Meetings that are genuine experiences often are best attended and best remembered. Attendees generally arrive back home more motivated and enthusiastic, as well as more invested in the goals and objectives of the organization.
Summer meetings in the mountains fit this description, offering planners a dynamic experience they won’t soon forget. But the benefits don’t end there. These gatherings often carry a lower price tag. They offer planners the chance to keep their attendees together at one full-service resort, resulting in increased networking and ideageneration. And they provide an incomparable range of team-building opportunities.
But the biggest bonus of all is productivity. Many planners and attendees say that mountain meetings are the most productive ones they’ve had. Luckily, the United States and Canada are filled with mountain ranges with superlative meeting spaces, sure to elicit off-the-charts positive feedback in post-meeting surveys.
Here are some prime mountain meeting destinations from East to West.
Basin Harbor Club Resort, Vergennes, Vt.
It’s hard to think of a more picturesque setting than Basin Harbor Club Resort in Vermont’s Green Mountains. This New England lodge on the shores of Lake Champlain has 8,700 sq. ft. Of meeting space and is near Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, where Champlain College has more than 26,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space and dorms to house attendees.
Close to New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (6,288 feet), the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Wood is a white-faced, red-roofed lodge rated by Forbes Travel Guide in 2009 as one of the 10 Best Mountain Hotels in the World. The resort includes four lodging facilities and 30,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. It is the home to New Hampshire’s largest ski area, a zipline tour and 27 holes of championship golf.
Overlooking Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, is Whiteface Lodge, which has 7,900 sq. ft. Of meeting space and a 56- seat movie theater that can be used for meetings. In Lake Placid, planners can arrange bobsled and skating contests at the Olympic training facility In the summer, attendees can hike the Adirondack trails or hold canoe races on the lake.
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.
The Allegheny Mountains town of Hot Springs is located in the northern part of Virginia. This is the site of The Homestead, with 483 guest rooms and 72,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. The resort will inaugurate the world-class Canyon Ranch SpaClub, a cutting-edge health spa and fitness center, this spring. There are two championship golf courses and five restaurants, anchored by the main dining room, in a red-brick Colonial structure.
Across the border in West Virginia is another longtime symbol of Southern hospitality, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, with 710 guest rooms and 103,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. “It offers a chance for attendees to go back in time,” says Greg Furlong, director of group sales. “We have a 100-year-old history of being a great experience, and everything about our resort reflects that love of tradition. But our meeting facilities are state of the art.”
The Greenbrier offers nine restaurants, 30 shops, a casino and more than 50 onsite activities such as horseback riding, rafting, golf and falconry. Teambuilding options include the Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt, off-road racing and a paintball challenge. Last May, Rick Eisenman—president and CEO of Eisenman Associates, a Glen Allen, Va., association management company—organized the Annual Meeting of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association at the resort, attracting 700 attendees.
“We had our best attendance ever,” he says, “and we think the location was the reason. In fact, we had to increase the room block twice! It’s a meeting planner’s dream. Everything is onsite—meeting, Sleeping, playing and dining. Our people are still telling me that the beauty of the mountains and the relaxed atmosphere created an incredible amount of ‘blue-sky’ idea exchanges. And everyone felt it was their most productive meeting ever.
“You can have the best program in the world, but if people aren’t excited about the place, they’re not going to be invested in the program.”
Blue Ridge Mountains
Perhaps the Blue Ridge Mountains should be called the Blue Ridges Mountains, because these peaks seem to roll into the horizon in endless blue waves. Here, on Busted Rock Road, in a Virginia town called Meadows of Dan, is the Primland Resort. It’s in an elegant Old Virginia setting and boasts 26 guest rooms in the lodge, three fairway cottages, nine mountain homes and one tree house (yes, tree house!), as well as around 7,475 sq. ft. Of meeting space. There’s a premier golf course and spa, three restaurants and even a domed observatory for star-gazing. Also in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the Wintergreen Resort, which sprawls out over 11,000 acres. It’s a homey Southern property with a host of amenities and four high-quality restaurants. The skiing is excellent in the winter and in the summer, golf, tennis, hiking and biking are available.
Great Smoky Mountains
It’s easy to see how this mountain range got its name. These peaks often remain shrouded in fog until a couple of hours after sunrise, when the haze finally burns off. The Smokies are bisected by the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.
High on a mountaintop above Bryson City, N.C., near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is Lands Creek Log Cabins, a superb small-meeting venue. It is appropriately named because the 18 beautifully furnished cabins are built on stilts over Lands Creek, which means you fall asleep to the sounds of the water rushing beneath you. All cabins are filled with crafts and handmade furniture by local artisans, and most have fireplaces as well as hot tubs.
