It's been more than a century since newspaper publisher Horace Greeley advised the readers of his New York Tribune to "Go west, young man, go west!" to prospect for their fortunes. Long after the gold, silver, and iron ore played out, the West continues to mine the riches of its scenery and snow.
There are few sights more exhilarating than a craggy mountain peak blanketed in snow beneath a brilliant blue sky. Add crisp, clear mountain air, full-service resorts, soul-warming fireplaces, and opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, dogsledding, ice skating, sleigh rides--even hot-air ballooning and winter fly-fishing--and you've got a trip that motivates. No wonder winter meetings in ski country, whether it be Colorado, Utah, Montana, or Lake Tahoe, are popular with both conference planners and attendees.
Recent mergers and acquisitions in the ski industry have created a trio of major players--Vail Associates, Intrawest, and The American Skiing Com- pany. In Colorado, after its purchase of Keystone and Breckenridge, last year, Vail Associates (Vail, Beaver Creek, Arrowhead, Bachelor Gulch) controls more terrain and lodging than any other operator. Its ten-year master plan is well under way with the opening this February of Beaver Creek's 500-seat Vilar Center for the Performing Arts. When not used for concerts and ballets, the theater, with a high-tech audiovisual setup, will be available for meetings. The theater is underground, and a new year-round skating rink sits on top of it.
Also expanding is Vancouver-based Intrawest (operators of Whistler/ Blackcomb and Mt. Tremblant, among other resorts), which purchased Vermont's Stratton and Colorado's Copper Mountain last year and is on a building spree at both.
The American Skiing Company expanded from the Northeast last fall to purchase Colora-do's Steamboat, Utah's Wolf Mountain (now called The Canyons), and Tahoe's Heavenly Ski Resort. American has upgraded lifts and snowmaking, including a new six-passenger, high-speed lift at Heavenly.
Two of the largest ski areas in North America border Lake Tahoe: Heavenly, which straddles the California/Nevada border at the south end, and Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Olympics, on the less developed North Shore. Add in Northstar, Alpine Meadows, Sierra, and Kirkwood and it adds up to more than 30,000 acres of skiing, much of which has spectacular lake views from the top of a trail or chute. The two ends of the lake are very different. The South Shore, in Nevada, bustles with neon, Harrah's, Harvey's, and Caesars, while the North Shore is relatively quiet. After seven years of planning, Heavenly has gotten final approvals for a gondola that will run from the casinos and hotels downtown up to the mountain. Groundbreaking is planned for 1999.
Hotel News Colorado * Vail Associates, which purchased the Lodge at Vail from Orient Express in 1997, has added a $15 million International Wing, containing 6,000 square feet of conference/meeting space and 18 luxury rooms and suites.
* The Sonnenalp Resort, situated along Gore Creek in Vail Village just steps from the Vistabahn chairlift, is renovating Austria Haus, one of three "hauses" at the two-city-block property.
* Vail Cascades, which completed a $15 million restoration of its lobby and public areas two years ago, will undertake a similar renovation of rooms this year.
* In Vail Valley, The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera has just added 28 rooms and nearly 2,000 square feet of additional meeting space. The mountain-top resort, styled like a French chateau, has miles of groomed cross-country ski trails covering its three golf courses.
* Vail Associates also purchased the Breckenridge Hilton and will begin a multimillion-dollar renovation of the property's 208 rooms and suites this summer, upgrading them to luxury status.
* River Run Village, at the foot of Keystone's gondola, opened 250 hotel and condo units last year, and plans to open an additional 150 in 1998.
* The Ritz-Carlton, Aspen, became ITT Luxury Collection's Hotel Aspen last fall. The richly appointed red brick structure is across the street from the designer shops and art galleries of Aspen's pedestrian mall, and two blocks from the nearest chairlift. There are 275 rooms, including 24 suites, and a 9,274-square-foot ballroom.
* The Given Institute, part of the University of Colorado, offers a retreat-like atmosphere for up to 200 attendees just two blocks from Aspen center. Winter events at this stand-alone meeting space (no guest rooms) are discounted 25 percent.
* Copper Mountain's new owner, Intrawest, plans to break ground in April 1998 for the first phase of a $340 million redevelopment of base area facilities. The 58,000-square-foot Copper Springs day lodge and conference facility is scheduled to be completed in January 1999.
* The ITT Sheraton Resort at Steamboat has completed an $18 million renovation of its lobby, restaurant, and bars, and is adding an additional 23 luxury suites to be completed in December 1998. The Sheraton is adjacent to Steamboat's gondola building.
* The Home Ranch, about 20 minutes from Steamboat in rural Clark, provides free shuttle service to the ski area along with a complimentary lift ticket. There's also a resident guide who can help guests find nearby cross-country or snowshoe trails at their ability level.
* This season, groups receive a free lift ticket for each day of stay at The Peaks at Telluride. The Peaks opened its 42,000-square-foot Next Level Spa last year.
* The town of Telluride is scheduled to open the Telluride Conference Center in summer 1999. The center will be a meetings-only facility with 21,000 square feet of space
Montana * The Summit Hotel, in the heart of Big Sky's Mountain Village, is scheduled to break ground in April 1998, adding nearly 80 studio and multi-room suites and more than 2,500 square feet of conference space. The $35 million project is adjacent to the Yellowstone Conference Center, with its 40,000 square feet of meeting space. The project will take two years to complete.
