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Reconnect, Reenergize, Recommit

From the mountains to the shoreline, the Northeast boasts resorts that will solidify team bonds through inventive and imaginative activities.

By Shelley Levitt

Stretch your legs and stretch your imagination. Have impromptu brainstorming sessions on a mountaintop or by a lake rather than at an elevator bank. When it comes to strengthening bonds between teams, resorts have always been an appealing alternative for gathering. Today, that’s truer than ever before.

The beachfront property of Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Seawater Spa

Gurney's Montauk

“For the last two years, teams have been working remotely and doing a lot of Zoom meetings,” says Linda Alloco, regional sales director of Crystal Springs Resort
in Hamburg, New Jersey. “They’re eager to be face-to-face again. They want to have sidebar conversations, and they also want activities that can build spirits, [as well as] let them collaborate and compete and have some fun. Right now, I’d say about 90% of our group business is centered on team activities.” Andréa Heffner, director of sales and marketing for Vermont’s Lodge at Spruce Peak, agrees. “Resort properties are doing very well,” she says. “As groups have started coming together again, we’ve all seen the value of getting people away from their normal work environment and into a natural setting where they can engage again with a variety of different spaces and activities.”

We found seven outstanding properties that encourage connection.

Beach Plum Farm | West Cape May, New Jersey

Located 1.5 miles from the beaches and shopping promenade of the seaside town of Cape May, the 62-acre Beach Plum Farm grows over 100 different types of vegetables, flowers, and herbs and is home to Berkshire pigs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. In other words, while the property is only a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia and less than three hours from Manhattan, it’s a world apart. That, says General Manager Ed Hackett, is part of Beach Plum’s appeal to planners. “As a working farm we offer some unique ways to bring teams together,” he says. “We have guided hikes and bike tours of the farm, floral arranging, and wreath-making classes, but guests can also get involved in real farm chores, like collecting eggs—we have 1,500 chickens—or spending a few hours planting seeds or harvesting crops.”

Guests partaking in agricultural activities

Beach Plum Farm

The property’s six cottages can comfortably accommodate 16 meeting attendees (each cot- tage comes with its own golf cart so guests can explore the farm). Additional guests can stay at the nearby Congress Hall hotel; the oldest seaside hotel in the country, it has welcomed guests since 1816. Event space, including the greenhouse, accommodates groups up to 30 for meetings, dinners, and receptions. Most groups stay two nights and are transformed by the experience. “Guests are sometimes a little apprehensive of farm activities when they arrive, but by the time they leave, they are making plans to come back with their families,” Hackett says.

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Harvest and host. Groups separate into small teams, paired with a Beach Plum Farm staff member, and go out to the fields to pick ingredients for a dish they create for the evening’s progressive dinner, with attendees going from cottage to cottage for each course.

Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa | Montauk, New York

As the only luxury hotel in the Hamptons located right on the beach—with a 2,000-foot stretch available for private receptions—the 158-room Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa is a sought-out destination for incentive trips and for groups in the finance, technology, fashion, and online media sectors. During the property’s summer high season, “[the] rates are aggressive, and it takes the right group to come then,” says Jonathan Macioce, the property’s general manager. But, he adds, “We’re a four-season resort, and during other times of year, it’s a little quieter around here and that allows the focus to really be on the groups that are in-house. We’re a phenomenal winter retreat, for example, with activities that include s’mores and hot apple cider around the fire pit and, of course, our recently renovated 30,000-square-foot Seawater Spa is something 95% of our groups take advantage of every time of year.”

Oceanfront suites at sunset

Filip Wolak

Event venues include the expansive Spa Deck (capacity of 500), Great Hall (capacity of 300), Top Deck (capacity of 200), Regent Cocktail Club (capacity of 130), and a host of intimate meeting rooms. Activities run the gamut from surf lessons, beach yoga, and beach soccer to mixology and pizza-making classes.

