Monday, March 27, 2023
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Meet Me on the Slopes

By Amy S. Eckert

A thick layer of snow blankets a stand of evergreen trees. Sunshine glances off the slopes, turning the setting into a landscape of diamonds. The faces of skiers beam as they schuss their way down the mountain. 

The scene has the appearance of a perfect outdoor getaway and, increasingly, the look of an ideal corporate meetings and events location. Offering gathering areas ranging from large conference rooms and banquet halls to more intimate spaces suitable for breakout sessions and board meetings, Michigan’s ski resorts allow organizers to plan customizable and efficient meetings. But the resorts’ unique advantage lies in their settings, surrounded by picturesque winter landscapes and first-rate outdoor facilities. Once business is over, attendees can look forward to time on the slopes.

Mixing Work with Pleasure 

“Combining a corporate event with the amenities available at a resort property is just smart,” says Judy Booth, vice president of sales for Boyne Resorts. According to Booth, conference venues like ski resorts that are capable of blending business functions with opportunities for fun and relaxation promise an event that is both productive and memorable. 

Boyne operates two ski resorts in northern Michigan, Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs and Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls. Set in an area that receives from 140 to 200 inches of snow per year, ski resorts like Boyne hardly need to convince wintertime conference organizers of their expertise at managing exhilarating skiing, snowboarding and other snow sports. What meeting planners often need to be reminded of is the adeptness of the resorts in accommodating mission-focused corporate meetings. 

Both Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain offer spacious, high-tech meeting and banquet spaces for groups as large as 600 and 800, respectively. Each property offers guest rooms on-site, from standard hotel lodging to luxurious condominium units and chalets, as well as a dozen dining options, ranging from coffee shops and pizza joints to fine dining restaurants and banquet halls. 

And then there’s the fun factor. 

“Conference planners often ask me, ‘Do you have the ability to offer spouse activities, team-building exercises or social activities for our evening gatherings?’” says Booth. “And I say, ‘Here at Boyne, all of that is built in.’” 

From custom-made scavenger hunts and afternoon spa appointments to day or night skiing and even winter ziplining, the staff at Boyne can coordinate these activities, among others, for meeting attendees and their accompanying guests.  

“We’re finding many of our corporate planners choose to make Boyne’s resort activities part of the agenda,” says Booth. “Maybe they’ll attend meetings during the day and then gather at Avalanche Bay, Boyne’s indoor waterpark, in the evening for a social gathering. Or maybe they’ll have meetings in the morning, enjoy free time at the spa in the afternoon, and gather again in the evening for networking or a guided snowshoe hike, where they snowshoe from one food and beverage station to the next.”

Together Again … and Again  

Incorporating fun activities into a multi-day schedule certainly makes a conference more enjoyable. Might it also boost attendance? Brittney Buti, manager of public relations for Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, responds with a firm “Yes.” In fact, she says, many conference attendees are so eager to participate in ski resort meetings that they bring their partners with them. 

“After experiencing much of the past year and a half not traveling and working remotely, we’re finding that the market for post-COVID events is huge,” says Buti. “When attendees learn that they’ll be meeting at Crystal Mountain, they make the drive. And they don’t come alone. They bring their families or friends and make a long weekend of it.” 

After the day’s meetings or between sessions, conference attendees can schuss down one of the resort’s 58 downhill runs, meander through the snow-covered trees on cross-country skis or catch up with colleagues on ice skates or fat bikes. Indoors, they may meet to unwind at Crystal Spa. As many as 350 attendees and as few as eight can be accommodated at Crystal Center, where functions may range from keynote addresses and corporate banquets to networking over BBQ and locally brewed beer on the back deck at the foot of the slopes. And like most Michigan ski resorts, Crystal Mountain offers on-site lodging—more than 250 rooms, suites and townhouses—as well as a host of dining options. 

