high country via four-wheel-drive vehicle, walking in the woods or a group rafting experience are just the obvious options available for groups here.
Denver Convention Center
Over the past two decades, Denver has spent more than $7 billion to revitalize its hospitality and meetings infrastructure, and the results are visible everywhere. Denver International Airport is now the fifth-busiest in the country. The Brookings Institute named Denver the fourth most walkable city in the U.S. The Denver Performing Arts Complex has garnered widespread praise, and one of the nation’s newest light-rail systems connects it all.
“Where else can you meet in a sophisticated city with incredible culture and nightlife, first-class meeting facilities and America’s greatest playground right out the door?” says Rich Grant, communications director for the Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Denver has come into its own in the past decade, with revitalized districts such as LoDo (lower downtown) and Larimer Square—and the Front Range of the Rockies as our backdrop.”
Greater Denver boasts 42,000 hotel rooms. The Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel is the largest hotel in Colorado, with 1,231 guest rooms and 133,000 sq. ft. for meetings. It’s in the center of the action—astride the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall and within walking distance of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver Performing Arts Complex and Denver Art Museum. And because of the hotel’s size, attendees can stay and meet at the same place, cutting down on costs.
The Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center offers 1,100 rooms and 60,600 sq. ft. and is attached to the sleek, glassy Colorado Convention Center downtown with 2.2 million sq. ft. The Grand Hyatt Denver is a AAA Four Diamond hotel with 516 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft., and its Pinnacle Club offers a mile-high panorama for gatherings.
The queen of Denver hotels is the elegant Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, with 241 guest rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. It features an eight-story atrium, the most exquisite formal afternoon tea this side of Devonshire, and a history (dating back to 1892) that includes occasional appearances by ghosts. An underground tunnel may have connected it to the Navarre Building across the street—now home of the American Museum of Western Art, but at one time the scene of a thriving enterprise involving ladies of the evening.
Fiona Templin is the executive assistant at Strad Energy Services Ltd., which serves the gas and oil industry internationally and North American customers from its Denver headquarters. She holds two managers’ meetings every year at the Brown Palace, with 50–75 attendees each, as well as numerous board meetings.
“The Brown Palace is a one-of-a-kind hotel,” she says. “It has the ambience of the 1890s but all the amenities and services of a world-class hotel. [It] has such character that it’s like walking into another world, and that really enhances the experience for our attendees.”
Conveniently located between downtown and the airport, the Red Lion Hotel Denver Central has first-class amenities, 298 guest rooms and 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also outside town is the Omni Interlocken Resort with 390 guest rooms, 34,000 sq. ft. and a prime location between the city lights of Denver and the university town of Boulder. The resort’s golf courses were ranked third-best in the Rocky Mountains by Golf Magazine a few years ago, and Mokara Spa made Conde Nast Traveler’s list of Top 100 Resort Spas for 2012.
Nontraditional meeting spaces? Denver has plenty to offer, many that are truly one-of-a-kind. The stunning Red Rocks Amphitheatre, surrounded by ancient red sandstone monoliths, can seat 9,450. An upper terrace accommodates 2,000 for receptions and 1,000 for dinner. Among the groups that have held events here: MPI and ASAE. Denver Art Museum (known for its superb western and Native American collections) features a spectacular addition designed by noted architect Daniel Libeskind. Its seven meeting areas can accommodate 400 and it can host receptions for up to 3,000.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Colorado Springs
“We’re a good alternative for planners who want the perks of a larger city but not the costs,” says Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager for the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have an authentic western flavor, but we also have very modern meeting facilities. And overlooking our region is Pikes Peak, which inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write ‘America the Beautiful.’”
The Broadmoor, the Springs’ opulent lodging option, was built by tycoon Spencer Penrose a century ago to resemble an Italian Renaissance palace. It’s home to numerous works by European and western art masters, as well as to the Penrose Room, considered Colorado’s finest restaurant. With 744 guest rooms and 185,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, the property is also one of Colorado’s top meeting places. It’s definitely a fit for groups wanting to include a golf tournament in the mix; it has three championship courses. There’s also a ropes course for team building and an expansive spa for destressing as needed.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort features 316 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space at the base of Cheyenne Mountain. It underwent a $20 million upgrade, including to meeting space, in 2011. Attendees can gather after dinner at the outdoor fire pit for s’mores and networking. Crowne Plaza Colorado Springs, with 500 guest rooms and 48,526 sq. ft., is convenient to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, which offers team-building exercises conducted by Olympic athletes and coaches.