The largest property, Harmony Hall, is used for Meetings and is equipped with modern technology. It can hold up to 75 inside and several hundred outside on the decks and grounds. The mountaintop air might be the freshest attendees will ever breathe and the views will energize them. Nearby is Nantahala Outdoor Center, a team-building playground where attendees can hike on the Appalachian Trail or raft on the Nantahala River. Among the companies that have met here are Owens- Corning, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and Henkel North America, the makers of Dial Soap.
Across the border in Tennessee are several topnotch meeting hotels. The Park Vista Resort, with more than 25,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, overlooks the funky town of Gatlinburg, which is known for its many attractions. The hotel is surrounded by scenic hiking trails, as well as trout fishing and fly-fishing spots. There are plenty of Adirondack chairs in which to take in a sunset and watch the sparkling lights in the town below. Gatlinburg has attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, where you can walk right through a water tank, and Ober Gatlinburg, a mountaintop amusement complex with team-building opportunities.
The Sevierville Convention Center, near Wilderness at the Smokies water park, has 200,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. It’s complemented by 700 guest rooms at Wilderness’ three lodging options— Stone Hill Lodge, River Lodge and Sanctuary Villas. Team-building activities here are centered around Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Wilderness Adventure Forest, which offers a three-story ropes course, 25-foot climbing wall and mini-golf. Pigeon Forge, another mountain resort city in Sevier County, offers a mixture of big-city amenities and small-town charm. It has more than 145,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space at 20 different venues, including the Music Road Inn, with a convention center that provides 20,000 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, is an elegant combination of Italian Renaissance and Old West, and its hallways are a virtual museum of celebrated western artists. Its 12 restaurants include the Penrose Room, Colorado’s only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant. The resort’s grounds include a noted spa, three championship golf courses and 26 shops, along with 744 guest rooms and 185,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space.
“When you meet here, you look out at 14,110- foot Pikes Peak and 9,564-foot Cheyenne Mountain,” says John Rovie, director of sales at The Broadmoor, “and planners tell me that as a result, their meetings here are the most productive they’ve ever had. The natural beauty makes for a unique combination—an atmosphere that’s relaxing and invigorating. And because attendees never have to leave the resort, they have more time to network.”
The Broadmoor is undergoing a $60 million upgrade to its guest rooms, restaurants, lounges and meeting facilities that will be finished next year. “Part of this upgrade is the nine-cabin, 14-bedroom Ranch at Emerald Valley, which will be completed this summer,” Rovie says. “It will offer a wonderful space in the woods for executive retreats and team building.”
Last July, for the second year in a row, Ashley Risher, partner relations coordinator at Messenger International, a Colorado-based nonprofit ministry that distributes books and Cds to impoverished arEas of the world, brought 230 attendees from North and South America to The Broadmoor for the annual Messenger Cup golf tournament and meeting.
“The Broadmoor is a jewel,” Risher says. “It has a relaxed ambience and every conceivable amenity. You never have to leave; with 12 restaurants, boating on the lake, and the spa, pools, golf, tennis and shops, your people can’t possibly do everything. And because of the setting, we find it to be a great place for networking and generating new ideas.”
At its big banquet and auction, the organization’s goal was to raise $160,000. It raised $350,000. “We’ll be back this year,” Risher says.
Also in Colorado Springs is the Cheyenne Mountain Resort Colorado Springs, a “rustic luxury” property that last year completed a $20 million upgrade, which included improving 40,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. About 150 miles north of Colorado Springs is Estes Park, an authentic mountain village and the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The Stanley Hotel, a Victorian lodge in Estes Park built by the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile in the early 1900s, delights in its “ghostly” reputation.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Estes Park Resort has 3,500 sq. ft. Of meeting space, including the 2,275-square-foot Grand Ballroom, which overlooks Lake Estes and has floor-toceiling windows and a covered, heated outdoor deck. The resort is the only one in town located directly on the lake, and it has a spa, an indoor pool and a marina with kayaks, paddleboats and pontoons. Teambuilding activities, ranging from hot-air ballooning to kayak racing and fishing tournaments, can be arranged. While in Estes Park, attendees should see one of the varied shows offered by the Rocky Mountain Opry; they’ll be dancin’ in the aisles.
Also popular among attendees are two Starwood sister properties near Vail. The Westin Snowmass Resort provides ski-in, ski-out access to Snowmass Mountain and offers 5,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. The Wildwood Snowmass offers more than 1,100 sq. ft. Of flexible meeting space.
