Utah welcomes groups with state-of-the-art facilities and superlative recreation
Few places on earth combine such spectacular terrain and unusual history as Utah. The state plays host to the majestic splendor of the Rocky Mountains, the colorful canyonlands of the Colorado Plateau and the remote deserts and arid mountain ranges of the Great Basin. This region beckoned as the Promised Land to members of the struggling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840s—a place where faithful members could survive and prosper in a land of their own.
The experience of journeying someplace special also makes Utah an outstanding choice for meeting planners. This once-insular state has put out the welcome mat and offers a variety of meeting destinations in both urban and more remote settings, all with top-notch meeting and convention facilities.
SALT LAKE CITY
The state capital and home to a major university, Salt Lake City boasts a rare combination of attributes. It is also at the center of a natural and man-made environment where all-seasons, big-as-all-outdoors recreation combine with the sophisticated comforts of urban living.
In contrast to Salt Lake City’s early settlers, for whom the area’s mountain-ringed isolation was important, today’s meeting planners find the city’s ease of access attractive. “Accessibility is increasingly one of Salt Lake City’s prime attributes as a meeting and convention center,” says Shawn Stinson, director of communications for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Salt Lake City has an international airport within seven miles of downtown, and is within two-hours flying time from half the nation’s population. Accessibility is one of our strong suits.”
Getting around Salt Lake City is easy, too, particularly in the downtown area near the city’s premier convention and meeting space, the Salt Palace Convention Center. “The Salt Palace is within walking distance of 6,800 hotel rooms,” Stinson says.
The vast and striking Salt Palace has recently undergone a $58-million expansion that enlarged the facility by 40 percent. It now offers 515,000 sq. ft. of flexible exhibit space and 164,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 45,000-square-foot ballroom and 66 meeting rooms. With this expansion, the Salt Palace is one of the largest convention centers in the West.
Even though Salt Lake City offers plenty of urban culture, a glance at the mountainous skyline that rises directly behind the city will tempt many visitors to get outdoors and explore. Four ski areas are just minutes from downtown, and Park City’s resorts are less than an hour away. Summer visitors will find lots to like after the snow melts: Most ski areas, including Snowbird remain open for warm-weather recreation, including mountain biking, hiking, trail rides, tennis and plain old relaxing.
COOL THING TO DO
While the imposing Mormon Temple in Temple Square is closed to non-Mormons, everyone is welcome at the Mormon Tabernacle. The best time to visit is during the free performances given by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings.
Davis County is an urban area within minutes of Salt Lake City’s metro area and the Salt Lake International Airport. This month marks the grand opening of a major expansion of the Davis Conference Center in Layton, which now provides 59,000 sq. ft. of space. The expansion includes a 17,000-square-foot exhibit hall and more than 10,000 sq. ft. of contiguous meeting and pre-function areas. The county offers a block of 450 rooms within close proximity of the center, 147 of which are at the adjacent Hilton Garden Inn.
Even in the midst of Davis County, prime outdoor recreation is not far. In winter, Snowbasin Resort, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined races, is just minutes away. Antelope Island State Park features sandy beaches on the Great Salt Lake and free-roaming herds of American bison. Visitors can also enjoy sea kayaking, bird-watching and scenic cruises. “Where else could you float in salt water, watch the buffalo roam, ski in incredible powder, yet host a high-tech meeting?” asks Kathi Dysert, director of sales and marketing for the Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can do it all here in Davis County.”
COOL THING TO DO
Lagoon Amusement Park is Utah’s largest, and when it’s hot, this is Davis County’s coolest place to be. In addition to dozens of carnival rides, go-carts and a re-created pioneer village, Lagoon–a-Beach offers six acres of beach, massive waterslides and rapids for tubing fun. Bring your swimsuits!
At the northern edge of the Wasatch Front urban area, Ogden remains very much its own city. As one of the West’s most important rail hubs at the beginning of the 20th century, Ogden’s downtown area preserves vestiges of the city’s early affluence.
One impossible-to-miss landmark of Ogden’s golden era is the fanciful Peery’s Egyptian Theater, a beautifully refurbished movie palace completed in 1924. Filled with columns, hieroglyphs and mummy statuary, the Peery is still in use both for live theater and musical performances—and as an optional 850-seat meeting and entertainment space for the adjacent Ogden Eccles Conference Center. The center, which sits in the heart of downtown Ogden, includes more than 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a ballroom that can accommodate 1,500 people seated theater-style (or 900 at dining tables). In addition, the center offers six 1,000-square-foot meeting rooms, plus the technology-ready Executive Room, which seats 80.
