Hotels, guest ranches and structures once occupied by schools, a boarding house and World War II officer’s club offer memorable places to meet, with groups plugging into the tradition of the place. We rounded up several from the U.S. Mountain West and western Canada to demonstrate why historic spaces should be on every planner’s radar when shopping for mountain meeting options.
What types of groups tend to look for historic properties? It tends to be “incentive groups, corporate meetings and associations that want a different type of experience that is memorable and where they have the opportunity to learn something new on the why of the property, including the destination,” says Wendy Kirkpatrick, director of group sales for western Canada’s Fairmont Banff Springs in Banff. “Others just appreciate the beauty of historic hotels.”
Located in the heart of Canada’s Banff National Park, Fairmont Banff Springs is a landmark in the picturesque town of Banff. Nicknamed “The Castle in the Rockies,” the property has been hosting guests (including luminaries such as Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill) for nearly 130 years and has more than 76,000 square feet of event space and 764 guest rooms and suites to serve groups of up to 1,200. A conference center wing, ballrooms and a conservatory with windows and glass ceilings overlooking the Bow Valley are among the many options.
Opened in 1888, disaster struck in 1926 when the wooden hotel burned down, but it was rebuilt larger and in its present appearance in 1928. Willow Stream Spa, multiple pools and restaurants, and 27 holes of golf are among the many activities on-site.
An iconic property like the Fairmont Banff Springs “tells a story, speaks to our Canadian roots and resonates with a person’s core being,” Kirkpatrick says. When meeting at the property, groups tend to make history a part of their itineraries whether it’s “participating in our daily heritage tours of the hotel; exploring our Heritage Gallery showcasing previous photos of the original hotel, menus from the 1930s, silverware, etc.; or sipping a cocktail on the patio overlooking the Canadian Rockies, which have been here for hundreds of years and when their children’s children come to visit will still be here in this protected World UNESCO Heritage Site and National Park.”
Imperial House has been a fixture on Park City’s Main Street for more than a century, serving a variety of purposes and reopening earlier this year on a more upscale note with four guest rooms, meeting space for groups of up to 24, and Riverhorse Provisions gourmet market and café. Located within easy walking distance to all sorts of shops, restaurants and Park City Mountain Resort’s Town Lift, Imperial House specializes in providing “the comforts of home with all the conveniences and personal touches of a hotel,” says co-owner and executive chef Seth Adams.
Dating back to 1904, the structure originated as a boarding house for single silver miners and went back to its roots as a hotel in 1975. A concierge and staff of chefs, bartenders and drivers are now available to help create and book all sorts of activities and experiences.
Built in 1889, Washington School House entered a new chapter in 2011 after an eight-month transformation into a luxury inn with 12 guest rooms and suites. With a prime location just above Park City’s Main Street, the exterior is distinct with the original quarried limestone and the addition of a heated pool and hot tub on the hillside. Groups of up to 34 can book the whole space, enjoy access to a concierge and private chef, and utilize the living room and ski lounge with state-ofthe-art A/V equipment. Gourmet packed lunches, spa services and area activities are among the many extras that the WSH team can help schedule.
McMenamins Old St. Francis School,situated in downtown Bend and built in 1936, also was transformed from education to entertainment starting in 2004 by brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin, two pioneers of the Northwest microbrew and historic hotel industries. Instead of classrooms, a cafeteria and gym, there is now a campus with guest rooms, a cottage called the Parish House, a restaurant, multiple pubs, a Turkish soaking pool, a concert venue and movie theater.
The lunch and music rooms are now a brewery, and the gym is an oversized “living room cinema” with overstuffed chairs and sofas and the option to indulge in a slice of freshly made pizza, pint of handcrafted ale, glass of wine or cup of McMenamins-roasted coffee. The largest indoor event space is the cinema (which holds up to 120), and there’s also the Father Luke’s Foundation Room and Rambler Ambassador Room. In 2016, the Art and Ed Houses were built, increasing the total number of guest rooms to 60.
