Antelope Island Bison Round-Up (photo by Keith Vaught)
Exciting group experiences await in Utah
A small group of cowboys and cowgirls stands around a chuck wagon fire, stomping at the ground against the chill of an October morning.
They’re in Antelope Island State Park, in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. Behind them, the Wasatch Mountains rise out of the fog, tinged by the first rays of the sun. The setting becomes quite lively in October for the park’s annual Antelope Island Bison Round-Up, where 50 riders from the county sheriff’s posse (yes, they still have sheriff’s posses in Utah) and some 250 volunteer riders herd the island’s bison into pens to be examined, and, if needed, treated or culled.
As the riders fan out, the occasional crack of a buckshot rifle echoes across this hardscrabble landscape…meant to herd, not hurt.
There are about 750 bison, in addition to pronghorn antelope, mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, bighorn sheep, badgers and weasels.
“If you can remember the old Marlboro Man TV commercials, you’d see the story of Utah and the West in his face,” says Wendy Wilson, assistant manager of the park. “Cowboys aren’t relegated to the history books here: They’re still seen quite often.”
In Utah, there are more than 60 rodeos annually. The state has some 140 ghost towns, with names including Chicken Creek, Home of Truth and Russian Settlement. In Utah, Western wear is often daily wear.
Traditions such as cowboy poetry date back to the 1800s, when cowboys gathered around the campfire. Cowboy poetry is now considered something of an art form here, and there are contests all over the state.
In Utah, the Old West isn’t so old. In fact, it’s thriving in some major cities.
Alleged bar, Ogden
In 1846, Ogden became the first settlement in the Utah Territory. When the first train in the Transcontinental Railroad chugged in 23 years later, the town gained a measure of fame.
It soon gained fame of another kind, though. With the train line came a variety of unsavory characters, along with gambling, prostitution, narcotics and robbery. Ogden became a rowdy, raucous town where gunfights were common.
It was so rough, in fact, that Al Capone was reputed to have said that it was too wild even for him.
Interestingly, the design of Ogden’s most iconic building comes not from the Old West, but from 8,000 miles east, in Egypt. Peery’s Egyptian Theater is an 800-seat facility built in 1924 that has been authentically restored for shows and meetings. It is part of the 70,000-square-foot Ogden Eccles Conference Center.
This is a Western town, though, as reflected in places such as Ben Lomond Suites Historic Hotel, built in 1927. Today, it’s undergoing a renovation and a change back to a former name, Bigelow Hotel & Residences. Phase One, scheduled for completion last month, consisted of upgrading guest rooms and opening a new restaurant. Phase Two includes upgrades to meeting spaces. No completion date has been set, but the “new” hotel will have 83 guest rooms and seven banquet rooms, with the largest holding 400.
Ogden’s heritage is also on display at the Utah Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This is one of four museums in historic Union Station, now an arts and events center that also has two galleries. In this beautiful old building, planners can utilize 24,289 sq. ft. in spaces including The Grand Lobby, Browning Theater and Old Timers Room.
“We in Utah believe some things are too valuable to lose,” says Judy Anderson, co-chair of the Utah Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “And our Western heritage is one of them. It still defines us, in many ways.”
Anderson says Ogden still treasures the traditional trades practiced in the 1800s, such as crafting boots, bridles, holsters, rawhide lariats and small whips known as quirts.
Many of Ogden’s old buildings have been repurposed, including a three-level bar called Alleged that’s really been transformed: It was formerly Rose Room Brothel. Today, it can host events for 100. Prairie Schooner Steakhouse offers a covered-wagon dining experience, along with meeting spaces for 25, 50 and 100.
Copper Nickel Events is in a 1908 structure that was headquarters for Browning Brothers Company, which designed firearms for Winchester, Colt and Remington. The building has 6,000 sq. ft. for events, and retains its original brown-brick exterior.
Part of the 2002 Winter Olympics took place in Park City, lifting this little ski town onto the world stage.
Underneath its sophistication, though, lies a town with roots firmly planted in the Old West.
This town had actually been transformed once before, almost overnight, with the discovery of silver there in 1869. A rugged one-horse town became an instant city, with would-be millionaires—most of whom returned home broke—rushing in to claim a stake. Some prospered, however: During this silver rush, Park City yielded $400 million in silver, and 23 new millionaires.
By the time of the Great Depression, though, silver prices had dropped precipitously. Thankfully, about this time, locals realized they had one natural gift that would never run out—snow. Park City started building ski resorts, eventually trademarking the slogan, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.”
