These mountain meeting spots defy convention. Meeting rooms at hotels and conference centers are fine, but sometimes a more evocative setting can get a group’s creative juices flowing and catalyze a dynamic that’s difficult to foster in the usual event spaces. Here’s a roundup of some unique venues and outdoor spaces that offer something completely different in the Mountain West.
Eaves Movie Ranch, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Western-movie buffs, look no further. “We’ve had a lot of movies and TV shows and photo shoots,” says Eaves Movie Ranch co-owner Craig Eaves. That’s something of an understatement. With four authentic-looking sets, the ranch has provided a backdrop for everything from Marlboro ads to John Wayne movies in the last half century, not to mention a wide range of meetings and events.
The ranch hosts several annual events, including an adoption event from the Heart Gallery of New Mexico Foundation that draws more than 300 people. “It’s a magical place for our kids,” says Nancy Woodka, statewide event coordinator. “It just transports people—it’s not real world.”
The $1,500 daily rental rate for events includes a lot of real estate. “We’ve had music festivals with 3,000 people,” notes Eaves. “However, the larger private events range from 200 to 500 individuals.” Pony rides, games, a stagecoach and a saloon pianist are popular add-ons at Eaves Movie Ranch, located about 15 miles south of Santa Fe.
Event Island at Pronghorn Resort, Bend, Oregon
There’s an island—and a lava tube—at this standout full-service resort. Resort officials at Pronghorn Resort started planning Event Island in fall 2013. This former nondescript island, situated in a pond on one of Pronghorn’s two golf courses, was reinvented as a venue by the property’s landscape architect and opened June 2014 with underwater power lines and space for more than 300 people. “She was able to completely transform it in six months,” says Group Sales Manager Ryan Dunning. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Accessed via a land bridge, the 7,000-square-foot island has hosted several weddings, and Dunning sees it as a great spot for a wide range of meetings and events. “It’s our first year to sell it as a venue,” he says. “We think it has a lot of potential.”
Several golf events have tied the island into the activities for nighttime rounds of glowball and chipping contests to the nearby 18th green of the Fazio Championship Course, but Dunning says that’s just scratching the surface.
Dunning calls corporate groups of about 40 people Pronghorn’s “sweet spot.” Amazon, Facebook, Nike, Two Old Hippies and NavVis are among the companies that have hosted events at the property. There are 48 luxury condominium-style units on the property, and a hotel is in the works. Beyond Event Island, Pronghorn has a lava tube (an obstacle on another hole) that provides another unique backdrop for events. “We try to use every space we can,” confirms Dunning.
Furnace Creek Resort, Death Valley National Park, California
Surrounded by majestic mountains and seemingly otherworldly scenery are some of the lowest—and hottest—meeting venues on Earth. One example, the outdoor banquet area that is encircled by covered wagons and palm trees is 214 feet below sea level.
Beyond the banquet area, Furnace Creek Resort includes four indoor meeting rooms that total 3,800 square feet, as well as an outdoor deck at the Borax Museum, complete with antiquated mining equipment. The resort is also home to lodging, restaurants, a swimming pool and a golf course.
California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) has used the facilities for several events, including a conference for about 60 superintendents and principals in 2014. Kim Cash-Miller, assistant to the superintendent of Inyo County, helped plan the event and gave the staff and property high marks. “It’s just been very easy,” she says. “Once you tell them what you’re looking for, they help with getting the right room and the right food for your needs.”
Outside of conference meetings, attendees went to sunrise breakfasts, hiked and tried to keep cool in a place where the temperature once hit 137 degrees Fahrenheit. “We used the pool a lot,” confirms Cash-Miller.
Then there’s the spectacular natural setting, which has caught many visitors by surprise. “They weren’t aware of the uniqueness of Death Valley,” she says.
Gateway Canyons Resort, Gateway, Colorado
Featuring a dramatic canyon setting, a world-class automobile museum and a wide ranging recreational program, Gateway Canyons Resort is off the beaten path in more ways than one.