In Taos, N.M., at the south end of the Rocky Mountain chain, western/Anglo, Native American and Hispanic cultures come together to create a colorful cultural quilt. Taos has a 1,000-year-old pueblo, 400-year-old plaza, 300-year-old graveyards and renowned Southwestern art scene.
The Taos Convention Center offers 18,000 sq. ft. Indoors and large patios outdoors. Taos has some 1,400 hotel rooms, including the authenticadobe Sagebrush Inn & Conference Center, with a beautiful dining room; El Monte Sagrado Taos, with native treatments at its Living Spa at El Monte Sagrado; and Kachina Lodge, with a massive reproduction of a Frederic Remington bronze in front and a performance by native dancers every evening in the summer.
Taos also has some interesting team-building options, such as rafting in the 900-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge and exploring the wilderness with Wild Earth Llama Adventures.
In the northern Rockies, in the Idaho Panhandle town of Coeur d’Alene, attendees can experience some of the most magnificent scenery in America, as well as one of the best and newest meeting facilities. Coeur d’Alene sits on an ice-blue lake with 135 miles of shoreline and has a beautifully restored downtown with brick sidewalks and gaslit street lamps.
The Coeur d’Alene resort has 32,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space and superb restaurants and lounges, as well as its own lake-cruise boat and floatplane. Its newest meeting space is the Hagadone Event Center, which opened in mid-2011 and offers lake views and gardens for outdoor events. The resort boasts the only floating golf green in the world… accessed by mahogany boat. Also available are kayaking and canoeing on the lake and hiking on Tubbs Hill, a 2,500-foot mountain peninsula that juts into the water.
“Planners tell us we have the best of both worlds,” says J.J. Jaeger, director of sales and marketing for the resort. “Because of our natural setting, there’s a sense of focus and creativity during the sessions. And there are tremendous opportunities for innovative team building after the sessions.”
The Summer Educational Conference of the Exhibition Service & Contractors Association was held at the resort last June, with 155 attendees from throughout North America and Puerto Rico, as well as 15 exhibitors. Larry Arnaudet is the executive director of the Plano, Texas-based association, which supplies materials and services for meetings, exhibitions and conventions.
“We like resorts in mountain areas because we think they enhance productivity,” he says. “When people meet in a beautiful setting, they seem more focused and more invested in the organization and its goals. We also find that mountain settings increase networking, because people stay together. And for our people, networking is a vital part of our programs.
“Most of our attendees said our meeting at the Resort in June was our best ever. And we’re going back in 2016.”
The Wasatch Mountains of Utah are part of the Rockies, but they have an identity all their own.
Park City is an Old West town in the mountain range that has a new luxury vibe, and it is only a half-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Meeting properties here range from luxury brands to independents and offer some of the country’s best skiing in a postcard-ready mountain village setting. And as the home of Utah Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, it’s unsurpassed for team-building opportunities.
Montage Deer Valley, with 22,000 sq. ft. Of indoor meeting space, manages to combine the atmospheres of an exclusive international hotel and an authentic western lodge. Stein Eriksen Lodge is Utah’s only Forbes Five Star, AAA Five Diamond hotel.
Park City’s nontraditional meeting venues reflect its history. High West Saloon—the only ski-in, ski-out gastro-distillery in the world— hosts up to 175 for meetings (and is listed on The National Register of Historic Places). The Sky Lodge opened in 2007 on the site of a former lumberyard. Now, penthouses, wine rooms, courtyards, patios and private dining rooms occupy the space, which can accommodate groups of five to 50 people.
“Mountain meetings are productive because of some variables unique to the setting, among them fresh air and scenery,” says Carolyn Creek- McCallister, meetings and conventions regional sales manager at the Park City Chamber of Commerce/ CVB. “Attendees are inspired, but also relaxed. And planners tell us this results in greater idea sharing and networking, as well as greater creativity during the sessions. Here in Park City, we’re getting more and more meetings that have until now taken place at beach or golf destinations.
“When we speak with planners, we keep hearing the phrase ‘great experience.’ And when we follow up with them afterward, we keep hearing that’s exactly what their attendees had.”
Also in the Wasatch Range, in the resort town of Snowbird, the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort has 829 guest rooms, 50,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, incredible ski trails and a spa. Attendees who meet at Cliff Lodge & Spa enjoy spectacular views of Little Cottonwood Canyon, considered one of the most scenic spots in America. In nearby Alta, the Alta Lodge has ski trails that attract folks from all over the world.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite provides an upscale, full-service conference facility with more than 15,000 sq. ft. Of interior meeting space, several outdoor function areas and themed catering options. The lodge is located in the central Sierra Nevada mountains, adjacent to Yosemite National Park and a short drive from the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT).
