Brain power and adventure combine for dynamic events
When a mad composer’s latest composition turns out to be a backstage time bomb, you and your party must stop this mayhem. Can you untangle the maestro’s clever puzzles and disarm the bomb?”
This game description from the puzzle room Puzzah! is clearly designed for group think. The Denver company features one of several escape rooms that has swept Colorado by storm. The gist of it is simple: While locked in a space for an hour, teams must figure out how to set themselves free and solve the mystery together.
Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs are perfectly positioned as communities with mind-bending activities. After all, these cities are brain trusts for many of the country’s top science and engineering universities, national labs and high-tech startups. Bundled with scenic landmarks for hiking and climbing, a Colorado meeting can bring out the best of a team’s mind and muscle.
Denver International Airport (DEN) is a direct flight from most major U.S. cities. Boulder is a 45-minute drive north and Colorado Springs is just over an hour south. Delegates can also fly directly to Colorado Springs Airport (COS). Need another reason to meet here? Weather is optimal, with 300 days of sunshine a year, for those thinking ahead.
Colorado’s largest city is a showcase for intellectual, cultural and adventurous pursuits. Amy Yanda-Lee, director of marketing and public relations for Chase54 golf apparel, specifically selected Denver for her company’s sales meeting. Since the city is historic and promotes innovation, it aligned well with Chase54, a 30-year-old manufacturing company launching a fresh take on its branding, according to Yanda-Lee.
When the goal is to get groups thinking outside the box, consider introducing folks to an escape room. Places such as Puzzah! and Denver Escape Room thrill guests with inventive storylines and tech gizmos so the experience seems real.
A journey to creative and historic locations can also help spin those mental wheels. At Denver Art Museum, there are group tours and special exhibits. If a group needs motivation, check out Wings Over the Rockies air and space museum. Exhibits bring folks close-up with pilots and astronauts who risked their lives to reach their goals.
Some learners need kinetic activity to get unblocked. Rock climbing, ziplining and white water rafting can be booked in advance with suppliers such as Arkansas Valley Adventures.
Where to go for a bite? With 300 downtown restaurants, Denver delivers mesmerizing cuisine. “We’ve got restaurants that are great for whole buyouts and chef-owned properties with new concepts,” says Justin Bresler, vice president of marketing for Visit Denver. “We have been known for the best steak to the best street tacos to the best seafood.” Bresler adds that downtown is safe and a pleasant walk at night.
Denver boasts some 78 distinct neighborhoods. These days, everyone’s talking about reinvigorated Union Station, a 100-year-old train stop with retail and restaurants. In River North (RiNo), foodies rush to The Source, a former foundry turned artisan market with two hip eateries, Acorn and Comida.
Companies can also wow clients in the Golden Triangle district, known for museums, galleries and impressive dinner locales. Reviewers are blanketing Potager Restaurant and Fruition Restaurant with kudos.
Since this is, after all, the Mile High City, groups can enjoy restaurants with skyline views at places including Linger for New American and Ocean Prime for seafood and steak. Book a closing-night party at Hyatt Regency’s Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor.
Denver’s downtown core is anchored by Colorado Convention Center. Currently offering 2.2 million gross sq. ft., the convention center will benefit from a $100 million investment that will expand the facility in order to keep it competitive.
Popular nearby hotels include the 1,231-room Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, steps from the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, a shopping and retail strip. The Sheraton offers 133,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and can accommodate up to 3,000.
Very memorable is The Crawford Hotel, a new luxury property located inside Union Station. It offers 20,415 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 12,000-square-foot hall.
Yanda-Lee and Chase54 chose the Crawford due to positive interaction with the staff. “Anything that was questionable during the [selection] process was addressed with a creative suggestion,” Yanda-Lee says. “The sales reps still rave about the trip.”
Vying for customers is The Art Hotel, a 165-room boutique property with 4,100 sq. ft. of meeting space. Opened in June, the property emphasizes an experiential stay. The lobby features an art piece with 22,000 light bulbs and original works throughout. Fire, the hotel restaurant, features sculptures and artfully plated new American entrees.