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Competitive sandcastle building. Groups at Gurney’s break into teams and are given tools like sand molds, shovels, and pails to create an award-worthy edifice. An on-the-beach cocktail bar helps break the tension.

Wequassett Resort And Golf Club | Harwich, Massachusetts

“We’re a destination within the destination of Cape Cod,” says Kara Lachance, director of sales and marketing for Wequassett Resort and Golf Club. “When guests arrive, they can park their car and stay within our little world.” Set on 27 waterfront acres, the Forbes Five Star property has 120 guest rooms spread across 20 different buildings that resemble Cape Cod-style cottages. “Wequassett has that quintessential New England cape feel, but in a luxurious setting. And we have all these brick pathways that lead to little areas with Adirondack chairs left for you to relax, enjoy your coffee, or have an impromptu meeting,” Lachance says.

The Twenty-Eight Atlantic restaurant at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club

Wequassett Resort and Golf Club

With a championship golf course, a tennis center, a resort pool, lap pool, a private beach, four restaurants, and a wide range of indoor and outdoor event spaces for meetings and receptions, there’s no reason to ever leave the grounds (unless it’s to take the resort’s launch to the Outer Beach, a section of Cape Cod National Seashore only accessible by boat, where a group picnic can be arranged). Evening gatherings can be laid back or luxe. “You can do a fun New England style-clambake with a beach bonfire afterward one night,” Lachance says, “and a seven-course tasting menu in a private dining room off our signature restaurant the next evening.”

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Oyster farm tours with the nonprofit Wellfleet Shellfish Protection and Tasting (SPAT) is a completely customizable experience that can include an oyster- shucking competition or an elegant oyster tasting with champagne and all the fixings.

Omni Bedford Springs Resort | Bedford, Pennsylvania

You can drive to Omni Bedford Springs Resort in about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, two hours from Washington, D.C., and three hours from Philadelphia. The resort, however, predates the automobile. Built in 1790, it has been hosting meetings and events for more than two centuries. “We’re loaded with rich history, and that alone distinguishes us from any other conference center,” says Jennifer Carter-Blymier, the resort’s director of sales and marketing.

With 216 guest rooms, 20,000 square feet of meeting space, multiple on-site restaurants, a 30,000-square-foot spa, and the 18-hole Old Course—rated the second-best golf course in Pennsylvania by Golfweek magazine—Omni Bedford Springs Resort offers meeting planners both a wide array of activities and a beautiful, distraction-free setting. “We’re located in the Alleghany Mountains,” Carter-Blymier says, “and being here is an extremely tranquil experience. We’re not connected to any local attractions, so you’re not going to lose your group to a casino or a bustling shopping district. Instead, everything you need is here on the resort, and we’re dedicated to creating special memories for our clients.”

The Spa Lawn

Omni Bedford Springs Resort

Take, for example, the dessert course during a recent corporate banquet where the pastry chef placed a chocolate ball before each guest and the instruction to hold the ball up high and then let it drop. “When the ball hit the table, it broke up and in the center was tiramisu,” Carter-Blymier says. “It was an unforgettable moment.”

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Domestic demolition. Supplied with only foam board and duct tape, teams work together to construct a house capable of withstanding attack. Once built, teams will take to the field, armed with potatoes and air cannons, to determine which structure is most resilient.

The Lodge At Spruce Peak | Stowe, Vermont

As Stowe’s only ski-in, ski-out luxury hotel, the 300-room Lodge at Spruce Peak is central to the 2,000-acre Spruce Peak slope-side community. But for all this room to meet, which includes more than 56,000 square feet of meeting space, the feeling here is intimate, says Andréa Heffner, director of sales and marketing. “You’re in a destination where you don’t need to get in a car or even a golf cart to get to your next location. You can just walk across our village green to change environments, perhaps from a ballroom where a meeting is being held to our lawn where you have a Vermont Arctic IPA, play cornhole, and run into other meeting attendees,” she says.

The Terrace at The Lodge Spruce Peak offers breathtaking views of Mount Mansfield.

