Savvy planners know that novelty and change of pace are key when it comes to recharging their clients’ creative juices. They also know that it’s likely only a small percentage of their conference or retreat attendees are avid skiers or snowboarders. So why plan a meeting and its associated activities at a ski resort? The answer is simple: California’s major snow-sports destinations have spent decades redefining themselves as all-season “mountain resorts,” and they offer much more than downhill sliding. Some operate their gondolas and chairlifts in summer, transporting guests to scenic views and a slew of activity options not available down below. Others open their on-mountain lodges and backcountry venues to private groups seeking to create lasting fresh-air memories, winter or summer. Many have traditional meeting spaces, as well.
Here’s a sampling of what’s available at some of the state’s most prominent mountain resorts.
On-site lodging (159 resort-operated units including lodge rooms, condominiums and private homes) and the luxury Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe hotel at midmountain provide visitor numbers that keep Northstar’s base village, with its restaurants, retail outlets and signature ice/roller-skating rink buzzing yearround. One of three Tahoe properties operated by Colorado-based Vail Resorts, Northstar has invested heavily in group amenities. Three dedicated meeting rooms in the base-area Village at Northstar are among the venues available for groups. Private dining opportunities are available both in the village and, in summer, at spectacular on-mountain spots. Zephyr Lodge, for example, is an architectur - ally dramatic structure with floor-to-ceiling windows and a large deck overlooking the Sierra. It’s reached via two gondola rides, the first of which accesses the midmountain Lodge at Big Springs, a large venue suitable for groups of 100-plus. Northstar also boasts an 18-hole golf course, designed by Robert Muir Graves, with a restaurant, the Martis Valley Grille, available in summer for alfresco or tented dining and other private events.
Northstar also boasts an on-site sales staff that’s very proactive when it comes to organizing team-building events and free-time activities. Among popular options, says Chris Rochefort, a member of the group sales team, are mixology/craft cocktail courses, behindthe-scenes looks at the resort’s snowmaking system (“techies love it,” he says), private snowshoe adventures (popular with large corporate and tech group members who don’t ski), fattire excursions in summer, after-dinner star tours (year-round), and photography courses that move around the resort.
“When a group requests a team-building experience, I first ask what that means to them,” says Rochefort. “The concept of teambuilding can vary widely. For some, an evening learning through stargazing or an inside look at snowmaking bring the team closer together. For others, it’s a more casual experience such as a mixology course or exploring the forest on snowshoes. Even being present in the moment while riding a lift together can create a bond that drives more collaboration back in the office.”
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley’s recent consolidation with neighboring Alpine Meadows—and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’s new connection to a collection of destinations including Mammoth Mountain—will bring changes to products and overall branding in coming years. For now, the sister resorts just south of Truckee are basking in some extensive updates, including, at Squaw, a complete revamp of High Camp, the high-altitude (8,200 feet elevation) dining and recreation complex at the top of the resort’s iconic aerial tram.
The multifaceted facility includes an outdoor pool and hot tub, indoor-outdoor poolside restaurant, multiple observation decks and an Olympic Museum highlighting the resort’s role in hosting the 1960 Winter Games. The signature indoor space is the newly remodeled, multilevel Terrace Room with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase panoramic Sierra views. In the nonski season, says Adam Feehan, director of sales, the room can be reserved, daytime or evenings, for private seated events for up to 236 guests who arrive by tram. Groups can also spill over to the outdoor observation deck and poolside areas. “We’re able to do seated dinners with different themes, different music,” Feehan says. “We had a couple of groups with 375 people that had gobo lights projecting the company logo on Palisades [a famous mountain formation]. When we host cocktail hours we bring out the fire pits. And we can do ‘tram-to-table’ dinners served family-style in the Olympic Museum.”
Group event options have been expanded to include alfresco farm-to-table dinners, snowshoe tours, tubing, private yoga classes and whiskey pairings, notes Feehan. In summer, adventurous groups can also arrange teambuilding activities at Squaw Valley Treetop Adventure Park, which offers beginning and intermediate ropes and aerial-trekking courses with newly added vertical climbing elements, six zip lines and a “Leap of Faith” feature. Groups can also enjoy a full schedule of entertainment events, including summertime “Bluesday Tuesdays.”
Of approximately 300 condominium units in five buildings at the base area Village at Squaw, the resort manages about 170, says Feehan. “Our meeting space pairs well with the lodging we manage,” he adds, noting that additional lodging with group meeting space is available elsewhere in the valley.
