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Combine Cities and Mountain Destinations for the Best of Both Worlds

By Eric Peterson

Big city or majestic mountains? For meeting planners, both have their pros and cons. One has hustle and bustle, taxicabs and high-rise architecture; the other, fresh air, endless views, wildlife, and hiking, biking and skiing trails.

With that in mind, any meeting or event that uses both urban and alpine locales is bound to leave a lasting impression. What would an attendee remember more? The inside of a convention hall or the view of the Grand Canyon? Here’s an idea: use both. These following organizations used both to their advantage to provide attendees with an event to remember.

Denver and Winter Park, Colorado

When the annual SnowSports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show moved to Denver in 2010, a big part of the rationale was easy access to the mountains. The confab for ski and snowboard manufacturers and retailers had been held in Las Vegas since 1972. And while Sin City is known for lots of things, skiing is not one of them.

“That was one of the beauties of moving from Vegas to Denver—that we could do an on-snow event,” says Debbie DesRoches, the show’s director.

For four of the five shows in Denver, there’s been an On-Snow Demo at Winter Park Resort, 67 miles northwest of the Mile High City. Last year, the demo was held at Copper Mountain, 75 miles west of Denver.

In recent years, the show has attracted more than 15,000 people to the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver, and more than 3,000 attendees have gone up to the demo in the high country that follows. “It’s pretty much a trade show on the mountain,” DesRoches says. “It’s a different animal than what’s in the convention center.”

After the floor shuts down on Sunday, the exhibitors pack up and move to the demo in eight short hours. “A lot gets done in a short time,” DesRoches says. Most people go up and stay at the resort, although there are daily shuttles from Denver for the demo on Monday and Tuesday.

Capacity has been key, and Winter Park had proven a good match for the Snow Show’s size. Many exhibitors organize private functions at restaurants and other venues, and the event has included nighttime events at sites like the on-mountain Sunspot Lodge after the demo days.

Availability is imperative to pulling it off, DesRoches says. “We have pretty much sold out the resorts each year, so we do need the dates to be available,” she explains.

As the first stop for convention-goers, Denver has been an ideal location. DesRoches says, “We love the restaurants. There is something for everybody.”

In addition, individual companies at the show organize all sorts of corollary activities at venues beyond the convention floor such as the Paramount Theatre and a hockey game. SIA also partners with Denver-based Something Independent, an event and promotion company, to stage a snow sports-themed art show called Art of Winter.

Ogden and the Ogden Valley, Utah

From colorful downtown (elevation: 4,299 feet), it’s 10 miles up beautiful Ogden Canyon to the Ogden Valley, surrounded by majestic mountains and home to three ski resorts: Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Wolf Creek Utah.

Snowbasin is 6,350 feet at the base and 9,310 feet at the top of the tram— the starting point for the 2002 Olympic downhill ski race.

Ski a few runs or bike a few trails, and you can be back downtown in 30 minutes. The best of both worlds doesn’t get much more convenient than this.

Ryan Horkey, event project manager for Quality Bike Products (QBP) in Bloomington, Minnesota, says Ogden is a natural for the company’s events as its distribution center for the western U.S. is located there.

The company has organized an annual SaddleDrive summer demo event in Ogden, inviting 250 dealers from around the country and sending 60 to 80 employees from its Minnesota facility.

“It’s two full demo days,” says Horkey of the event, which includes a big dinner at the distribution facility in the city and demo rides and an expo at Snowbasin. “There’s a serious outdoor vibe in Ogden. We fit in well there.”

Another factor is that Ogden’s Historic 25th Street is one of the livelier nightlife districts in Utah. “It’s nice to have 25th Street to grab a drink,” he says.

Horkey also helped organize the Fat Bike Summit in Ogden last winter to help land-use managers convene and develop policy and best practices for winter-oriented snow bikes.

Fifty land managers attended, up from 40 at the previous event. He points to the choice of Ogden as the primary driver for the increased popularity. “We doubled or tripled the land manager attendance,” he emphasizes.