This city has imaginative nontraditional venues, too: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo boasts the Lodge at Moose Lake, which can hold up to 200 people. Smaller meetings (up to 50) are held in the Safari Lodge, while the Grizzly Grill has 5,000 sq. ft. of space both indoors and out.
Just 29 miles northwest of Denver, Boulder is a classic college town that is home to the University of Colorado and anchored by the pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, with eclectic shops, restaurants and a cadre of colorful street performers. The city has 2,200 hotel rooms and 69,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Among the top options: the St. Julien Hotel & Spa with 201 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft. in a striking contemporary ambience; and Hotel Boulderado, an elegant ode to the Old West (open since 1909), with 160 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft.
Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark from the Chautauqua Movement of education, arts and culture camps, has been a Boulder institution since 1898. It has function venues accommodating 10–1,300 attendees and one of the most dramatic locations in town, with hiking trails fanning out in all directions. Its beloved Dining Hall is under renovation and scheduled to reopen in April 2013.
Sixty-six miles northwest of Denver, at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is the town of Estes Park, surrounded by mountains with peaks draped in snow nearly year-round. The Estes Park Resort is ideally suited for small meetings, with 54 guest rooms and a 2,275-square-foot grand ballroom that features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Estes. It also has a mezzanine with a fireplace for pre or post functions and an executive boardroom.
The storied Stanley Hotel, overlooking the town, was built a century ago by the man who created the Stanley Steamer automobile. This Victorian lodge has 155 guest rooms and 16,000 sq. ft., and glories in its reputation as the inspiration for The Shining.
Aspen, Vail & Steamboat
Guest room at the St. Regis Aspen Resort
When ski buffs talk about the best skiing on earth, these three towns inevitably come up. But they’re about more than skiing. There simply are no bad options in terms of lodging, meeting space or activities. St. Regis Aspen Resort has 179 guest rooms, 20,000 sq. ft. of function space and outdoor fire pits at the base of Aspen Mountain. Four Seasons Resort Vail, at the entrance to the famed village, offers 121 guest rooms (most with fireplaces) and 8,510 sq. ft. for meetings. A few miles west, The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain lures planners with its 245 rooms and 7,200 sq. ft. of space along the burbling Eagle River. In Steamboat, famous for its “Champagne” powder, The Steamboat Grand has 328 hotel rooms and condos and 17,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor space, including a ballroom that seats 360 in its 5,484 sq. ft. There’s also 2,200 sq. ft. of space outdoors, and no shortage of amazing views.
Salt Lake City
The Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City
For a midsize metropolis, Salt Lake City has a can-do ethic. Last March, it inaugurated City Creek Center, a $1.5 billion development that has transformed downtown with more than 90 upscale shops, department stores and eateries. City Creek is impervious to the whims of Mother Nature, thanks to its massive retractable roof.
“We often hear from planners that what differentiates us is our people,” says Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. “We’re genuinely happy to see meeting attendees. And we’ll move heaven and earth to make their meetings successful. But from my own point of view, we also have one other thing that makes us different—the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains right outside our door.”
Salt Palace Convention Center offers 679,000 sq. ft. for exhibits, 160,000 sq. ft. for meetings and is LEED Silver certified. More than a third of the area’s 17,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance, including 499 rooms (and 24,000 sq. ft. of space) at adjacent Hilton Salt Lake City Center.
The Little America Hotel has 850 guest rooms, 25,000 sq. ft. and a AAA Four Diamond rating. The Grand America Hotel has 775 guest rooms, 75,000 sq. ft., an elegant ambience characterized by afternoon tea and the city’s only AAA Five Diamond rating. Red Lion Hotel Salt Lake Downtown has 393 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. Just outside town at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, The Cliff Lodge offers 505 guest rooms, 50,000 sq. ft. and steps-away access to some of the greatest slopes in the world.
Utah’s capital has interesting off-sites as well. The Depot, known locally as a concert venue, has 17,000 sq. ft. and three event floors. The Grand Hall at Union Pacific Depot, in the same area, is 104 years old and provides a fittingly grand setting for events. In addition to 11 themed gardens, Red Butte Garden can also host up to 3,000 attendees.
