When it comes to mountain meetings and events, the four seasons each have bright spots and drawbacks. Mountain Meetings tapped four planners from across the U.S. Mountain West for their do’s and don’ts for spring, summer, fall and winter.
Spring is the season of nonprofit dinners. “Summertime doesn’t work for them, because a lot of these organizations are family-based,” says John Tobey, who has organized numerous meetings and events in Colorado’s mountain destinations since launching Denver-based John Tobey Event Design in 2000.
In Portland, Oregon, Denise Ker Waldron, CMP has similar experience in the Cascades. Establishing Viva! Events in 2006 and opening a destination division in 2010, Waldron has found that milder weather is a good fit for “all styles of clients” and likes Bend for its spring skiing and other recreational opportunities at lower elevations. “Leave your meeting and you can really quickly get into that true outdoor experience right out the front door of your meeting space.”
After work hours, the community is known for its restaurants and breweries. “You also have downtown Bend, which is incredible for getting the team together in the evening,” says Waldron.
Lisa DeLeon, senior vice president of sales at Destination Tahoe Meetings & Events in Stateline, Nevada, indicates that every season in the Sierra Nevadas presents both challenges and opportunities. One of the benefits of spring is a good deal in the Lake Tahoe area. “It’s a benefit for groups because it’s an affordable room rate,” she says. “It’s not as busy. You’re not going to have as much nightlife, but it’s easy to get into a restaurant.”
Because it’s off-season, spring in the mountains is a good time of year to focus on meetings. “It’s not an incentive, it’s an actual meeting where they have little free time. They don’t feel like they’re missing out,” she suggests.
Not that there aren’t any diversions to Tahoe in spring. “We get really creative,” emphasizes DeLeon. Fly and charter fishing is one option, and history and brewery tours are available year-round.
Late spring is the unofficial kickoff for event season in New Mexico’s mountain destinations, says Camilla Dominguez, who launched Albuquerque-based Corazón Events in 2003. “Late spring and summer are amazing in Taos,” she says. “It’s anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Albuquerque.”
The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe // Stateline, Nevada
Opened in June 2017, the lakeside lodge at the renowned golf course of the same name can accommodate 200 guests in its 3,000-square-foot ballroom and also offers several outdoor spaces and smaller rooms. “It has that ‘king of Jackson Hole, Alpine lodge’ feel (luxurious, yet relaxed), but it also has a lot of modern elements,” says DeLeon. It’s a high-end property, she adds, but there are deals in the shoulder seasons. “That’s a bonus for groups.”
Weddings dominate many mountain venues for much of the summer, but it’s also the season where recreational opportunities open up beyond snow sports.
Focused meetings are the exception, says Waldron, and team-building is the norm. A classic activity that’s accessible to just about everybody is “taking the lift up and hiking down.”
The Mount Hood Adventure Park also is “a one-stop shop” for team-building. “It’s the easiest place for clients to have that adventure experience,” says Waldron.
“In Colorado, we’re so lucky with rafting, hiking and horseback riding,” adds Tobey. “It’s more team-building focused.” He highlights The Broadmoor’s mountain venues in and around Colorado Springs in this regard. “These are all wonderful corporate retreat locations,” he suggests, adding that The Ranch at Emerald Valley “is my personal favorite.”
Competition for top Tahoe venues is fiercest from June to September. “Corporate groups are competing for space with weddings in the summer,” DeLeon says. She recommends booking venues and activities as far in advance as possible. “You’re battling the general public. There are only so many fishing boats.”
Hacienda Doña Andrea // Los Cerrillos, New Mexico
Sometimes it’s best to leave civilization behind to bring things into sharper focus. From the 450-year-old doors to the authentic hacienda décor, this 13,000-square-foot home 30 miles southwest of Santa Fe offers a distraction-free setting. The venue has nine bedrooms, a fully equipped catering kitchen, and outdoor and indoor spaces. “It’s great for a corporate retreat,” says Dominguez. Corazón Events plans events all over New Mexico and has focused exclusively on the state in recent years. “You’ve got amazing views of the mountains. You don’t even have cell phone reception up there.”