Proximity to the Salt Lake City International Airport, 30 miles south of Ogden, is a key as is Ogden’s sizable bed base and numerous event venues.

Reno, Nevada and Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California

It’s just 40 miles from downtown Reno to the hypnotically azure waters of Lake Tahoe, but the differences couldn’t be much more pronounced: mega-casinos and neon lights versus ski resorts and outdoor recreation.

There are several cities around the lake in both Nevada and California, as well as South Lake Tahoe, with the state line running right through town. Then there’s the lake itself, popular for boating, fishing and Jet Skiing, and more than 15 ski resorts in the vicinity.

Drew Reiners, western U.S. event manager for Triple Crown Sports in Fort Collins, Colorado, has organized the company’s youth baseball tournament in the Reno area, held on July Fourth weekend since 2011. Recent events have drawn upwards of 3,000 people, with games in Reno as well as Tahoe Vista and Truckee, California, and Incline Village, Nevada.

“Part of the allure is Lake Tahoe is a stone’s throw from Reno,” says Reiners. “We want to build more than a baseball tournament—we want to build a vacation experience for the family.”

Reiners says about 90 percent of attendees stay overnight in Reno, but some reside in vacation homes near the lake or a partner property in Truckee. Games at Lake Tahoe locations are scheduled to give participants plenty of time to explore afterward.

“They’re able to enjoy it,” he explains. “There are so many things to do both in Reno and Lake Tahoe.”

Portland, Oregon and Mount St. Helens, Washington

The Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) annual meetings always include a field trip to a nearby location of ecological note. “It’s pretty important to us to have good locations with access to good ecological places,” says Michelle Horton, director of administration and meetings for the Washington, D.C.-based organization. “We have a proposal process where people submit ideas for field trips. If they’re a go, I will find a bus operator and a caterer, and lodging if they’re staying overnight.”

The group’s 2012 meeting attracted about 4,000 members to Portland and included a day trip to volcano Mount St. Helens in Washington. “It was so popular we had to expand the trip,” she says. “It’s just a perfect ecological site for our members. It’s amazing how much natural growth has taken place there [since the eruption].”

About 125 attendees took a bus to the volcano, a 90-minute drive from Portland, watched a film and explored the site, then returned to the city that evening.

Portland is nearer to the great outdoors than most cities. Beyond Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and the Oregon coast are within easy driving distance.

“In Portland, everything is close enough, you don’t have to do overnight trips,” Horton confirms, adding ESA is returning there in 2017. “We had some folks use light rail. It was very convenient.”

The 2014 meeting in Sacramento included an overnight trip to Yosemite National Park.

More Urban/Alpine Pairs

Seattle and Olympic & Mount Rainier National Parks, Washington

The ferries in downtown Seattle take riders across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula, home to the national park of the same name, featuring lush rainforests, rugged beaches, hot springs and imposing snowcapped mountains in its wild heart.

Or head inland about 80 miles from Seattle and you’ll make it to another national park in Mount Rainier, featuring terrific hiking in park boundaries and downhill skiing at nearby Crystal Mountain.

Calgary and Banff National Park, Alberta

About 80 miles west of Calgary, Canada’s Banff National Park has all of the ingredients for a great meeting venue. The park’s prime hub of activity, the town of Banff, has much more in the way of facilities than you typically find in national parks south of the border, including the stunning Banff Centre, with capacity for meetings and events for up to 1,000.

In summer, this is a hiking mecca and one of the best places to see grizzly bears on the planet. In winter, the park has three ski resorts: Lake Louise, Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village.

Back in Calgary, there’s a happening downtown and a wide range of venues. 

Billings and Red Lodge, Montana

Billings, the largest city in Montana (pop. 106,954), has an increasingly vibrant city center, lodgings with capacity for meetings with 1,000 to 3,000 attendees and easy access (60 miles) to the mountain town of Red Lodge, home of Red Lodge Mountain ski area and a number of meetingfriendly venues.

In the summer, it’s another 63 miles to Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance and the incomparable wildlife habitat in the Lamar Valley.