Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, turned 100 this year. The country’s oldest ski area hasn’t changed all that much since it opened in 1915, but most everything around it has, and that’s a big draw for meeting planners. “We don’t market Howelsen Hill at all as a venue, but people seem to find us,” says Emily Hines, City of Steamboat Springs’ marketing and special events coordinator. Olympian Hall dates back to the 1940s and can seat about 150 people. “It’s definitely got a lot of history,” says Hines. “A lot of Olympians have passed through there.”
75 Years & Counting
When Snowbasin Resort opened in Huntsville, Utah, for the 1940-41 ski season, it was a pretty modest operation and stayed that way for the first six decades of operation. But a Winter Olympics can do wonders.
Snowbasin Resort was the site for the Men’s and Women’s Downhill, Combined, and Super-G races in the 2002 winter games. In preparation for the Olympics, Snowbasin Resort built four lodges, five lifts and tripled its terrain, going from a 1,000-acre ski area to a 3,000-acre resort complete with world-class event and dining spaces.
“It’s amazing how much more productive and effective meetings can be when you have an adventure waiting right outside the door,” says Samantha Strauss, marketing and PR coordinator for Snowbasin Resort. “If you hit a roadblock, take an activity break. The inspiring view and fresh alpine air are sure to get the creative juices flowing.”
In winter, the events include holiday parties and meetings with a half-day of skiing, but the lodges aren’t available for takeovers when the lifts are turning. In summer, bicycle companies like Cannondale and Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) reserve the resort for big events.
“It’s a great location for us,” says Heidi Lottes, QBP’s event coordinator. “They’re very accommodating, letting us do what we need to do.”
QBP brings 400 retailers for its Saddle Drive event to demo the latest and greatest products and uses Earl’s Lodge for training and branding breakouts. Plus, the destination comes with a big perk as “the mountain biking is awesome,” says Lottes.
Just coming off its 75th season, Colorado’s Winter Park Resort has likewise evolved from a day-skiing destination to a full-service resort with an increasing focus on meetings.
“All ski resorts—not just Winter Park, but all resorts, period—look at groups as an opportunity that could be tapped further,” says Steve Hurlbert, director of communications. The base village expansion, completed in 2009, made it a better fit for large groups; the West Portal facility can accommodate 600 for a reception, 450 for a banquet and 250 classroom-style.
Doc Phiroz, chief perfusionist at the Rapides Regional Medical Center in central Louisiana, has organized the annual Winter Park Perfusionist Conference during ski season since 2004. The gathering usually draws about 100 perfusionists—the folks who operate the cardiac devices in the operating room—from around the country for four days of meetings and skiing.
He chose Winter Park for its beginner terrain and price point, but keeps coming back because of the size, service and flexibility. The base village expansion means dinner is just a short shuttle ride away from the conference held at Vintage Hotel and not a trip into town. “We’ve been there long enough, we’ve watched the resort develop,” says Phiroz. “Now that they have that, it’s a no-brainer.”
The Big 5-0
With only two owners in its half-century of operation, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming has benefitted from stability, says Communications Manager Anna Cole. But the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, Hotel Terra and Teton Mountain Lodge filled the void for hotels that could handle corporate events. “The combination of those properties has really changed what we can do,” says Cole.
Andy Anderson, the local general manager for DVIP, says the Utah-based destination management company opened a Jackson office after the Four Seasons came to Teton Village and describes the resort as “ideal” for groups of 120 to 150 people.
Anderson likes the Couloir restaurant in Rendezvous Lodge atop the gondola, which can accommodate about 150 attendees for meetings and 60 for dinner. “Take a 12-minute gondola ride, and you have a great view of the valley,” he says.
North of Durango, Colorado, Purgatory Resort has returned to its roots by dropping “Durango Mountain” from its name, but its infrastructure for events is notably beefier than what it was when first opened in 1965.
“It’s back to Purgatory, and it’s not going to change,” says Jillane Burkhart, group sales and conference services manager, regarding the name. Meetings are on the upswing in both winter and summer.
Burkhart says the opening of Purgatory Lodge allowed the conversion of a former owner’s clubhouse into the Durango Mountain Institute (DMI) in 2008. The venue features a large room that can accommodate 80 to 100 people upstairs and breakout rooms downstairs. While smaller events are the target market, a 400-person tent can be pitched to bolster capacity for larger events.
As business manager for Being First, a Durangobased consulting firm, Rosie McGowan has planned numerous five-day educational workshops that typically attract about 15 to 25 students. “We love it,” she says of DMI. The convenient location, kitchen and breakout rooms make it “conducive to what we do.”
McGowan commends Purgatory’s service. “We tell them exactly what they want and they provide exactly what we want,” she says, noting that Burkhart’s office is conveniently located in DMI. “That doesn’t always happen, you’re running around the hotel trying to find your contact.”
Ben Caton, who manages about 30 State Farm Insurance agents in Colorado and New Mexico, brought meetings to Purgatory in both 2014 and 2015. He says the location boosts attendance and keeps people from leaving early. “It gives us an opportunity to take care of business, but it’s also a draw for people who want to get out and play.”
Colorado’s Powderhorn Mountain Resort is likewise celebrating the big 5-0 during the 2016-17 season.
Dusti Reimer, interim sales manager at the Grand Junction-area resort, says event business is on the upswing and includes outings organized by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s grown every single year,” he confirms.
But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s, the owners “weren’t focused on meetings,” says Reimer. “We’ve really pushed that all-around venue again” under the current ownership group that purchased the resort in 2011.
The on-mountain Sunset Grill can accommodate events of 300 seated people outdoors and 200 indoors. A second room can hold 50, and the SlopeSide hotel offers additional meeting space and overnight lodging.
Craig Glogowski, executive director of the Community Hospital Foundation in Grand Junction, has raced in Business League since 2012. “You get up on the mountain, have some fun and make some new contacts,” he says.
Glogowski has been skiing Powderhorn for nearly 25 years and got married at the resort in 1996. “They did a spectacular job,” he says of his wedding. “They’ve only gotten better the last few years.”
Robin May, director of the ski and snowboard school at Angel Fire Resort, has worked there “off and on since 1976,” a decade after the resort opened on ranchland in northern New Mexico. Now director of the ski and snowboard school, May says the area has been a draw for executive retreats since Al Capone would bring his bootlegging buddies in to gamble during Prohibition.
The clientele shifted from “gangsters to oilmen” when the ski resort and golf course opened in the late-1960s, he says. A hotel followed in the mid- 1980s and “changed the game completely,” he adds. “Conference sales and groups have been growing ever since.”
Angel Fire today is equipped to handle groups of 20 to 300 people, and it’s a year-round operation. “It used to be golf, ski and two mud seasons,” says May. “Now there’s always something to do here.”
Ski towns have become more than places to find great recreation. With 50 to 100 years of running lifts, these seven resorts and the many others in the Mountain West have evolved into year-round venues for elevated and memorable gatherings.