It was still October when the snow goddess blessed the Rocky Mountains with 17 inches of snow and icy temperatures. In the 2001-2002 season, meetings lagged with the economy, and a warm winter left ski areas down 6.2 percent from a banner 2000-2001 season, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Recovery this season looks certain — every lift opened early, and the Thanksgiving turkey couldn't book a room in hotels already bristling with skis.
Some Colorado resorts are maturing along with their clientele, and the promise of sensible skiing in the Rockies is quite attractive to the mostly over-30 groups they draw. One by one, recent changes have turned T-shirt emporiums into fine dining restaurants, jewelry stores, or fur salons. Vail Valley's new Ritz-Carlton Beaver Creek is a case in point. Throughout the Rockies, much of the 1960s ephemera of Bavarian hamlets has been replaced by sleek sophistication or the rustic and rugged look.
Unlike Colorado, Pacific West ski areas had a snowy 2001-2002, with skier visits up 7.5 percent, according to NSAA. Construction crews on the Reno-Sparks Convention Center expansion completed work three months ahead of schedule and nearly $20 million under budget.
After the Winter Olympics monopolized Utah in January and February 2002, Salt Lake and Park City accommodated more convention delegates in the final 10 months of 2002 than the area had ever hosted in a single year. “Not only did Salt Lake and the mountain resorts see more and larger conventions this year , but several had record-setting attendance and hotels saw better rates, despite a 64 percent room inventory increase in the run-up to 2002,” says Dianne Binger, president of the Salt Lake CVB. “The Olympics demonstrated the area's ability to host major world-class events, and we continue to see the bookings come.”
OUR FAVORITE EVENTS
At Heavenly, Lake Tahoe's new, cross-border ski area, Adrienne Hoefflein, Heavenly's special events coordinator, suggests Decadence at 9,000 Feet, a mountain picnic you can hold in either California or Nevada. Menus, music, and the location are all chosen to fit the occasion. Picnics include fresh-cut flowers, silverware, and china — no sitting in the snow and eating from your lap. Tables are carved out of snow and covered with linens. Each picnic includes wine, a cheese platter, soup, hot rolls, an entrée such as lobster or filet mignon, and dessert.
Dave Fields, manager at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, reports that the highlight of a Bank of America meeting was a Daredevil Downhill Dummy competition. About 125 attendees were split into groups and given inner tubes, cardboard, dowels, and tape to create a dummy that had to survive sliding solo down the ski hill. Judging included air time, slope speed, design, and other measures more productive of hilarity than accurate measurement.
Shawn Thomson, owner of Rocky Mountain Connections, Aspen, recommends recreating for a sophisticated group the elegance, musical sounds, and tastes of Aspen's annual Food & Wine Classic. Leading chefs and vintners conduct cooking demonstrations and wine tastings before serving their specialties. RMC can recreate the event for a group, with tuxedo-clad waiters serving Colorado wines and an elaborate dinner of red deer, elk, buffalo, caribou, and Rocky Mountain trout.
Destination Services of Colorado does a Mountain Man Rendezvous evening with bearded and grizzled actors in costume instructing and cheering attendees at mountain resorts in games of log sawing, hatchet tossing, and muzzle loading.
“We did a fantastic event at the Utah Olympic Park for 600 people from Genentech” says Heidi Hughs, national sales manager, Design Destinations Inc., Salt Lake City. The venue for the Nordic ski jumping and bobsled and luge at the Games is now a year-round public playground and training facility for the U.S. freestyle ski team. “Our group did tours of the ski jumps, walked the bobsled/luge track, and saw the freestyle aerialists' show choreographed to music. We have used the Park many times for smaller groups, and sometimes we're able to incorporate bobsled rides down the Olympic track and end with an elegant catered dinner in the Park's day lodge.”
For an informal evening at Squaw Valley, meeting managers suggest “Hot Dog,” a 1983 movie shot entirely at Squaw Valley, followed by a (“Don't try this yourself”) hot-dogging demonstration and a supper of hot dogs and chili around a bonfire. Finish the night off with a Retro '80s Dance Party.
Not everyone skis, so build group cohesion with time outdoors on the mountain in activities where hilarity outflanks athleticism and no one is an expert.
Tubing, usually done at night under the lights, has swept the western resorts. Most hotels can supply the tubes (you supply the liniment) for groups of up to 25 that take the chairlift to the top, soar down the slope, and ride back to the top to do it again. And then, hot chocolate and schnapps can close out the evening.