“The Ogden Eccles Conference Center has been fantastic to deal with,” says Tawnya Thompson, executive assistant to the president for Browning, a firearms and outdoor recreation manufacturer, which recently held its five-day, 2008 annual sales meeting at the center. “The conference center is very competitively priced for the quality of its facilities.” Thompson was also pleased with the surrounding area, which appealed to the interests of her group. “Being in the hunting and outdoor recreation market, our meeting attendees love to come to Utah for the hunting, skiing, hiking, golfing, boating, all of which is very convenient to Ogden,” she says. “It’s just a great place.”
Despite its richly historic past, Ogden is a forward-looking city. The downtown area is undergoing a major revitalization with the building of The Junction, a commercial, entertainment and residential development just across the street from the Ogden Eccles Conference Center. The first phase of The Junction is complete, including a 13-screen megaplex theater and the Salomon High Adventure Recreation Center, a 122,000-square-foot facility that includes an iFLY wind tunnel for simulated skydiving, Flowrider wave pool for surfing and wakeboarding, a three-story rock climbing wall, restaurants and a games arcade, just for starters.
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An hour’s drive northwest of Ogden is the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where in 1869 two rail lines met to form the continent’s first coast-to-coast rail service. The visitor center offers exhibits and programs, and watching the replica steam engines puff their way up the tracks is like traveling back in time.
Park City is without a doubt the snow sports capital of Utah. With three ski areas—Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, and Deer Valley Resort—plus the Olympic Winter Sports Park located in the valley, Park City is noted worldwide for the quality of its slopes and the glitter of its après-ski nightlife. About 45 minutes east of Salt Lake via I-80, Park City hosted many events during the 2002 Winter Olympics and is also well known as the site of the annual Sundance Film Festival. In summer, guests flock to the resorts to golf and explore the scenic mountain landscapes on horseback, mountain bike or foot.
However, there’s a lot more to Park City than recreation: the well-heeled clientele that frequent the resorts have transformed this old silver-mining camp into the most sophisticated shopping, dining and lodging center in Utah.
“Park City was originally a mining town,” says Ashley Andersen, meeting and convention sales manager for Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. “It has retained its quaint and historic feel, but at the same time it also has big-city attractions like fabulous dining and high-quality cultural experiences. It’s really the best of both worlds.”
Park City’s blend of recreation, history and upscale lifestyles also makes it a popular destination for meetings and retreats. The city can accommodate groups as large as 700, with 27 professional meeting and convention properties offering more than 3,000 guest rooms, ranging from bed and breakfast inns to full-service hotels with fully equipped conference rooms and catering facilities.
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One of the most charming aspects of summer in Park City is its wide selection of musical concerts. The Utah Symphony takes the stage at Deer Valley’s outdoor amphitheater for a summer concert series. The Canyons hosts rock, country and jazz concerts in summer, most of them free. The Park City International Music Festival offers a chamber music festival in July, with an Autumn Classics series in September and early October. And there are free concerts on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer at the City Park bandstand.
Heber Valley, with its principal towns Midway and Heber City, is just over the Wasatch crest from Park City, but is no less scenic or recreationally oriented. It’s easy to see why Heber Valley’s bucolic setting—a lush agricultural valley surrounded by lofty, snow-capped mountains—has earned it the nickname “Switzerland of America.”
“The beauty of the Heber Valley can be breathtaking,” says Tish Dahmen, communications and marketing manager for the Heber Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is a quaint mountain community with many kinds of adventure only minutes away. But what makes Heber Valley a great spot for meetings and retreats is the area’s diversity and options.”
Heber Valley has two quite different, quite charming resorts that cater to conventions and meetings. One of the valley’s originals, the Homestead Resort was established in the 1880s around a series of natural hot springs. The Homestead offers state-of-the-art conference facilities that can accommodate up to 300 people, with 13,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space.
The new, chalet-style Zermatt Resort and Spa specializes in the “art of meetings.” The range of meeting rooms at the resort is impressive, from finely appointed board rooms to reception halls for up to 2,000. The Matterhorn Conference Center offers more than 28,000 sq. ft. of conference space, including 23 meeting rooms, five hospitality suites, a 2,500-square-foot carousel patio and a 13,000-square-foot exhibition center.