Sunriver Resort just outside of Bend was originally Camp Abbott, a World War II training facility for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1943 and 1944. Now, the resort hosts groups of a different sort by offering more than 44,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor gathering space, including the historic Great Hall, a former officer’s club that was constructed with more than 500 pine logs most likely by combat engineers. Great Hall is all that remains of the former camp and serves as a popular venue for weddings and all types of gatherings with a patio, fire pit and location along Mount Bachelor Lawn.
After World War II, a group of businessmen and doctors from Lewiston created a recreational site to promote tourism in McCall and opened the Shore Lodge in 1948 along the shore of Payette Lake. The property later became a private club for almost a decade and reopened to the public in 2008. Situated in the heart of the Salmon River Mountains, Shore Lodge features 77 guest suites and more than 19,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Shore Lodge guests and groups have numerous options for water fun on standup paddleboards, kayaks, boats, jet skis and a lake trampoline, as well as fishing and wake surfing. In winter, attendees can head out on team-building excursions such as snowmobiling to hot springs, fattire biking, snowshoeing and skiing at Brundage Mountain Resort.
Nestled in the foothills of the Absaroka Mountain Range just north of Yellowstone National Park in Pray, Montana, the 110- room Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa has been hosting guests since 1900. Groups of up to 180 can indulge in the natural hot springs pools, spa treatments and outdoor fun such as horseback riding, rafting and dog sledding before getting down to business for meetings, retreats and incentive trips. An outdoor pavilion holds up to 40, while the convention center can be used as one large space to host up to 180 or be broken up into three rooms. There also is a Boardroom in the Lower Lodge, and a Wine Cellar that seats up to 16.
Dating back to 1948, Rancho de los Caballeros is a guest ranch nestled on 20,000 acres of High Sonoran Desert in Wickenburg. Groups can retreat to the Old Southwest, utilizing the conference center and enjoying activity options in a secluded setting such as horseback riding, hiking, trap and skeet shooting, ATV touring, golfing and indulging in spa treatments. The 65 guest rooms and 12 suites for lodging complement the ranch’s three main buildings that all feature gathering space: Palo Verde Conference Center, Main Lodge and Los Caballeros Golf Club. The largest space is the Sonoran Room that seats up to 275 or head outdoors for memorable bonfires, cookouts or an event on the South Lawn for a maximum of 180 guests seated.
A 2015 expansion at the 34-acre Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, added the Casa Luna Ballroom with more than 5,100 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, 32 guest rooms and suites and an infinity-edge pool. The 22 historic guest rooms received new furnishings, updated technology and bathrooms, and décor that pays homage to the property’s days as an elite college preparatory school for girls and a place to relax for sports celebrities and Hollywood’s Golden Age set.
Built in 1929 and inspired by Moorish and Spanish colonial architecture, the ranch went off the radar for a time until investors from Tucson stepped up in 1995 to return the property to its original glory and added a restaurant. On- and off-site adventures options might include horseback rides and lessons, guided hikes, nature walks and astronomy tours.
The Centennial State is loaded with historic hotels bordered by mountains like The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Hotel Jerome in Aspen and Strater Hotel in Durango.
The 134-year-old Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, situated in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, reopened in May 2016 after an extensive 18-month restoration effort that returned the property to its former standing as one of “the” places to stay in this part of the state. Originally constructed and opened in 1883 by New York perfume and lumber magnate W.S. Thompson, the 40-room Victorian hotel is a subsidiary of Durangobased American Heritage Railways, which operates the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The property has a full-service restaurant and bar, a banquet room that can seat 40 people for meals and a theater space that is being constructed on its basement level.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park is iconic for its architecture, magnificent setting and famous visitors, but is perhaps best known today for its role in Stephen King’s novel, “The Shining.” The main building, one of 11 originally built on 160 acres, was completed in 1909; today, there are a variety of dining choices and 140 guest rooms and suites, including a selection of Haunted Rooms. Adjacent to the main building is a 40-room lodge that originally housed bachelors in the early 1900s as well as the Presidential Cottage and Overlook Condominiums. Overall, there is more than 41,000 square feet of meeting and event space to serve groups of up to 300, and there is the option of plugging into history and ghost story tours.
The options for tying into historic places in the U.S. Mountain West and western Canada are nearly endless. Plugging into the past might just propel your group into the future.