The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the peaks, but it is definitely different. All over the West, towns separated by mountains offer meeting planners an opportunity to take day trips between the two or perhaps meet in both on the same trip to shake it up. Here are three pairs of communities with distinct meeting venues and a pass in between.
Bozeman & Livingston, Montana
Rivers run through the valleys on either side of Bozeman Pass (5,702 feet above sea level), the long-standing route that cuts between the Bridger and Gallatin mountain ranges.
On the west side, Bozeman is a burgeoning city of more than 40,000 residents that’s home to Montana State University and features easy access to the Gallatin River.
Located on the Yellowstone River 28 miles due east of Bozeman, Livingston is smaller (population 7,500), quainter and a northern gateway of Yellowstone National Park by way of the postcard-perfect Paradise Valley.
Leslie Feigel, executive director of the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce, describes Livingston as “a great place to have conferences” due to its location at the intersection of Highway 89 and Interstate 90 between Bozeman and Billings.
But there’s a catch (no fishing pun intended). “We have three conference centers, one with 1,500 seats, but we don’t have 1,500 rooms,” Feigel explains, noting there are 585 beds on any given night. The local inventory means some attendees of larger events will spend the night in Bozeman, with more than 1,800 rooms in all. However, Bozeman’s largest meeting venues are in the same ballpark as Livingston’s in terms of capacity
Groups often take day trips from Bozeman to Livingston for recreation, typically fishing, hiking in Yellowstone, and maybe soaking at Chico Hot Springs. “We have a whole litany of things,” she says.
While Livingston is great for day trips, group traffic runs both ways. Groups can head to Bozeman for skiing, shopping and sightseeing. In May, BixCON, a board game convention, brought about 50 gamers to Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge in Livingston. “We created different excursions every day,” Feigel says.
Some of those excursions include Bozeman destinations. Matt Robertson, the event’s organizer found both Livingston and Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge “to be very charming and friendly.” He says, “This is a pretty amazing part of the world people need to discover.”
Jackson, Wyoming, & Victor/Driggs, Idaho
Topping out at 8,431 feet above sea level, Teton Pass separates two very different communities: Jackson, the epitome of Western chic on the east side, and the down-home towns of Victor and Driggs to the west.
The pass often proves an obstacle to regional meetings. “It’s been a real struggle,” says Shawn Hill, executive director of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, a Driggs-based nonprofit. The company organizes regular meetings and invites participants on both sides. “People just get into their own thing. They get preoccupied with their own turf.”
Regardless, groups can find deals at a few Idaho venues that allow for easy access to Jackson Hole, says Kent Elliott, director of destination global sales at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “If they’re going whitewater rafting, they’re going to come to Jackson,” says Elliott. “If they want to go the parks, they’re going to come to Jackson.”
For meetings and events that are in Jackson, there are also a few lures that bring visitors over the pass to the Idaho side. “In the spring and summer, they might go over to go fishing,” says Elliott. Golf is another draw, namely at Teton Springs Lodge & Spa’s Headwaters Club in Victor. He describes it as “a beautiful property” with 52 total rooms and a capacity of 200 attendees for events.
And while Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is known for its world-class skiing, Grand Targhee Ski Resort has its fair share of thrilling runs on the west side of Teton Pass. Elliott says he took a group of European beer distributors to Grand Targhee for a day. “We skied, we went snowmobiling, we went cat skiing. We had a great time.”
Alison Gavitt, a general manager for RMC, a destination management company covering 30 destinations, says most of her clients tend to stay in the Jackson Hole valley, but she has taken groups to ski for a day at Grand Targhee. “We brought a corporate group to go cat skiing,” she says. “Targhee is known for its powder days. It’s a small resort, but there’s some seriously deep powder.”
She says the “VIP experience” of snowcat skiing at Grand Targhee is a terrific team-builder. Each of the resort’s snowcats can accommodate 12 passengers, and it’s not uncommon for participants to cover 18,000 vertical feet of untracked powder in a given day. “We rented two cats, had a group lunch, and drove back home [to Jackson] at night,” Gavitt explains. “They loved it.”
Aspen & Crested Butte, Colorado
By foot, the shortest route is a 12-mile hike through the Maroon BellsSnowmass Wilderness from the trailhead at Maroon Lake near Aspen to Schofield Park, which is reached via a gravel road from Mt. Crested Butte. By road, it’s 110 miles to Crested Butte—and that’s if Kebler Pass is open.
This means hiking over West Maroon Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte (or vice versa) is a viable form of transportation. Groups can take the roadless route for a team-building activity to break up a multiday event in July, August or early September.
“It’s almost as quick to hike it as it is to drive it,” says Sarah Reynolds Lasser, director of sales for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “The views are absolutely stunning, and it’s challenging.”
She points to the wildflower bloom in summer and the turning aspens in fall as two seasonal allures. “Those two time frames are spectacular.”
Groups can cap off the day of hiking by spending the night in the town that’s their point B, as both Aspen and Crested Butte offer a wide range of lodgings, meeting venues, and eating and drinking establishments.
For hikers, there are some logistics to take into account. First off, groups need to get to and from the trailheads. Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle and Alpine Express Shuttle offers transportation between Schofield Park and Crested Butte and also can pick up in Aspen. Aspen Heli Charter can ferry groups by air.
From the trailhead at Maroon Lake, groups can take the free bus into Aspen when the road is closed to other vehicles from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer season. Going into the Maroon Bells on the bus involves purchasing a ticket at Aspen Highlands ski area, which is the launching point for this particular bus.
The Limelight Hotel in Aspen offers customizable packages to support groups undertaking the hike.
Since the East Maroon Trail is horsefriendly, Fantasy Ranch Horseback Adventures with stables in Mt. Crested Butte offers guided Crested Butte to Aspen trips for four or more participants. “It is eight hours each way,” says owner-operator Chuck Saunders. “We stay in a hotel and ride back the next day.”
While both routes and approaches have primarily been popular with individuals and social groups, the Colorado Tourism Office incorporated the hike into leadership training this summer. “Our office is doing the hike from Crested Butte to Aspen as a team-building experience,” says Communications Manager Kirstin Graber.
But it could emerge as part of a broader program for the state’s tourism industry. “The Colorado Tourism Office is developing a new leadership program for tourism industry professionals across the state,” explains Graber. “Our team is the ‘beta’ for the first leadership class, and we will be taking part in abbreviated versions of some of the leadership exercises that are being developed for the full program.”
Variety being the spice of life, why not take the high road (or trail) and spend some time on the other side?