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The world-class Olympic recreational facilities and lodge at Soldier Hollow offer 27kms of meticulously groomed cross-country trails and 1,200-foot-long tubing lanes with lifts. In summer, Soldier Hollow has an 18-hole golf course and mountain bike trails that follow the challenging Olympic courses. In both summer and winter, guests can try their hand at biathlon events, which traditionally combine target shooting with cross country skiing. At SoHo, as locals call Soldier Hollow, groups can combine target shooting with a choice of mountain biking, running, roller skiing, snowshoeing or cross country skiing.
Utah Valley (Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau), which includes Provo, Orem and other communities in Utah County, represents the southern reaches of the Wasatch Front metro area. Downtown Provo has a very striking setting, directly at the base of soaring, 11,000-foot Provo Peak. At the center of the city’s pleasant older downtown is the Provo Marriott & Conference Center, which offers 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 330 guest rooms.
For meeting planners seeking something unique, many other of Utah Valley’s jewels are a bit farther afield. Just a few minutes north of Provo, perched in a side-canyon of Mt. Timpanogos, is famed Sundance Resort, established in 1969 by actor Robert Redford. With more than 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a variety of outdoor venues and lodging options ranging from studio suites to three- and four-bedroom log homes, Sundance is ideal for groups looking for rustic surroundings combined with luxury-level facilities.
Utah Valley’s other noteworthy destination for retreats, meetings or corporate events is Thanksgiving Point, a 55-acre park and entertainment center that offers something for everyone—including meeting planners. In addition to acres of formal gardens, 13,000 sq. ft. of shopping, an eight-screen megaplex movie theater, farm exhibits and multiple restaurants, Thanksgiving Point is home to the world’s largest dinosaur museum, the Museum of Ancient Life. Thanksgiving Point has seven meeting rooms, the largest with 3,500 sq. ft. and seating up to 300. For larger and less formal gatherings, the 11,000-square-foot Show Barn offers maximum flexibility, and the Electric Park, with 15 acres of manicured lawns and a covered pavilion that seats 1,000, is perfect for large outdoor gatherings.
COOL THING TO DO
In summer, ride ski lifts up to Sundance Resort’s mountaintop lodge, the Bearclaw Cabin. Take in the spectacular 360-degree views of Heber and Utah Valleys and the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. Up to 60 guests can enjoy a private event or catered barbecue at this exclusive wilderness getaway.
The largest city in southern Utah, St. George is just a few miles north of the Nevada border, and the city shares warm winter weather, desert landscapes and a resort lifestyle with its southern neighbor.
Utah’s “sunbelt” is a great destination for meetings and retreats, says Brittany McMichael, marketing specialist for St. George Convention and Visitors Bureau. “St. George is so different from northern Utah,” McMichael says. “It’s warm all year round, so meeting planners can count on outdoor activities to add variety and fun to a meeting or conference agenda.” Top of the list of activities for most attendees is golf: St. George has 10 courses that are tournament and group friendly, but the recreational options are hardly limited to the fairways, she says.
Immediately north of St. George is Snow Canyon State Park, a stunning outcrop of red rock formations deeply cut by canyons. The park offers a variety of easy hikes, and rangers are available for presentations on the park’s natural history. With a box lunch and hiking boots in hand, Snow Canyon is a great spot for an off-property meeting, McMichael says. “It’s like a smaller version of Zion National Park, but it’s only seven minutes from St. George.”
St. George’s massive Dixie Center is the largest convention facility between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, with a 47,500-square-foot, column-free convention hall, and an additional 32,000 sq. ft. in flexible meeting room space. In addition to the Dixie Center, St. George has seven conference hotels, each with between 5,000 and 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
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Both located just north of St. George, Green Valley Spa and Red Mountain Spa are Utah’s largest spas, and offer sports and recreational facilities in addition to a full range of wellness, therapeutic and beauty treatments for both men and women. For a wilderness experience, Zion National Park is just 45 minutes from St. George.
The recreational capital of southeastern Utah, Moab is at the center of some of the most stunning landscapes in North America. Only minutes away are Arches and Canyonlands national parks; the Colorado River’s Cataract Canyon begins a few miles downriver; and landmarks like 900-foot-high Fisher Towers and the La Sal Mountains adorn the skyline.