Snowbiking? Telluride's latest European import is a combination of skiing, sledding, and bicycling on a specially designed, gravity-powered vehicle that gives new meaning to the term mountain biking. The activity includes rental and instruction, and finishes at one of Mountain Village's restaurants.
Groups of attendees can gather in an outdoor reception area for spiced (or spiked) hot cider before piling into a sleigh (complete with blankets and campfire songs) for a trip into the mountains to a fine restaurant and back home the same way. To build up people's appetites, you can — if the trail isn't too long — make the outbound trip on snowshoes, and return by sleigh.
The Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs promotes an appreciation for the mountains' heritage, including the history of skiing. See a 1908 Queen Anne — style Victorian home and American Indian and Western collections. A meeting room is available for up to 40 people, with the kitchen thrown in for an extra $5. (970) 879-2214
Steamboat Springs Arts Deport, a renovated train depot, houses a gallery full of unique creations and includes an arts gallery and the renovated baggage room, which serves as a community auditorium for up to 300 people. (970) 879-9008; firstname.lastname@example.org
Telluride Conference Center has pioneered the suspended breakout meeting — suspended for 30 minutes that is, in a gondola swaying above the slopes as attendees conduct business while traveling between Mountain Village and Telluride. No agoraphobics on this committee, please. (970) 369-5120, (877) 582-9277; Fax: (970) 728-1277, www.tellurideconference.com
Ogden Eccles Conference Center & Peery's Egyptian Theater is just 35 miles outside Salt Lake City.The conference center, which boasts 14,000 square feet of exhibit space, is adjacent to Peery's Egyptian Theater, which is a restored 1924 showplace. The center can accommodate 1,000 people banquet-style and 1,400 reception-style. (801) 395-3200
Make the trip between DIA and the mountains memorable with a stop at Golden, where Adolf Coors Brewing Co. fills the town with the fragrance of hops. The brewery is alight with copper kettles, and appropriate home-brewed refreshments at tour's end make the rest of the trip shorter.
THE PHANTOM PLANNER
In the mountains, low season is Thanksgiving to December 19 or 20, and the month of April. High-season rates begin the weekend after New Year's. In between are holiday rates, and you don't want to go then!
Groups meeting in Reno/Tahoe or other casino/ski destinations should know that nonsmoking laws are minimal or nonexistent in gaming towns.
While some ski resorts are able to accommodate 750 to 1,000 attendees, the typical ski meeting group is 50 to 100. The larger groups are manageable — but not easy.
The biggest problem in planning ski meetings? Getting everyone to and from that elegant little inn on the mountainside, miles from air and ground transportation. Devote some early energy to those arrangements.
Most seminars held in ski locations attract a fair number of diehard skiers. Offer early morning sessions, a break for skiing, and then more sessions after 4 p.m. At some resorts, sessions can be simulcast into guest rooms and even replayed at night for those attendees who won't park their skis until the lifts shut down.
COLORADO — New
The swanky 237-room Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch opened just in time for Thanksgiving at Beaver Creek in Vail Valley. The hotel features a 21,000-square-foot spa, six meeting rooms, six restaurants and lounges, and provides ski in-ski out access to the Bachelor Gulch Express lift.
Ground was recently broken on a 518-room Westin Hotel adjacent to the Denver International Airport and connected to the terminal by pedestrian bridge. A central place for meetings before heading to the mountains? The $125 million property will be the only hotel within 10 miles of DIA and will offer 40,000 square feet of meeting space when it opens in late 2005.
The Conference Center at Vail Cascade Resort and Spa completed a $2 million renovation this past July to its two ballrooms, exhibition hall, 15 meeting rooms, and two theaters.
Breckenridge in December opened seven intermediate runs in its Peak's 7 glade terrain and a new high-speed six-pack lift named Independence to honor Breckenridge's past. The new area increases the resort's intermediate terrain by 30 percent.
NEVADA/CALIFORNIA — New
The first phase in the construction of the village at Heavenly began in May 2001 when 34 acres of old hotels near Lake Tahoe were demolished and a gondola built. The ski area was open that winter and the village at Heavenly is essentially complete with except that there are plans to add a convention center, a replica of Lake Tahoe, a lakewide transport system, and 500-car parking garage.
The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort and Casino is finishing a $60 million renovation that has recreated the classic style, look, and feel of a 1920s Alpine Grand Lodge. In the final phase, the hotel has closed its Aspen Terrace wing, swimming pool, and health club. The health club will be relocated to the fourth floor of the main building, and a new pool and Aspen Terrace are scheduled to reopen next summer.