Less than 40 miles from Salt Lake City International Airport, Park City is an old western town with a new luxury ethos. “We think Park City is the most accessible mountain-meetings destination in North America,” says Carolyn Creek-McCallister, meetings and convention sales coordinator at the Park City Chamber of Commerce & CVB. “We can accommodate all sectors of the meetings industry, with luxury brands as well as full-service independent properties. We have a small-town feel. And we’re home to Utah Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which offers incredible options for special events and team building.”
The exclusive Deer Valley area has two of Utah’s finest meeting hotels. Montage Deer Valley, with 220 guest rooms and 55,000 sq. ft., combines the elegance of a classic international hotel with the authenticity of a western mountain lodge. The Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley has 187 guest rooms and 14,500 sq. ft., and is Utah’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel.
Park City was a silver mining town in the late 1800s, and its meeting venues reflect its history. High West Distillery & Saloon, the only ski-in, ski-out whiskey distillery in the world, was originally a livery stable, housing the horses that pulled the ore carts to and from the mines. It affords planners the opportunity to stage events for 180 people in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Sky Lodge was a lumberyard when it was built in 1925. In 2009, the building was converted into a modern boutique property with wine rooms, courtyards, patios and private dining rooms able to accommodate groups of up to 50.
Idaho Historical Museum, Boise
Boise is a “big-little” city with the amenities of the former and the charm of the latter. It is home to a vibrant cultural life and a lively, safe downtown.
The city’s largest meeting facility is the Boise Centre, which offers 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibition space as well as a 375-seat auditorium. It’s a modern glass structure convenient to downtown eateries, shops and attractions, and it is within walking distance of several of the city’s hotels. Planners with a green consciousness will be happy here. The center features upgraded power and lighting, automatic turnoffs of the AC when lights go off, heating provided by a geothermal water system and abundant natural light.
The Grove Hotel has 252 guest rooms, along with 36,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, an indoor pool and several quality restaurants. It’s adjacent to the 5,000-seat CenturyLink Arena. Overlooking the Boise River is The Riverside Hotel, with 303 rooms and 21,000 sq. ft. Red Lion Hotel Boise Downtowner, with 182 rooms and 8,000 sq. ft., is steps from the Boise River Greenbelt park and path. For off-sites, there’s the 3K Ranch, with a new 20,000-square-foot event center.
Rick Waitley, president of the Idaho-based Association Management Group, brings some 30–50 meetings a year to Boise, with attendance ranging from 15 to 400 attendees. His groups often meet at the Red Lion Hotel Boise Downtowner, and have also held events at venues such as the Boise Centre, the Idaho State Historical Museum and Idaho Botanical Garden.
“Boise’s an ideal place for us,” Waitley says. “It’s compact and easy to get around. It’s safe. Downtown is filled with quaint restaurants and shops. The museums are excellent. It’s a great walking town; our people love the park system. And the Red Lion makes my job easy. The staff is very professional and creative and the facilities are great. We’ve been meeting there for the past several decades.”
Tucked up in the Idaho Panhandle, Coeur d’Alene sits along an alpine lake of stunning beauty and has a restored downtown with brick sidewalks and gaslit street lamps. Set at the foot of town is the Coeur d’Alene Resort, with 338 guest rooms, 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and its own boat and floatplane. Its newest meeting space is the Hagadone Event Center, opened in 2011, with 11,000 sq. ft. and inviting gardens. The resort also boasts a golf course with the only movable floating green in the world (accessible by boat).
There’s kayaking and canoeing in coves on the lake (with bald eagles overhead) and hiking on adjacent Tubbs Hill, a scenic lakeside mountain.
In Sun Valley, the alpine air, clear blue skies and glacial peaks touch the soul and the fancy of meeting-goers. Sun Valley Resort offers 257 guest rooms in its Lodge and Inn, as well as a number of condos and cottages and 25,000-plus sq. ft. of space. Attendees can ski, snowboard and ice skate in winter and hike, bike and fish in summer.
“In Idaho,” says Karen Ballard, administrator of policy and management at the Idaho Division of Tourism Development, “attendees can be outdoors in a few minutes, in the middle of mountains or pristine lakes or fish-filled rivers. Planners often integrate that into programs, whether for meetings, team building or just plain fun.”
Snake River Lodge and Spa, Teton Village
In Jackson Hole, the lifestyles of the rich and famous isn’t a TV show but everyday existence. This town is endowed with world-class galleries, restaurants and resorts, all at the base of the imposing peaks of the Tetons rising nearly 14,000 feet into the sky. One of its great attributes is proximity to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
Lodging choices include Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, with 124 guest rooms and 8,000 sq. ft. of space, plus ski-in, ski-out access and a spa to work out the apres-ski kinks. Snake River Lodge & Spa is a member of the prestigious RockResorts family, and offers its brand of luxury in 155 guest rooms and 4,000 sq. ft. accommodating small meetings, and there’s championship golf nearby.