The Old West has never really faded away there. Sixty-four buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and more than 1,200 miles of old mining tunnels remain. Park City shows off its Western roots in places such as the Historic District around Main Street.
DeJoria Center, Park City
Those halcyon frontier days come alive in great meeting spaces. At DeJoria Center, your attendees can play on a 1,100-acre ranch, after meeting in a space that can accommodate up to 2,000. High West Distillery & Saloon has a restaurant and a real saloon, period homes, a livery stable, an old cottage and event spaces holding up to 300. The Prospector is a rentable condo with Western design and furnishings, 4,280 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 310-seat theater.
Copper Nickel Events, Ogden
The “new” West is also evident here. Grand Summit Hotel, with 350 guest rooms and 11,796 sq. ft. of meeting space, was scheduled to start a major renovation last month, encompassing meeting spaces and guest rooms. Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley is a longtime favorite, with 180 guest rooms and 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Grand Summit Hotel, Park City
Val Meinen is president of Unimaginable Wows, a company in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, area that provides business-consulting and event-planning services to companies around the world. She has brought many groups to Park City, partly because of its unique Old West history.
“It’s hard not to feel the Old West influence in Park City,” Meinen says. “It’s still, at its heart, a historic place with small-town ambience. We try to provide very personal experiences for our attendees, and Park City’s perfect for that.
“We often bring in expert speakers sharing Western culture, history and wildlife, and we provide interactive experiences showcasing this region. We took a client there most recently in January, and we’re bringing another client in June, and then another in August.”
Salt Lake City
Brigham Young uttered his famous line, “This is the right place,” after arriving here with a wagon train of 148 Mormons in 1847. They weren’t the first to believe that, however: Native peoples such as the Ute and Shoshone had preceded them by centuries.
Within days, the industrious new settlers were planting crops, building houses, and naming their settlement Great Salt Lake City. That settlement, of course, is now the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
This region has a reputation for being somewhat homogeneous. Yet, as the tides of history progressed, Salt Lake City actually became quite diverse. Construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in nearby Ogden in 1869, brought thousands of immigrant workers there, as did the discovery of silver in the Wasatch Mountains.
Zermatt Resort & Spa, located near the city, was built in the picturesque Swiss style. It has two excellent restaurants, an IACC-certified conference center, 400 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Snowbird Resort, with 830 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, has spent $50 million in upgrades recently. Cliff Lodge upgraded guest rooms, meeting spaces and restaurant; its Creekside Lodge added 9,000 sq. ft. for meetings; and Summit at Snowbird has a new 23,000-square-foot events facility.
Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City
New downtown hotels are also coming. AC by Marriott will include 164 guest rooms and Regent Street Hotel will have 190, and both will offer meeting space. The two full-service hotels will open in late 2018, only a block from Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, which offers 679,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space.
Many meeting places show off their Western “chops” unabashedly.
Peery Hotel, Salt Lake City
Peery Hotel, built in 1910 in the prairie/classic-revival style, completed a $5 million renovation of guest rooms and meeting spaces last year. It offers 73 distinctive guest rooms and 4,078 sq. ft. of meeting space.
This Is the Place Heritage Park, Salt Lake City
At This is the Place Heritage Park, you can meet in the 1860s Kimball Home, accommodating 100, or the Brigham Young Farmhouse, with a lawn for up to 120, among seven other spots. The park also offers Western team-building experiences. Cedar City boasts Frontier Homestead State Park Museum, where the buildings and the people look as they did in the 1850s, and the 4,825 sq. ft. includes the museum and Hunter House.
At Wheeler Historic Farm, your attendees can wander among the cowboy-era buildings and farm. The Barn accommodates 175 attendees for meals and 500 for receptions.
Martin Kiel, national fleet sales manager for Volkswagen of America, based in Herndon, Virginia, is bringing 125 attendees to Salt Lake City in June for the “Model Year ’18 Fleet Preview.” A site visit a few months ago was all he needed to convince him to return.
“I’ve always enjoyed Salt Lake City,” Kiel says. “But seeing how much the region offers to meeting attendees clinched it for me. The proximity to the airport. The incredible scenery and recreational opportunities. The clean, walkable downtown. The pioneer ambience. The ‘big small town’ Western character. The culinary and craft beer scenes.
“I could go on and on. But the bottom line is that Salt Lake is a hidden gem. And once planners experience it, they’ll bring their people back.”
Utah Valley & Provo
The Utah Valley, now home to a half-million people, cherishes its past even as it races into the future.
Anchored by the city of Provo, it’s one of the fastest-growing technology centers in America, having earned the nickname “Silicon Slopes.”
