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More for Meetings in Vail & Beaver Creek

By Eric Peterson

There are quite a few big numbers intertwined with Vail and Beaver Creek. Vail Mountain remains the largest single-mountain ski resort in North America with 5,289 skiable acres and is one of the most popular (it’s typically neck-and-neck with sister ski resort Breckenridge, with around 1.7 million skier days a season). A dozen miles west, Beaver Creek has plenty of superlatives of its own.

A Full-Service Destination

Off the slopes, the Vail Valley has grown up in recent years. During ski season, Eagle County Airport has emerged as Colorado’s secondbusiest airport as Vail and Beaver Creek’s meeting infrastructure is catching up with the Front Range’s, says Shannon McLaughlin, director of events at John Tobey Event Design in Denver.

“You can get almost anything you could find in Denver in the mountains, but you just have to plan ahead,” she says. “In the past, I’d steer people away who had heavy technical needs, but that’s changed.”

She points to satellite offices for rental companies and vendors from ice carvers to videographers, noting that there might just be one service provider instead of a dozen. “It’s not necessarily, ‘You can’t do it,’ you just need to plan ahead,” she says.

“When you get into larger-scale events, tents and décor are still the two things you have to bring in from Denver,” says John Tobey, principal of his namesake firm.

Entertainment is another potential import, adds McLaughlin. “You can always get a couple very talented musicians to play acoustic guitars … but if you want a dance band, you’re definitely bringing that from out of town or out of state.”

Mountain & Village Venues

Tobey and McLaughlin have planned a wide range of corporate and social events in Vail and Beaver Creek, utilizing such venues as the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail, The Sebastian – Vail, and Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail and The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Beano’s Cabin and The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, Avon, Vail Valley in the Beaver Creek area.

“The Westin Riverfront is definitely one of the larger facilities because they have indoor and outdoor space,” says Tobey of the property’s 7,500 square feet of event space that has a maximum capacity of 350. “We’re also at Grand Hyatt Vail quite often because they have large tents used for banquet space in the summer.”

For bigger events, that can be critical as area restaurant capacities top out at around 300.

“The fact you are holding an event in a tourist destination is a plus and a minus,” says McLaughlin. There is a built-in draw and plenty in the way of infrastructure, she notes, but there are also true off-seasons in fall and spring. “Even restaurants like Sweet Basil, they might not close for the entire shoulder season, but they’ll close for part of it.”

The largest venue with lodging in Vail is Grand Hyatt Vail, where the Alpine Hall can accommodate as many as 1,200 people for a reception or 900 for a banquet. Depending on the setup, Dobson Ice Arena in Vail can hold as many as 2,700.

“When we do corporate events, we often use Dobson Ice Arena, because it’s an indoor blank space,” says Tobey. “Certainly, you do have to bring in a lot of rentals.”

In Beaver Creek Village, Vilar Performing Arts Center features a 500-seat theater flanked by a pair of 2,200-square-foot lobbies that are available for events.

Based in Avon, Patrick Davis is general manager of the Colorado Mountain Region for the Chicago-based business event management firm PRA and frequently partners with Vail Resorts. “We work very closely with Vail Resorts as they own the two main mountains here,” he says. “We consider ourselves the subject matter experts.”

Vail Resorts’ largest event venues at The Lodge at Vail and Vail Square can handle receptions for up to 500 people, while onmountain facilities are smaller such as The 10th restaurant with a maximum capacity of around 200 and Game Creek that accommodates 120.

“Most groups that come into the valley are in the 20-400 range,” says Davis, citing an average size of 150. Davis points to Larkspur in Vail as a great dining and event venue. On-mountain restaurants at both Vail and Beaver Creek present another option that can involve sleigh or snowcat rides.

Ski-in, ski-out luxury mansions are a highend option. “We have access to private homes in Beaver Creek and Vail as well,” notes Davis. “Some of these homes are 10,000 square feet.”

Also offering the benefit of ski-in, ski-out access, The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch is a bit of an island at Beaver Creek, and that’s a good thing. “[Groups] want to leave the resort less and less,” says Lori Rippstein, market director – sales and marketing for the property. “When they want a retreat feel, this is the perfect setting.”

That translates to year-round utility, she adds, noting, “We’re not ski season prices yearround. There are definitely value seasons.”

Event spaces include an indoor ballroom and the Mountainside Terrace (capacities of 400 and 600 for receptions) and other outdoor venues. “[Groups] want that sense of place. How can we bring that alive?” inquires Rippstein.

Example activities include outdoor yoga and Painting and Pinot sessions. Also, the resort’s house dogs, Scout and Bachelor, are available to go on hikes with the guests. “People love that,” she says.

Go Play

There’s no shortage of outdoor recreation and activities to break up the meeting agenda. Beyond skiing, there’s a full slate of summer activities in the form of rafting, fly-fishing, 4×4 tours, hiking, horseback riding and golfing.

For those who are not as adrenalineinclined, The Westin Riverfront offers wellness breaks in the form of stretching or sound therapy sessions. Groups also can explore Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, which has room for 80 on a private terrace.

PRA’s Davis is a fan of bōl, a slick bowling alley in Vail (capacity is 100 for dinner, but more than 200 for a buyout) for after-hours events. “They really just want to get together and network,” he says. “Whenever we can get people to mix and mingle, they walk away thinking it was a great night.”

Davis also highlights 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, with a capacity of 550 for dinner and a wide range of activities. He says it fits the bill for “a Western dude ranch experience with a full day of activities followed by a cowboy dinner.”

Katie Nelson, who works in marketing at the ranch, says there are four cabins for smaller events, and partners on premises operate a zip line, winery and 4×4 tours. Teambuilding activities include skeet shooting and quick-draw contests, tomahawk tossing, chili cook-offs and Build-A-Horse challenges with subsequent races.

The ranch offers “an alternative to sitting in a conference room all day long,” says Nelson. “We have horse drawn sleighs in the winter and wagon rides in the summer. We have teams of Percheron draft horses that pull a sleigh or wagon that holds up to 14 people at a time. Many groups pair this option with a buffet dinner and live music.”

A new option is Snowcat Stargazing on Vail Mountain, with a gondola ride to a snowcat that travels to a very dark corner of the Rockies for peering at the night sky through a telescope with a local naturalist who is on hand to answer questions. “We can also look to customize it,” says Davis, citing the possibility of pairing it with dinner or a local craft whiskey tasting at an on-mountain venue.

After the snow melts, bicycling Vail Pass (often with a bus ride on the uphill part), whitewater rafting, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking with llamas and guided fly-fishing are popular activites with groups.

“With incentive trips, you never know somebody’s ability level or interest,” says Davis. “It’s nice to give people options and let them pick.”

He adds, “When anyone comes out to Colorado, it’s about getting outdoors, even if it’s just a scenic Jeep tour.” The goal? Finding a place where “you can’t see or hear” anyone else.