Just 35 miles north of town in Grand Teton National Park is Jackson Lake Lodge, overlooking Jackson Lake and offering 345 cottages, 40 lodge rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. for meetings. The Mural Room, one of three restaurants, serves up Wyoming specialties such as elk and buffalo, to say nothing of breathtaking views.
At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of Jackson’s ski areas, event space includes the Couloir restaurant where Old West meets Industrial Revolution in the decor style. Outside its doors are options for team building and activities including hiking, rock climbing, skiing and mountain biking. “We call the ambience ‘western industrial,’” says Shawn Daus, the ski area’s group and conference sales manager. “It’s accessible by gondola or tram. And planners tell us that the invigorating atmosphere makes for really productive meetings.”
Diamond Cross Ranch is owned by an authentic horse whisperer and offers team-building activities in which attendees work with the horses. It has hosted corporate meetings for Microsoft and Toyota, among others.
Helena is the capital of “Big Sky Country.” Among the prime facilities is the Helena Civic Center (15,000 sq. ft.; 1,925-seat auditorium), built as a Shrine temple in 1920 and still bedecked with crystal chandeliers and glass railings. The largest meeting hotel is the Red Lion Colonial Hotel (149 rooms; 15,000 sq. ft.), with a grand lobby and spiral staircase, the excellent Colonial Restaurant and proximity to the historic Mansion District.
At the Holter Museum of Art, attendees can enjoy team-building exercises in which they create their own masterpieces, while at Kleffner Ranch they can try “pitchfork fondue” to cook their own meals. Adventurers Unlimited really puts the team in team building via group rock climbing and rafting trips.
Grouse Mountain Lodge, Whitefish
Whitefish, built around a lake of the same name, is only 30 minutes from Glacier National Park, and its main thoroughfare is lined with galleries and restaurants. The place to meet is the 149-room Grouse Mountain Lodge, a four-season resort with authentic Montana ambience, a fine restaurant with game on the menu, a spa and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. For team building, two golf courses are adjacent to the lodge, and Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort has a treetops-ropes course, ziplines and a luge run.
Steve Winston has traveled extensively in the Rockies and writes for magazines in the U.S. and abroad.
Image: View of the Teton Range, Jackson, photo by Peter Vitale
The Ultimate Team Builder
It’s called the Route of the Hiawatha, after the legendary luxury train that rolled from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest in the first half of the 20th century. The last Hiawatha left the station in 1961, but its powerful legacy remains: 46 miles of railroad track running through the 8,000-foot peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains, offering one of the best team-building experiences around.
The first third of that stretch, starting near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has been turned into a mountain-bike route. It runs 15 miles through abandoned railroad tunnels, pitch-black and filled with potholes, rocks, broken track and water dripping onto the railroad bed.
The ride begins at the crumbling entrance to the longest tunnel at nearly two miles—the St. Paul Pass or, more commonly, the Big Tunnel. Midway through, a small sign on the wall marks the Idaho-Montana border, and for a split-second, you can be mountain-biking in two states at the same time. The route also crosses seven 1,000-foot-high, creaky wooden trestles affording extraordinary vistas of the forest and perpetually snow-capped mountains beyond.
This adventure isn’t an experience for the claustrophobic or physically unfit. Riders inevitably hit the tunnel walls several times, but they’re rarely going fast enough to hurt themselves—and they’ll probably love every minute anyway. Trail passes, bike rentals and group information is available at Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, where you can access the trail.
• Aspen Chamber Resort Association: aspenchamber.org
• Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau: boise.org
• Boulder Convention & Visitors Bureau: bouldercoloradousa.com
• Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce: coeurdalene.org
• Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitcos.com
• Estes Park Convention & Visitors Bureau: estesparkcvb.com
• Helena Convention and Visitors Bureau: helenamt.com
• Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce: jacksonholechamber.com
• Park City Chamber of Commerce & CVB: visitparkcity.com
• Vail Valley Partnership: visitvailvalley.com
• Visit Denver: denver.org
• Visit Salt Lake: visitsaltlake.com
• Visit Sun Valley: visitsunvalley.com
• Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau: explorewhitefish.com