North of Montreal and Quebec City, this area has been building up its meeting infrastructure, as well as the restaurants, attractions and recreational amenities to support it.
In the European-style village of Mont-Tremblant, the Fairmont Tremblant has 314 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. Also providing meeting space are Le Westin Resort & Spa, Tremblant, Quebec and Tremblant Convention Centre. Located in the quaint town of Mont Saint-Sauveur, the Manoir Saint-Sauveur boasts 23,000 sq. ft. Of space and in Esterel, the Esterel Resort offers 11,000 sq. ft.
Eve Sotnak, manager of client procurement at Minneapolis-based Aimia, a large event and meeting incentive company, put together the Global Department Manager Meeting at the Fairmont Tremblant last September that drew 40 attendees.
“I’m sold on mountain meetings,” she says.
“Your people are all together and there are fewer distractions. And we think the scenery helps generate innovative thinking. Even in our virtual world, face to face is still the best way to meet. We received exceptionally positive feedback about this meeting in our surveys. Our people got to know their colleagues so much better. And many of them wrote that the location was a refreshing change and that they want to go back again.”
The Fairmont Banff Springs, Alberta
The Banff-Lake Louise region is world-renowned for its sharp, snowy peaks, alpine lakes and several world-class hotels. The Fairmont Banff Springs, built in the style of a Scottish castle, has 768 guest rooms and 72,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. The opulent Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, sitting on the oft-photographed lake, has 550 rooms and 36,000 sq. ft. And Banff Centre has 403 rooms and 72,000 sq. ft.
The rest of the world discovered the village of Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics, but skiers have known about it for years. The Olympic facilities are now available for team building.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers 550 guest rooms and 32,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, including a rooftop terrace. Four Seasons Resort Whistler is a AAA Five Diamond winner and the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa has a reputation for being ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability.
The bottom line? If you stage your meetings at high altitudes, your productivity will achieve great heights, as well.
Steve Winston has traveled extensively in the Rockies and writes for magazines in the United States and abroad.
Ghosts in the Attic: The Stanley Hotel
Most hotels wouldn’t want the word to get out that they’re haunted by guests who, according to legend, checked in but never checked out. But not The Stanley Hotel. This white Victorian lodge in Estes Park, Colo., revels in its haunting reputation. In fact, the hotel staff gives a variety of ghost tours and the gift shop is filled with items related to ghosts and The Shining, which Stephen King was inspired to write after staying at the hotel.
You might want to book the night ghost tour, which provides an in-depth look into the paranormal activity of the main building, or visit the Concert Hall, which is said to have several “permanent” patrons of the arts. The five-hour ghost hunt is a more intensive option. If you want a nice, relaxing bedtime story before going up to your room, sit in on a ghost stories presentation.
F. O. Stanley, creator of the Stanley Steamer automobile (and the hotel), and his wife, Flora, are among the permanent guests, no doubt to ensure that the beds are crisply made and the service is up to par. Elizabeth Wilson, a staff member who was injured in a gas leak in 1911, is said to “hang around” so she can care for current guests.
Pretty much every room in the hotel has been reported to house spirits. Visitors claim to have experienced items moving from place to place and lights turning on and off. And some fourth-floor guests say they have heard children running up and down the halls when none are to be seen.
Team Building in the Mountains
“One of the best things about the North Caro- lina side of the Smokies is that it lends itself to just about any type of outdoor team-building activity and just about any corporate or as- sociation-management learning experience,” says Kyle Fronrath, a young entrepreneur who founded Fontana Guides, named after Fontana Lake, one of the Great Smoky Mountains’ best fishing spots. “We’re equipped to provide team-build- ing programs for just about any type of outdoor experience, from kayaking to fly-fishing and from rafting to hiking. We can create trips that emphasize leadership, management and communications skills.”
In the Rockies, Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides operates in the north-central part of the state and has an office in Estes Park. It offers team-building exercises including orien- teering adventures, Amazing Race-style challenges, scavenger hunts, mountain rescue scenarios, ropes courses and ziplines (some over rivers).
At The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., Greenbrier Outfitters operates leadership and team-development programs based on the philosophy that “the company that laughs together lasts.”
In upstate New York, Team Olympia at Lake Placid utilizes Olympics facilities for skiing, ice skat- ing and bobsledding to create programs based on leadership and effective communication.
And in Taos, N.M., your group can hook up with Adventure Associates, which can bring the team building to you or transport your attendees to a nearby park or place of natural beauty to work on management, communication, teamwork and corporate-change skills.