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa completed a $10.5 million renovation in July, updating its 200 guest rooms and adding meeting space that increased its property total to 23,253 sq. ft.
Ballrooms at Grand Hyatt Denver and Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center are undergoing renovations at a combined cost of $10 million. Grand Hyatt has 516 guest rooms and 52,600 sq. ft. of event space. Hyatt Regency features 60,600 sq. ft. of meeting space and 1,100 guest rooms.
Less than an hour’s drive from Denver is Boulder, a city hard to beat for academic prowess. While the national average of people with bachelor’s degrees is 26 percent, Boulder residents check in at 67 percent. Boulder’s accolades include being cited as one of The 10 Smartest Cities in America earlier this year by MarketWatch, and America’s Most Innovative Tech Hubs by NerdWallet.
If you want to rub shoulders with the smart folks at one of Boulder’s three national labs, groups can tour the National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesa Laboratory (NCAR). The Summers-Bausch Observatory stages an open house on Friday nights, allowing visitors to use telescopes to see galaxies up close.
“It is the best city for our needs,” says Nanci Reich, director of corporate operations for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Twenty-five astronomers came to Boulder last May for its fifth meeting. Attendees convened at University of Boulder to brainstorm and meet astronomy professors. Hearing a speaker from NCAR was “the cherry on the intellectual sundae,” Reich says.
Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau’s value to event organizers is its ability to personalize meetings and weave in the city’s attractions, according to Mary Ann Mahoney, executive director.
“In creating smart meetings and smart destinations, we have access to incredible scientists and federal labs,” Mahoney says. “Occasionally, people come in and ask for speakers, and we have the connections to make it happen.”
To get energized, usher the team outside for a hike near the Flatirons, the iconic peaks that resemble five flat irons. Get trail recommendations at ever-popular Chautauqua Park.
“Hikes do not have to be intimidating,” Mahoney says. “They can also be along the creek where you are pacing yourself and setting your mind at peace.” The 200 miles of public hiking and biking trails, and 43,000 acres of open space are more than enough area to clear one’s head.
Who would have thought this town would plant itself on the culinary map? Hosea Rosenberg, winner of Top Chef’s fifth season, recently launched farm-to-table Blackbelly Market, which is already a hit among groups.
Tell the gang to dress up for a night at the mountainside Flagstaff House for French fare. The family-owned restaurant of 40 years maintains bragging rights to a 15,000-bottle wine cellar.
Pearl Street Mall shopping district is festooned with eateries. Dine on the rooftop at barbecue-focused West End Tavern. For awe-inspiring architecture and great fusion dishes, book Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. The ceramic-paneled tea house, a colorful gift from sister city Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is so breathtaking the building could be mistaken for a temple.
Boulder chefs know how to please folks with the narrowest of palates. “Restaurants are so adaptable here,” Mahoney says. “Gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free…our population is changing. Our chefs know how to cater to unusual requests, which are not so unusual anymore.”
Boulder features approximately 20,000 guest rooms at hotels and inns. The elegant St. Julien Hotel & Spa, a AAA Four Diamond property, has 201 guest rooms and is attractive to those with champagne tastes. It features 16,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Millennium Harvest House Boulder is the city’s largest hotel, with 269 guest rooms. Boasting 18,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, it sits next to the University of Colorado, With upgraded garden spaces and renovated guest rooms, hotel plans call for even more meeting space to be added over the next two years.
Hyatt Place Boulder/Pearl Street became the new kid on the block after opening in April. The property offers 150 guest rooms and 4,963 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Colorado Springs represents another favorite meetings haven. The highest in altitude (6,035 feet) of the state’s three major cities, it is known for having more than 50 area attractions. This strategic powerhouse is home to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), United States Air Force Academy and U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Attendees will marvel during a tour of U.S. Olympic Training Center, where the country’s top athletes train. You can also challenge the team’s universal intelligence at Space Foundation Discovery Center to learn about planets and meteorites.