Like its neighboring regions, the Utah Valley has seen a succession of colorful characters and events.
Prehistoric peoples lived there, sustained by what’s now called the Great Salt Lake. They were followed by Native tribes. Spanish settlers came up from New Mexico on the Old Spanish Trail in the late 1700s. The early 1800s saw a wave of fur trappers, among them a French-Canadian named Etienne Provost, after whom Provo is named. Provost, who apparently went by several last names, is thought to be the first Anglo to reach what is now Salt Lake City from the south.
In the mid-1800s, the Mormon settlers arrived, and along with them, the Old West days. Many Utah Valley residents will tell you those days have never left. And others will tell you that some (ghostly) residents from those days have never left, either.
Among the ghostly places is Thistle, formerly a bustling junction for Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. Today, it’s a ghost town. But, according to numerous visitors, some long-dead residents still make appearances.
Thanksgiving Point, Lehi
Thanksgiving Point in Lehi is filled with farms, gardens, museums, Old West experiences and 8,000 sq. ft. for meetings. The most unlikely meeting spot in Utah may be Wadley Farms, which is definitely not Old West. This magnificent Tudor castle in Lindon was built in 1869 by transplanted Englishman Joseph Wadley, and offers 4,500 sq. ft. of meeting space in the main castle and additional spaces in the Old Barn and Railroad Building.
Wadley Farms, Lindon
For a meeting experience that’s very much Old West, head for Sundance Mountain Resort, built by Robert Redford in 1969. It’s a wonderful combination of Western ambience and true luxury, with 95 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of rustic but high-tech meeting spaces.
Provo City Library at Academy Square opened in 1892 as The Brigham Young Academy, one of the largest high schools in the Rockies. Today, it houses not only the library, but also six meeting and event spaces, ranging from small classrooms to larger classrooms and a ballroom.
Utah Valley Convention Center, Provo
This region also boasts modern meeting spaces. Utah Valley Convention Center has a mostly glass exterior that lets the sun shine on the 83,578 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, and it’s LEED Silver-certified.
Two new hotels have opened in the Valley recently. Fairfield Inn & Suites Provo Orem has great views of the mountains, 90 guest rooms and a meeting room with 1,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Hyatt Place Salt Lake City/Lehi has 131 guest rooms, 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and proximity to attractions and shopping.
Steve Winston is an award-winning writer who has traveled extensively and writes for national and international magazines.
Zermatt Offers Unique Experiences
As a Swiss-style resort set in the heart of the American West, Zermatt Utah stimulates the senses and sparks creativity with its fusion environment. The expected dining, spa and recreational amenities enhance this heightened state, and a set of experiential offerings takes it a step further.
Through its Inspired Learning Center, the resort provides immersive group activities designed to help develop leadership, test limits and inspire reflection. Whether your attendees prefer to tackle a challenge on horseback, in an enclosed space or on a mountaintop, Zermatt Utah can help expand the limits of their comfort zone.
Unbridled Leadership: The resort enlists horses, oblivious as to whether the rider on their back is a CEO or a junior staffer, to provide honest feedback about individuals’ leadership abilities. Deliver a clear, confident prompt, and the elegant beast will respond as desired. Muddled, hesitant instruction provokes the opposite effect. The proof is in the feedback. It’s up to participants to reflect and adjust.
Summit: A mountaineering challenge in the High Uintas deposits groups in the midst of demanding terrain, difficult conditions and physical obstacles. The experience tends to expose shortcomings, but also presents opportunities for significant personal growth. Professional guides and Marine Corps experts provide guidance and instruction.
Clear: Test a team’s ability to perform under emergency circumstances with a high-intensity, hyper-realistic tactical training exercise in a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous environment. As participants navigate the sensitive situation, they learn when to lead, follow and stand back. The process pushes groups to discover, then destroy, their limits.
Leading Your Talented Team: Take an analytical approach to managing your team’s talent pool. StrengthsFinder from Gallup puts a quarter-century of behavioral research to work teaching participants how to name, claim and aim their top five talents, and how to apply them in a group environment.
A Legendary Cowboy Poet
In the little town of Eden, population 600 and with no zip code, resides Stan Tixier, whose name is legendary when it comes to the art of cowboy poetry. He’s known all over the West for colorful, outrageous tales such as “Bugger Red,” the story of a mean-spirited, buckin’ bronco who just couldn’t be ‘rode.’
“The tradition survives today because it’s entertaining, it’s got timeless themes and because people still love listening to it,” Tixier (pronounced ti-sha) says. As a boy, after hearing New Mexico’s Cowboy Poetry Laureate, he was hooked.