The Lodge at Spruce Peak

The lodge can host anything from a corporate retreat for 10 to a company-wide gathering for up to 250. Groups typically stay a minimum of three nights, Heffner says, spending the time when they’re not in meetings on activities that might include, depending on the season, golf, rock climbing, hiking, zip lining, and mountain biking; water sports like paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking; brewery tours; and visits to the town for a hands-on lesson in glassblowing at a local studio. Rates are higher in the peak winter season, when the activity menu includes sleigh rides, dog-sledding, snow biking, ice climbing, and cross-country and downhill skiing.

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Mountain rescue team challenge. With groups split into teams of 10, participants navigate some of the same skills that rescue teams must master, including locating an avalanche beacon within the mountain landscape, pulling a litter with an “injured” climber from one location to another, and completing a series of climbing knots.

Crystal Springs Resort | Hamburg, New Jersey

“Two hotels, six golf courses, acres and acres of land, an amazing culinary team, [and] a 1-acre wine cellar that’s probably the best wine cellar on the East Coast. We have it all,” says Linda Alloco, Crystal Springs Resort’s regional sales director. “Instead of being in a standard boardroom all day, you’ve got mountain views, and your attendees can step outside and have sidebar conversations immersed in nature and fresh air.”

Outdoor yoga is provided by Minerals Sports Club at Crystal Springs Resort.

Crystal Springs Resort / Matt Petricone

Roughly 50 miles from New York City and from Newark Liberty International Airport, the resort, with nearly 400 guest rooms, draws corporate gatherings that include high-end beauty and fashion brands, as well as the usual financial and pharmaceutical off-sites. Typically, groups have meetings in the mornings, leaving the afternoons free for activities. “On their first day here, groups generally want to do an activity, like a scavenger hunt or an introduction to meditation, that everyone can participate in,” Alloco says. “On the second and third days, they like to be able to choose from several different options, like golf lessons, goat yoga, a challenging hike in warm weather, [or] a build-a-snowman workshop in the winter.”

The resort offers a wide range of meeting venues, from boardrooms to ballrooms, outdoor terraces, and pavilions. Hold an event in the property’s glass-enclosed biosphere, lush with palm trees and other foliage, during the winter and the atmosphere is magical—like being inside a tropical snow globe.

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Beehive box building. Led by a local beekeeper, teams build bee boxes with supplied materials while learning how bee colonies develop and more. The completed bee boxes are donated to a local farm where they become the new home of a bee colony. As a thank you for supporting the local bee population, participants receive jars of sweet honey from their sponsored hive at a future date.

Mohonk Mountain House | New Paltz, New York

“There are a lot of reasons why meeting planners come here,” says Barbara Stirewalt, vice president and general manager of the 267-room Mohonk Mountain House, nestled in the Hudson Valley just 90 miles north of New York City and surrounded by 40,000 acres of forest. “We have dozens of team-building activities that take place in the outdoor world, and I strongly believe that nature sparks creativity and inspires new ways of thinking. We’re on the crest of the Shawangunk Ridge, and there’s a feeling of security and privacy here, which you don’t get when you’re meeting in a giant urban convention center and sharing space with 10 very large groups.”

A winter landscape encapsulates the natural beauty of the Mohonk Mountain House grounds.

Mohonk Mountain House

With 14 meeting rooms that can accommodate a dozen to several hundred guests, Mohonk has some large corporate clients that buy out the property multiple times a year. Between meetings, attendees can enjoy golf or tennis; kayaking or fishing on the private lake; horseback riding (with stables dating back to 1888); wintertime sports like skiing, ice skating, and snowtubing; and much more. For teams that want to give back, options include the build-a-hand workshop where attendees work together to construct state-of-the-art prosthetic devices that are donated to people in need.

Standout Team-Building Activity

» Human ice bowling. With some colleagues functioning as human bowling balls on saucer sleds, teammates take turns hurling them down the ice to knock down a winning number of foam bowling pins.