* The Rainbow Ranch, a fly-fishing lodge on Big Sky's Gallatin River, with retreat-style accommodations and meeting facilities, remodeled its 25 rooms last fall.
Utah * The ski-in, ski-out Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley Resort has oversized whirl-pool bathtubs in each room. For five years now, its Glittetind Restaurant has earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence .
* Westin Hotels & Resorts is opening two new high-end properties at Park City. The Star Pointe Ranch Resort will feature a 400-room hotel and 100 casitas, with approximately 45,000 square feet of meeting space when it opens in December 1998. In 2000, the Banyan Tree Spa and Resort will open with 250 rooms and 100 casitas, an executive wellness center, and the first Banyan Tree Spa in the U.S.
Lake Tahoe * Embassy Suites, Lake Tahoe in Stateline upgraded its Web site this year. Planners can now submit their meeting specs online at www.embassytahoe.com, as well as book reservations and take a virtual site inspection. The 400-suite property has meeting space for 400 theater style and 13 breakout rooms, and has earned a place among the top ten properties in the Embassy Chain.
* Harrah's Lake Tahoe Casino Hotel is more than halfway through a total remodeling of its 455 guest rooms, implementing an award-winning design that includes custom elements like pine cone-shaped light fixtures, marble and granite-topped vanities, and prints by local artists. The room upgrade will be completely finished in early 1999. In other news, Harrah's opened a new gaming area last summer for higher limit slots and table games players.
* Upgrades continue at Cal Neva Lodge Resort Hotel, Spa and Casino. The historic property, made famous as the casino owned by Frank Sinatra, offers 182 guest rooms and suites and eight meeting rooms for up to 400 persons.
* Granlibakken Resort, a 160-room condo conference center just a half mile from Tahoe City, CA, is celebrating its 20th anniversary by offering complimentary coffee and snacks for meeting breaks.
* The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, on the north shore near Incline Village, CA, has a new promotion with Reno Air that provides one complimentary seat for every ten paid fares-for mid-week bookings only.
* Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort, near Kings Beach, has been busy rebuilding since a devastating fire several seasons back. This fall, it completed construction on a 35-room wing.
Tax and Money Matters Combined state and local sales taxes in Colorado vary by resort area, ranging between 7 and 8.5 percent. The lodging tax in Telluride is 10.5 percent in town and 12.1 percent at the Mountain Village. Copper Mountain levies a 2.3 percent room surcharge and a 5.5 percent lodging tax.
Montana doesn't have a sales tax but the room tax in Big Sky is 7 percent.
In Lake Tahoe, the room tax is ten percent in California and 9 percent in Nevada.
Venue Menu It's hokey, it's fun, and it's an Aspen institution. Following a gourmet dinner, the waitstaff at the Crystal Palace Theatre Restaurant performs a nightly cabaret.
In Keystone, dinner at the Soda Creek Homestead starts and ends at Keystone Ranch with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through pristine national forest lands. These original settlers' log cabins date from the mid-1800s. A guitarist provides either background folk music, or turns the evening into a sing-along.
Although the Olympic Winter Games aren't due to arrive in Salt Lake City until 2002, several competition sites are already operating as training facilities, and some are open for special events, including the day lodge at Winter Sports Park and the bobsled run.
The Park City Silver Mine Adventure takes you 1,500 feet beneath the groomed trails of Park City and Deer Valley to tour mine shafts so large that one actually housed a stable for the horses that pulled ore wagons underground before rail cars were installed.
Miss Tahoe and the Tahoe Queen, old-fashioned paddlewheel boats which by day shuttle between ski areas at opposite ends of the lake, are available for chartered dinner cruises at night. *
Insurance Executives Comment We still have summer meetings in the mountains, but since some of our clients are skiers, splitting up events into other seasons offers everybody a wider range of activities," says Dave Sipprell, senior marketing manager of Allianz Life. Since the company's first ski country meeting seven years ago, the January events have become so popular the Minneapolis-based insurer scheduled three mini-outings this year, hosting from 20 to 35 upper management personnel and clients at each.
After six years in Snowmass, Allianz moved its ski meetings to Keystone and Big Sky this year. "We wanted to try something new," says Sipprell. He liked these resorts for their relatively large pool of affordable lodging in peak season and easy access to jet-served airports, as well as their layout, which is not too spread out.
Sipprell's meetings start with morning sessions, then break for skiing or another outdoor activity in the afternoons. Allianz hires ski instructors for all ability levels, so "even the first-time skier has an opportunity to learn," says Sipprell, and snowmobiling has become increasingly popular.
* After a national sales meeting in Denver last year, Chuck Lane, assistant vice president of meeting services for Humana/Employers Health Insurance, Green Bay, WI, took the troops to Keystone for several days of skiing. The final-night dinner was in the log dining room of the resort's golf course clubhouse. "It's very easy for a meeting planner to organize programs in ski areas because facilities are great and everything is fairly compact, and the restaurants are superb," he says. "It's easy to build on association value when you have meetings in a relatively secluded area."