MONTANA — Renovation
Big Sky Resort will spend more than $400 million in this decade for enhancements to the resort and Mountain Village. Plans include the addition of more than 100 shops and restaurants, a spa, and additional conference facilities in the Mountain Village.
UTAH — Renovation
Renovations to guest rooms are ongoing at the Alta Lodge in Alta. Upgrades include remodeled bathrooms, new beds, and boot heaters. The resort has a number of meeting rooms and conference space.
Snowbird, Utah's 28,000-square-foot Cliff Spa in the Cliff Lodge stays on the cutting edge of high-altitude pampering. The Cliff Spa is offering new treatments for the “Mind, Body and Spirit” for the '02-'03 season.
CONTACT THE CVB
Aspen Chamber Resort Association
(800) 262-7736; (970) 925-1940
• Fax: (970) 926-1173
Total Hotel Tax: 8.5%
Snowmass Resort Association
(970) 923-2000; (800) 598-2006
• Fax: (970) 923-5466
Total Hotel Tax: 15.5%
Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
(303) 892-1112; (800) 480-2010
• Fax: (303) 892-1636
Total Hotel Tax: 13%
Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association
(970) 879-0882; (800) 922-2722
Fax (970) 879-2543
Telluride & Mountain Village Visitor Services
(888) 705-7747; (970) 369-6400
• Fax: (970) 728-1277
Total Hotel Tax: 10.5% in the town of Telluride and 11.5% in the Mountain Village
Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau
(800) 775-8245; (970) 476-1000
• Fax: (970) 479-2364
Total Hotel Tax: 15.3%
Salt Lake City Convention & Visitors Bureau
(801) 521-2822 • Fax: (801) 534-4927
Total Hotel Tax: 11.35%
Park City Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 453-1360 • Fax: (435) 649-4132
Total Hotel Tax: 10.25%
(801) 534-1779 • Fax: (801) 521-3722
Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce
• Fax: (307) 733-5585
(800) 847-4868; (406) 841-2870
Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority
(775) 827-7600; (800) 443-1482
• Fax: (775) 827-7666
Total Hotel Tax: 12.5% in Reno, 12% in Sparks
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (South Lake Tahoe)
(530) 544-5050, (800) 288-2463
• Fax: (530) 544-2386
Total Hotel Tax: 12%
North Lake Tahoe Resort Association
• Fax: (530) 581-8779
Hotel Tax: in CA 10%, in NV 12%
CENTERS OF THE ACTION
THE COLORADO CONVENTION CENTER has 292,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space on one level and 65,000 square feet of meeting space. A $268 million expansion scheduled to open December 6, 2004, will double the facility, adding 292,000 square feet of exhibit space, 60,000 square feet of meeting space, a new ballroom, and a 5,000-seat auditorium. A 1,100-room Hyatt across the street is slated for late 2005. (303) 228-8000, (800) 480-2010; www.denverconvention.com
ASPEN MEADOWS Hotel and Conference Center has 12 meeting rooms and 98 guest rooms. (970) 925-4240, (800) 452-4240
SNOWMASS Conference Center has 35,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space. (800) 598-2006
THE KEYSTONE Conference Center has 50 meeting rooms for a total of 63,500 square feet of meeting, exhibit, and function space. There are 1,500 guest rooms and condominiums. (303) 756-4444, (800) 362-3392; www.keystoneconferences.com
VILLAGE HALL Conference Center in Beaver Creek has nine meeting rooms that accommodate up to 1,200 people. (970) 476-1000.
THE TELLURIDE Conference Center has a 6,000-square-foot ballroom that can accommodate up to 550 theater-style, but the real hit for smaller groups is the gondola breakout room. (970) 369-6400, (888) 705-7747; Fax: (970) 728-1277; www.tellurideconference.com
THE BASHOR RACE Area Pavilion at Steamboat is outdoor deck space designed for private functions of 25 to 1,000 people with partially covered seating, three heaters, indoor restrooms, and gas grills. It's at the base of the Race Area for convenient access on foot. (800) 922-2722
THE SALT PALACE has a total of 370,000 square feet of exhibit space, and 53 meeting rooms including a 45,000-square-foot, hotel-quality ballroom. (801) 534-4777
THE SOUTH TOWNE Exposition Center provides 243,000 more square feet of exhibit space and 15,000 square feet of meeting room. Built largely for consumer shows, the Exposition Center frees up the Salt Palace for large conventions. (801) 565-4400
THE RENO-SPARKS Convention Center opened ahead of schedule and $20 million under its $105 million budget in July with 381,000 square feet of exhibit halls, 79,000 square feet of meeting rooms, and a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom. (800) 443-1482 www.renolaketahoe.com/conventions/