“Moab is a gateway to adventure,” says Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, “and what makes Moab a great destination for retreats or meetings is that there’s so much to do in the area outside of the meeting room.”
While a number of hotels in Moab offer full conference and catering facilities, the area’s most compelling meeting destinations are a few miles east of Moab, along scenic Highway 128. Red Cliffs Lodge is a guest ranch right on the banks of the Colorado River that offers 7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. In an unusual twist for a Utah guest ranch, the lodge is also the headquarters for nearby Castle Creek Winery, whose 2,500-square-foot tasting room is available for functions.
The Moab area’s top-of-the-line destination for corporate retreats and special events is Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa. With 7,500 sq. ft. of indoor meeting facilities in six separate rooms, a 5,000-square-foot covered pavilion, and a 2,400-square-foot deck perched on the banks of the river, Sorrel River Ranch offers a variety of meeting options, with all the amenities and services of both a dude ranch and luxury resort.
COOL THING TO DO
Saddle up and head out to the Bar M Chuckwagon, just north of Moab, where tasty cowboy-style cooking is served up from chuck wagons, followed by a variety of Western entertainment, including rope tricks, silly skits and live music from a country-western band.
Based in the Pacific Northwest, Bill McRae is the author of numerous guidebooks, including Moon Publications’ Utah Handbook and Montana Handbook.
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), with more than 900 flights a day, is one of the largest airports in the West; it is served by 15 airlines, including new service by JetBlue to San Francisco and San Diego. Only a 10-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, the airport is also the primary transport hub for northern and central Utah. From the airport to Layton in David County is 20 minutes, and to Ogden is 40 minutes. To drive from SLC to Park City takes about 45 minutes, and both Utah Valley and Heber Valley are just under an hour’s drive from the airport.
- St. George Municipal Airport (SGU) is served by SkyWest, a Delta connector, through Salt Lake City, and by United Express through Los Angeles. St. George is a 1.5-hour drive from Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS).
- Moab Canyonlands Field (CNY) is 16 miles north of Moab on Highway 191 and is served by daily flights on Great Lakes Airlines to/from Denver. The only other public transport option to Moab is the ARK Shuttle run by Bighorn Express, which makes one minibus run daily between Moab and Salt Lake City.
- Salt Lake City: Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park is a 135-species bird zoo where in summer trainers offer free-flying bird displays reminiscent of falconry.
- Davis County: Swimming in the super saline waters of the Great Salt Lake is a blast; you’ll never feel more buoyant. Antelope Island State Park offers swimming beaches, complete with showers for after-swim desalination.
- Ogden: Travel up winding, super-scenic Ogden Canyon to the little town of Hunstville, where the Shooting Star Saloon (801-745-2002), founded in 1879 and Utah’s oldest operating bar, serves outstanding burgers in a vintage atmosphere that’s a paean to taxidermy.
- Park City: A mandatory stop for summer visitors is the Flying Aces show at the Olympic Winter Sports Park, in which ski and snowboard jumpers perform a freestyle aerial show choreographed with music. What goes up, must come down: after soaring up to 60 feet in the air and performing acrobatic feats, the jumpers land in a 750,000-gallon splash pool.
- Heber Valley: The Homestead Resort’s lovely, park-like grounds and outbuildings retain their historic character and are worth a stop, though bring your bathing suit: The Crater, a natural 55-foot high and 65-foot deep travertine cone filled with 92-degree naturally heated mineral water, is popular with swimmers, snorkelers and even scuba divers.
- Utah Valley: Sundance Resort’s Tree Room Restaurant is Zagat Survey’s top-rated restaurant in Utah, with refined mountain cuisine crafted from fresh organic ingredients.
- St. George: Nine miles north of St. George, Tuacahn Amphitheater is a natural amphitheater ringed by 1,500-foot-high red rock cliffs, with seating for nearly 2,000. Tuacahn is a summer showcase for outdoor stagings of classic musicals such as The Sound of Music and Les Miserables.
- Moab: Moab is nearly synonymous with mountain biking. The slickrock canyon country seems made for exploration by bike, and cyclists come from all over the world to pedal the backcountry. Sign up for a guided mountain bike tour with a local cycle shop, such as Moab Cyclery.