It is also a venue that’s more conducive to meetings than a city venue, says Mark Sonnenfeld, vice president of geoscience at Whiting Petroleum Corporation in Denver. “I find the off-site element critical to get people to focus,” he explains. “It’s necessary. That’s why it’s such a success—it is that far away. If you’re in Denver, people are coming and going all day long.”
Sonnenfeld has organized multiday conferences at Gateway every fall from 2010 to 2014. The most recent one, in November 2014, brought 75 engineers and scientists from Denver and Midland, Texas, for nearly five days of intensive sessions. Spouses and kids are invited to join on Friday afternoon.
“I give them the second half of Wednesday off entirely to do recreational things,” says Sonnenfeld. Attendees visit the resident Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum—home to the car collection of resort owner John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel or hike, mountain bike, fish and trap shoot.
Sonnenfeld says attendees also took to an offbeat activity that dovetails into the museum’s focus. They rented Teslas, Vipers, Bentleys and Pro-Baja trucks from the resort’s Driven Experiences to cruise the area in style. And the incredible red-rock scenery didn’t hurt. Sonnenfeld adds, “People are really inspired by the setting, especially because one-third of them are geologists.”
The resort has nearly 12,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, a wide variety of outdoor venues and 72 lodging units.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Home to spectacular caverns, the highest-elevation roller coaster in the United States, and other diversions, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is an on mountain amusement park accessible by tram from Glenwood Springs. It’s a popular spot for local companies to do family picnics, and they’ll close the park down for a takeover. Other groups have been known to ride the tram up for a lunch meeting.
Carmen Baldizan, banking officer at Alpine Bank in Rifle, Colorado, says her branch has held about seven events at the park. “It’s a great spot, because of the activities, and because they can cater,” she says. “There’s something for everybody. If nothing else, they can have a drink and enjoy the view.”
Employees’ families are welcome, and Baldizan’s kids always come along. What’s their favorite? “The alpine coaster is the biggest one for my family,” she says. “It’s a big thrill. And the caves—we always take a cave tour when we’re up there.”
Baldizan, who planned the bank’s event for about 120 people in fall 2014, calls the group pricing “economically feasible.” For $35 a head, the park’s group picnic rate includes the tram, cave tours, rides, and a buffet dinner from 4-9 p.m. The maximum group size is 400.
World Wide Trekking’s Moab Adventure Safari, Moab, Utah
David Askew, president and CEO of Baltimore-based USALCO, chose World Wide Trekking for an executive retreat in Canyonlands and Arches national parks that included hiking, canyoneering and an overnight trip on the Colorado River.
Askew calls the four-day, three-night safari “an away-from-the-office, bonding sort of thing.” Team-building events tend to be “very structured,” he adds. “This wasn’t that. This was about getting outside, enjoying the outdoors and doing something challenging.”
World Wide Trekking Founder Dean Cardinale adds, “It gets the blood pumping and gets the ideas going.”
World Wide Trekking can handle groups of 8-45 people and customize activities based on size and interest. The lodging partner is the 100-room Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, home to four meeting rooms available for breakout sessions.
Additional Noteworthy Venues
Nakoma Golf Resort & Spa
Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico The sunset over the cliff dwellings provides an inspirational backdrop for small outdoor events. nps.gov/band
Homestead Resort, Midway, Utah This golf resort is known for its hot springs in a one-of-a-kind geothermal crater. homesteadresort.com
Lomax Placer Mine, Breckenridge, Colorado This historic mine offers an above-ground venue for groups of 75-100 people. breckheritage.com/site-rentals
Multnomah Falls Lodge, Bridal Veil, Oregon The country’s second-tallest year-round waterfall is visible from an event space. multnomahfallslodge.com
Nakoma Golf Resort & Spa, Clio, California North of Lake Tahoe, the only clubhouse Frank Lloyd Wright designed is an architectural marvel. nakomagolfresort.com