If sheer beauty is a determining factor in selecting a meeting or event destination, then the Jackson Hole area is among one of the top contenders for mountain destinations. Add in a Western air, two famous national parks and an abundance of activities, and you have a quick glimpse of what this 48-mile-long valley is all about.
The town of Jackson, which runs along the eastern side of the Teton Range, is tucked in the northwest corner of Wyoming, a mere 15 miles from the Idaho border and just 12 miles south of Grand Teton National Park and 60 miles south of Yellowstone National Park.
While the busiest season here is summer, the area is a dream for those who love winter sports, especially without the crowds. Snow King Resort, known as the town hill, was established in 1939 as the first ski area in Wyoming. Twelve miles away in Teton Village is Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, offering 2,500 acres of inbound terrain and 116 trails. Grand Targhee Resort, located 42 miles west of Jackson, on the other side of the Tetons, is another option with snowcat skiing among its unique offerings.
The Jackson area is best suited for gatherings of no more than 400 to 600, notes Kent Elliott, destination sales manager for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. Most meet in the morning and schedule activities for the afternoon, he says.
"Corporate groups come here for the outdoor experience. They enjoy the unique activities and meeting in high-end resorts and hotels," adds Matt Cardis, sales manager for the destination management company RMC’s Jackson Hole office.
Cardis has found mercantile-themed events, where multiple vendors are brought in as part of a welcome reception, to be well-received by groups visiting Jackson Hole. "In the summer we do cowboy hat, boots, jeans and belt buckle fittings to get the clients outfitted in Western wear," he says. "In the winter, we do a ski shop theme where we will fit clients with rentals, and then have goggles, gloves and other accessories to outfit them for a day of skiing on the mountain."
When in town, it would be a huge mistake to not spend some time on the Jackson Hole Town Square, which is distinctly framed by four elk antler arches. The square, located across from the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, is surrounded by galleries, shops and restaurants.
Only six blocks from downtown is Snow King Resort, location of a wide variety of lodging and dining options, extensive function space and activities such as skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice skating in the winter and hiking and biking trails, horseback rides, an alpine slide, scenic chairlift rides and mini golf in the summer. More than 30,000 square feet of conference and event facilities are available at Snow King Resort Hotel and Snow King Center, with an additional 9,000 square feet at Grand View Lodge.
The Wort Hotel, Wyoming Inn, Homewood Suites by Hilton and The Lexington are other in-town lodging properties with event space, and the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts has a 525-seat theater, spacious lobby, classrooms, conference rooms, galleries and many outdoor options available.
Only a short drive north of town, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is a 51,000-square-foot facility that houses a collection featuring more than 550 artists and chronicles much of the history of wildlife in art. The Sculpture Trail Terrace overlooks the National Elk Refuge, and a 200-seat auditorium, 4,900-square-foot lobby and various gallery, classroom and meeting spaces are group-friendly.
If luxury and top-flight hotels are more your group’s style, Teton Village won’t disappoint with Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, Snake River Lodge & Spa, Hotel Terra Jackson Hole and Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa all offering meeting and event space.
At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, set up NASTAR (National Standard Race) racing, treat advanced skiers and snowboarders to a backcountry guide for exploring expansive out-of-bounds terrain and offer time for cross-country, skate and telemark skiing. In summer or fall, groups can enjoy mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, concerts, chuckwagon dinners and the free Alive at Five, which might feature wildlife, theater or roping demonstrations. Really adventurous groups can have breakfast at the top of the tram and paraglide down to a meeting, suggests Shawn Daus, the resort’s groups and conference services manager.
At the ski area base, Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café has an outdoor deck and is a fun place for a reception, and the Gabe Room, on the third floor of the Bridger Center, can host up to 80 banquet-style. Walk Festival Hall, home of the seven-week Grand Teton Music Festival in the summer, and a chamber music series in the winter, was upgraded to the tune of nearly $5 million five years ago and has a 685-seat performance hall that also can accommodate several hundred for on-stage banquets and receptions.
On-mountain options include Bridger Restaurant with floor-to-ceiling picture windows and an attached south-facing deck. Located at the top of Bridger Gondola at 9,095 feet, the space can hold 500 for receptions and 350 seated. A fine dining option in the same locale is Couloir Restaurant, known for sourcing a majority of its ingredients from within 250 miles and seating up to 100.
Tapping the Jackson Vibe
Headquartered in Florida, the JM&A Group coordinated an incentive trip to Jackson Hole last August for an automotive client, working in partnership with RMC. A group of 60 people (30 couples) stayed at Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole for three nights and four days.
The first night, guests boarded the gondola with flutes of champagne in hand and rode to dinner at Couloir. The next day, guests were given a choice of activities: whitewater rafting, wildlife discovery expedition, fly-fishing, golf or a spa treatment. A dine-around at four restaurants in Teton Village-Il Villaggio Osteria, Cascade (now Spur), Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon and Westbank Grill-was arranged for the evening.
Guests enjoyed the third day at their leisure, with shuttles available to the town of Jackson and the National Museum of Wildlife Art, as well as to Jenny Lake within Grand Teton National Park. As a grand finale, the group went to Diamond Cross Ranch where lawn games such as horseshoes and a cattle-roping demonstration kicked off the evening in tandem with cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres. Prior to being seated for a catered dinner, a horse whisperer demonstration by Grant Golliher and his wife, Jane-the resident hosts of the ranch-was a big hit.
Other special touches included his-and-her cowboy boots presented at the onset of the stay; unique chocolates from the local shop Atelier Ortega delivered to the guest rooms one evening; and personalized bottles of whiskey from the local Vom Fass used as VIP gifts.
Sara Nock, meetings and special events planner for JM&A Group, suggests adding another day to the itinerary to cover all that is offered, particularly the national parks. "The thing that impressed me the most about Jackson Hole was the people who live and work in the community," she says. "Jackson Hole is a truly enchanted place, a national treasure preserved in her beauty and timeless in her charm."
Another must-consider for groups is the 385-room Jackson Lake Lodge located in Grand Teton National Park and offering 17 conference rooms and a total of 17,000 square feet of function space. Grand Teton Lodge Company manages the property and also can facilitate breakfast or dinner cruises to Elk Island; a raft trip on the Snake River or a horseback or wagon ride to meal sites in the park, as well as Colter Bay Village; and functions at Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club, featuring a private events patio, dining terrace, pool patio and more.
Many times guests will end up vowing to come back with their families. Daus confirms, "If you really want to wow your group, Jackson Hole has that appeal."