United States Air Force Academy features a 31,600-square-foot visitor center and a cadet chapel with stunning architecture. The Cadet Wing formation march happens Monday through Friday at 11:35 a.m. during the school year.
For physical activities that require problem-solving, the city tops the list in mega-adventures. Check out Cave of the Winds WindWalker Challenge Course if your attendees need to push the physical envelope. It provides a ropes course and gives non-athletes a break with easy-to-manage cave tours. For an only-in-Colorado experience, sign up with Challenge Unlimited for a guided 20-mile bike ride, all downhill from Pikes Peak.
Attendees are encouraged to take a simple or an advanced hike through the city’s pride and joy: Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark with towering sandstone formations as tall as 300 feet. The visitor center and museum are nearly as impressive as the views.
The hilltop Pepper Tree is a standout for fine dining, according to Kathy Reak, director of convention sales for Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. PepperTree’s signature experience arrives when chefs prepare flaming steak filets tableside. Event planners can reserve the entire 60-seat restaurant.
MacKenzie’s Chop House for steak and seafood is another high-end contender and group favorite, Reak says. Three banquet rooms provide privacy for groups of up to 60.
For a casual atmosphere, Phantom Canyon Brewing Company is ideal. “The three-story pub features pool tables and amazing food,” Reak says. “You feel very relaxed.” The banquet hall holds up to 200 for breakfast and dinner meetings.
Unique and traditional sleep options are prolific. “Properties range from high-end, five-star luxury to truly Colorado-esque ranches,” Reak says.
How does a secluded estate for your group sound? Glen Eyrie Conference Center is a 1906 castle set in a gated property on 800 acres, a 15-minute drive from downtown Colorado Springs. With 97 guest rooms and 19,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, the property promotes in-house activities such as castle tours, a challenge course, onsite geology tours and high tea. Organizations that have booked meetings include Goodwill Industries, Colorado National Guard, Junior Achievement and Colorado Department of Education.
For large events, the AAA Four Diamond Cheyenne Mountain Resort & Club offers a sprawling campus of eight lodges with 316 Rocky Mountain-decorated rooms. For years, groups have converged to take advantage of this one-stop shop for business services, meeting rooms with inspiring views and memorable meals. The new Alluvia spa, Pete Dye 18-hole golf course, a 35-acre lake with a sandy beach, 17 tennis courts and five indoor and outdoor swimming pools provide enough attractions to keep attendees on the premises for the entire conference.
With convenient access from everywhere in the country, Colorado’s three major cities are a no-brainer when it comes to booking a location that’s breathtaking, intellectually stimulating and affordable. Meeting planners have choices that stack up well over a mile high.
Colorado Fun Facts
-In Boulder, 33 percent of the population is 18 to 24 years old.
-Colorado Springs is 6,035 sq. ft. above sea level, followed by Boulder at 5,430 sq. ft. and Denver at 5,280 sq. ft.
-Nearly half of all residents in Boulder are college students.
-Pikes Peak was named after American explorer Zebulon Pike in 1806, but he never made the summit climb.
-One of the most popular attractions in the Pikes Peak region is Garden of the Gods.
-The Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado Springs at 956 feet tall is considered the world’s highest suspension bridge.
-The No. 1 attraction in Colorado Springs is Air Force Academy Visitor Center and Chapel.
-Shredded Wheat cereal was invented in the 1890s in Colorado Springs.
-Denver’s nickname, Mile High City, is named after its one-mile elevation.
-Denver has a population of 634,265, which is the most of any city in Colorado.
-Colorado’s mountainous areas are six times the size of Switzerland.
-In Denver, the road to the top of Mount Evans, at 14,260 feet, ties for honors as the highest paved road in North America.
-Colorado’s premier long-distance trail, Colorado Trail, is 500 miles long. It starts in Durango and ends in Denver, passing eight mountain ranges, five river systems, six national forests and six wilderness areas.