California’s highest lift-served mountain (11,053 feet) is at the heart of a sprawling destination resort, Mammoth Lakes, in the Eastern Sierra. Activity options at Mammoth Mountain are as mammoth as its name implies, and group meeting options are equally diverse. “We can accommodate groups from 10 to 300 people, winter and summer, providing endless outdoor recreation options both on and off the mountain,” says Laura Kennedy, director of sales, adding that the resort offers premier lodging for groups at four base-area hotels.
For meetings, Mammoth boasts a 6,300-square-foot Mountainside Conference Center divisible into four rooms; the 10,000 square-foot McCoy Station dining and event venue at midmountain (accessible by a sevenminute gondola ride); 11,779 square feet of meeting and event space (Mammoth’s largest) at Canyon Lodge; and a half-dozen additional, smaller venues.
As for activities, you name it, Mammoth has it, from skiing, dogsledding and snowshoeing in winter to fly-fishing, golf, hiking, zip lining, geocaching and paddle sports in summer.
“Some groups don’t think outside the box; when they hear ‘ski resort,’ they automatically think winter sports,” says Sandra Di Domizio of Green Fox Events & Guest Services, a destination management company based in Mammoth Lakes. “Here at Mammoth, we can often do summer and winter activities in the same day. One of the most unique group meetings I did involved skiing in the morning and golf in the afternoon.”
For small groups and executive teams, Di Domizio often recommends rock climbing or ice climbing with a guide. The larger the group, she observes, “the larger the likelihood of someone being new to the experience or the element. That’s why it’s important to cater to everyone and provide options.”
One option all enjoy is an off-hours ride up the resort’s Panoramic Gondola, which rises to the mountain’s bare, exposed summit. “An evening cocktail reception or early-morning sunrise experience at the top of Mammoth Mountain, followed by a meal at midmountain Parallax or McCoy Station, is wonderful,” Di Domizio says. “Even for people who have been up the Gondola hundreds of times, but have never done this.”
Di Domizio often works in tandem with corporate planners, acting as a local consultant to those who don’t know the area. “Other times they do the legwork until the ‘week of,’ and once clients are here, we take over,” she says. “These arrangements can save planners a lot of hours and sometimes a lot of money in terms of efficient choices.”
Heavenly Mountain Resort
With a gondola rising from the bustling Highway 50 dining, shopping and entertainment district straddling the California/ Nevada state line, Heavenly Mountain Resort is, arguably, the most visible ski area at Tahoe. For groups, the emphasis is up top, where several venues, both indoor and outdoor, offer unique options in summer and winter.
Among the most popular, says Adriann Kremer, wedding and group sales manager, is Blue Sky Terrace, a three-tiered outdoor venue (available only in summer) with in your-face views of Lake Tahoe. To get there, guests ride the Heavenly Gondola to the midmountain Observation Station, offload, and stroll over to the adjacent site, which can accommodate groups of 50-300 for sunset cocktail receptions and such.
At the top of the gondola, Tamarack Lodge, at 9,100 feet elevation, is an elegant food-andbeverage destination serving skiers and tubers in winter. (Heavenly’s lift-accessed, 500-footlong tubing course, named best in America by Fox News Travel, is nearby.) In the summer, the gondola delivers visitors to the adjacent Epic Discovery at Adventure Peak, an all-day destination with ropes courses, Tahoe’s longest zip lines (including the Heavenly Flyer and Blue Streak, hurling riders downhill at a scream-inducing 50 mph.), interpretive activities, 4x4 Jeep tours and an “alpine coaster” that uses gravity to send individual passenger cars racing down a track that weaves through trees. New in winter: 45-minute UTV tours in five-passenger, Jeep-like vehicles outfitted with caterpillar tracks rather than wheels. “It’s great for groups that come in winter with nonskiers because they can still get that snow experience,” Kremer says.
For summertime team-building, she adds, Epic Discovery offers many possibilities. “It depends on what kind of team-building they’re wanting to do. Are they working on trust? Communication? A lot of times we’ll do a ropes course and add a component to make it a game or take people past their comfort zones. Another thing groups like are the zip-line tours. They’re divided into groups of six, as we can do six people every half hour. It’s a great way to break into executive teams.
Groups also get a warm welcome at Heavenly’s California base area, where an aerial tram services Lakeview Lodge, a popular venue with an outdoor terrace area overlooking Lake Tahoe and two private indoor dining rooms that can be rented separately or combined. “We do a lot of off-site lunches and dinners there; it’s very inspirational,” says Kremer. “Often, we’ll have an outdoor cocktail reception during sunset, then dinner inside.”