“We’ve found that companies appreciate how easy it is to plan all aspects of an event in a single location, to the point that they may organize the same event the very next year,” Buti says. With so many activities and amenities available, and a variety of charming local communities nearby, meeting organizers can plan an event at Crystal Mountain year after year without ever duplicating the exact same agenda. 

Planning for Efficiency 

Corporate meeting planners frequently cite convenience and efficiency as a reason for planning meetings at ski resort venues. They appreciate the ability to reserve event spaces and schedule meals and activities through a single resort sales director. Most of northern Michigan’s resorts lie 30 to 60 minutes from the nearest airport and once meeting attendees arrive, they need not leave the property until the conference is over. 

“Everything is on-site at Crystal Mountain,” says Buti. “The meeting rooms, the lodging, the dining, the social spaces. Everything.” Gone are the interminable bus rides, where meeting attendees are transported from professional development sessions to dinner, from dinner to hospitality events, and from hospitality events to the hotel. That kind of transportation efficiency is a perk that meeting attendees also appreciate. 

“Sometimes our corporate visitors are a bit skittish about coming to northern Michigan in the winter,” admits Barry Owens, general manager of Treetops Resort in Gaylord. “But we remind them that we are centrally located right off Interstate 75. And once our visitors arrive, they can shed their baggage for the entire time they’re here.”  

That’s true in a literal sense. Once a corporate traveler arrives at Treetops, resort staff take care of all luggage and scheduling issues. 

Treetops Resort has invested heavily in both its corporate and outdoor amenities, spending upwards of $1.5 million to further improve both sectors of their business going forward. And they’ve updated audiovisual capabilities to allow more efficient and smooth-flowing hybrid meetings with a robust ability to involve attendees who may choose to join remotely. 

“Shedding baggage” might also be understood in its figurative sense. Just step outdoors for a little fresh air, conversation and a chance to unwind—think of it as a snowy walking meeting. Inside, the cozy, north woods-themed lodge facilitates memorable one-on-one conversations that may last until well after official events have ended, perhaps in an après-ski bar or before a roaring fire in the hotel lobby. 

Healthy Meetings, Healthy Playtime 

In the era of COVID-19, with business travel upended and conference organizers uncertain of how to plan future events, venues like ski resorts offer yet another advantage: numerous opportunities to meet productively outside. And outdoor meetings at a destination like Treetops Resort are anything but dull. 

“At Treetops, we organize dog-sledding activities where individuals can meet and greet the mushers and the dogs,” says Owens. “We set up group ski lessons. We arrange snowshoeing outings and winter river rafting along the Sturgeon River, which is really fun.” Treetops also offers its own version of “Amazing Race,” as well as the Skiable Feast dining event, where participants cross-country ski between five individual food and beverage stations, all of this in addition to the resort’s ski runs. 

During the course of these outdoor activities, conference attendees naturally talk shop. They engage in problem solving, sort out business strategy and become better acquainted with colleagues and sales prospects. All outdoors. Enjoyably outdoors. And all at a safe distance. 

“This has been a stressful year for so many of us,” says Owens of the pandemic’s upset of the business world’s status quo. “Many of us developed new habits, taking up snowshoeing or biking, learning to ski for the first time. That was partly because that’s all we could safely do outside our homes. And those habits linger.” 

Owens thinks it’s possible that in the future many conference attendees will not only relish the combination of work and leisure offered by ski resorts like Treetops, they’ll demand it. 

Acres of Natural Beauty 

A final amenity offered by Michigan’s ski resorts? Their natural beauty. 

Surrounded by snow-covered forests, tucked at the foot of a ski mountain and covered in glittering snow measured in feet, these meeting destinations offer an extraordinary sense of retreat and truly getting away from the ordinary, whether planners and attendees seek a time of camaraderie, refocus or reward for meeting business goals. 

“I’ve heard people say that a conference room is a conference room,” says Buti, “and I suppose to some degree that’s true. But the meeting rooms at Crystal Mountain overlook the slopes,” she counters. “And you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty nice perk.”