“I’m 85 now,” Tixier says. “But I have no plans to stop. I know over a hundred poems…each with different rhyming patterns and meter (patterns of syllables). And people from all over are showing interest. I was actually hired to read my poems on a cruise to Alaska last year. I recited about 70 of them…without repeating any.”
Major Meeting Venues
Ogden Eccles Conference Center
Handsome brown-brick building; offers both in-house and off-site catering; event managers onsite; high-speed internet; 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Ogden Union Station
Historic rail station building completed in 1924; four museums include Utah State Railroad Museum, and Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; more than 24,000 sq. ft. of event space includes 7,800-square-foot Grand Lobby.
Deer Valley Resort
Conference and lodging properties located throughout complex; 1,146 total guest rooms; more than 90,000 sq. ft. total event space; group activities; casual and gourmet dining.
Grand Summit Park City
AAA Four Star property; many units have fireplaces and hot tubs; free shuttle around town; restaurants; spa; fitness center; four-season recreation; 350 guest rooms; 11,796 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Montage Deer Valley
Alpine escape overlooking Park City; 220 guest rooms, suites and residences; more than 55,000 sq. ft. of event space; year-round outdoor activities; Utah’s largest spa.
Newpark Town Center
Colorful shopping, dining, residential and office complex; Utah’s only LEED-certified land development; surrounded by mountain trails and rivers; meeting spaces total 75,000 sq. ft.
Park City Marriott
Convenient to shops, restaurants, galleries in historic village; fitness center; heated indoor pool; Den Restaurant, Timbers Bar, Starbuck’s; 199 guest rooms; meeting planners; 13,699 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley
Forbes Five Star resort located midmountain at Deer Valley Resort; 180 guest rooms; more than 24,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor/outdoor event space; Forbes Four Star dining at Glitretind Restaurant.
The St. Regis Deer Valley
AAA FIve Diamond retreat at the base of the Wasatch Mountains; 174 guest rooms; 14,500 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor event space; spa; split-level infinity pool; gourmet dining at J&G Grill.
Waldorf Astoria Park City
One of the world’s most elegant hotel brands; gourmet dining at Powder Restaurant; luxurious spa; 160 guest rooms; 9,259 sq. ft. of meeting space; Summit Room, with 1,800 sq. ft. for meetings, coming this fall.
Westgate Park City Resort & Spa
Forbes Four Star Resort; three restaurants; lounge; liquor store; full-service spa; outdoor and indoor pools; fitness center; business center; 380 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Zermatt Resort & Spa
AAA Four Diamond resort in Midway, 15 miles south of Park City; four-season recreation; spa; fitness center; pool; restaurants and bakery; IACC-certified conference center; 400 guest rooms; 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Salt Lake City
Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center
Downtown location; elegant grand ballroom can be divided into 10 rooms; LEED Silver-certified, rooftop solar panels; 679,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Grand America Hotel
Only AAA Five Diamond hotel in Salt Lake City; Garden Cafe Restaurant; two lounges; Grand America Spa; business center; indoor pool; French bakery; 775 guest rooms; 75,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Salt Lake City Center
Central downtown location; across the street from Salt Palace Convention Center; 499 guest rooms; 24,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; 7,884-square-foot grand ballroom.
Salt Lake City Marriott University Park
Newly renovated; mountain and city views; convenient to convention center, major ski resorts and attractions; 246 guest rooms and suites; nearly 12,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek
Upscale hotel in the heart of the city; 510 guest rooms and suites; 21,030 sq. ft. of event space, including 13,350-square-foot grand ballroom.
Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel
Located downtown; free airport shuttle; fitness center; sustainability programs; 5th Street Grill serves American cuisine; outdoor pool; 362 guest rooms; 33,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Completed $50 million worth of renovations in past 18 months; 15 restaurants; fitness center; state-of-the-art Cliff Spa; 830 guest rooms; 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Utah Valley & Provo
Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
Stunning views of the Wasatch Range; walk to Utah Valley Convention Center; upscale amenities; fitness center; pool; free Wi-Fi; Slate Restaurant; 330 guest rooms; 24,591 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Sundance Mountain Resort
Authentic Western resort opened by Robert Redford in 1969; seven restaurants/bars; Art Studio Workshops; meeting spaces combine high-tech amenities and rustic ambience; 95 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Utah Valley Convention Center
Close to 1,300 hotel rooms; open rooftop garden space; LEED Silver-certified building; business center; mostly glass exterior lets the sunshine in; 83,578 sq. ft. of meeting space.