As family travel dips in the fall, corporate events have an opening. “For us, it’s mountain retreats,” says Tobey. “It’s nearing year-end, but it’s not yet holiday, and it’s a beautiful time in Colorado.”
Tobey recently planned fall retreats for clients at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa near Winter Park and The RitzCarlton, Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek Resort. “Lots of times, there will be better offerings and incentives for companies,” he says. “We’re seeing more and more people have their corporate events in November.”
Some resorts are open for skiing in late fall, but not all. The snowy mountains are still an eye-opener for out-of-towners, says Tobey. “While the skiing isn’t phenomenal, people still say, ‘Wow!’”
In the Pacific Northwest, a milder fall allows for a diverse day trip known as the “Fruit Loop Tour,’” says Waldron. It includes lunch at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and stops at farm stands and wineries at lower elevations.
“You can literally take a group from Portland all the way around the mountain and back in an all-day experience,” she says. “That’s really unique and a lot different than most mountain venues.”
DeLeon says ATV tours in the Tahoe area are a good recreational option for early fall. “You can ATV ride in the desert year-round.”
Fall is prime time for events in New Mexico’s mountain destinations, including Santa Fe and Taos. “Our high season in New Mexico is fall,” Dominguez explains. “It’s usually people from the south. We have a lot of Texans do events in New Mexico.”
It’s also the season for many big cultural events in New Mexico. Dominguez says that the state’s “Latin vibe” is the biggest draw for groups. “You don’t need a passport,” she says. “Most of our clients are going for a cultural experience.”
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa // Tabernash, Colorado
Once a hub for cross-country skiers, Devil’s Thumb Ranch has grown into a full-fledged resort and spa in recent years. With venues that accommodate as many as 350 people, it’s also a picture-perfect spot for meetings and events. Tobey planned an executive retreat for a client at the Fraser Valley ranch in fall 2017. While it was before ski season, he says it was a great time of year for a focused meeting and for gawking at the fall colors. “The leaves were perfect.”
Holiday party season begins in earnest in early December, but there’s an opening in January and February for snow-loving groups “before the nonprofit world kicks in, usually in February and March,” says Tobey. “The skiing is certainly attractive.”
It’s a great time to split a meeting between Colorado’s Front Range and the high country. After work in the city, it’s a treat to ascend in elevation to play in the snow.
Waldron echoes the idea and notes, “There’s a certain type of client. We see more retreats. They’re doing more strategic planning in the winter.”
Case in point is when Viva! booked the on-mountain Silcox Hut at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood for a Portland-based nonprofit’s executive retreat. A snowcat took the group to the cabin in early 2018. “During breaks, they had snowshoes available,” says Waldron. “It was a great, connective, very authentic experience.”
DeLeon says Tahoe is in need of larger spaces in snowy months. “Our biggest challenge—a lot of our biggest groups come in the winter—is that we don’t have venues to hold them in the winter. We have them in the summer.” But the venues that hold 200- plus attendees are limited in the winter, including Lakeview Lodge at Heavenly and Zephyr Lodge at Northstar.
For a quick recreational company outing, however, the time is right. “They can do a short trip, and it’s pretty affordable,” she adds.
Snowshoeing is a great group winter activity at multiple locations around Lake Tahoe. The four-hour activity includes 1.5 hours on the trail and ends with a party. “You’re getting a snowshoeing adventure, but it finishes at a great roaring bonfire,” says DeLeon.
In New Mexico, Dominguez highlights investments made in group facilities at Taos Ski Valley. “Taos has really stepped up its game,” she says. “[The resort] has really great meeting space. They are heavily focused on meetings and retreats.”
‘Tis the season actually applies to every time of year in the meetings business. Some seasons are more apt for certain kinds of events, activities or budgets, but there’s never a bad time for meeting in the U.S. Mountain West.
Trail Creek Cabin // Sun Valley, Idaho
A venue that’s accessible by sleigh is a distraction-free setting for a meeting or event. In the snowy mountain woods, there’s a sense of isolation that can catalyze connection and focus. At Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, the historic Trail Creek Cabin has capacity for 70 people and can be booked for meetings or meals. It’s on the banks of the creek of the same name, and participants can arrive by horse-drawn sleigh, car or snowshoes and pay tribute to the Ernest Hemingway Memorial en route.