There's nothing like a cool splash of water on one’s face to wake up and recharge. It actually lowers one’s heart rate by 10 to 25 percent, a mammalian refl ex that evolved to preserve oxygen while underwater. In this context, what better way to break up a meeting than a venue with easy access to plenty of agua, whether it’s a river, a lake or a little bit of both?
Here’s a glimpse into three great mountain towns that are known as much for their water as their peaks.
Hood River, Oregon
Far below the glacier-capped peak of Mount Hood and its year-round skiing, windsurfers and parasailers flock to the town of Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland.
Christina McGhee of Simply Events in Parkdale, Oregon, has planned events in the area for about 15 years. She’s developed a network of outfitters and local businesses to help groups get out on the water, including Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys for rafting; Big Winds for windsurfing, kite boarding and standup paddle boarding; and the Kayak Shed for kayaks and other gear. Water sports and other outdoor recreation are “why people are coming here,” she says. “They want to be out on the river, they want to be on the mountain, they want to get out. That’s the draw.”
Most of the prime meeting venues aren’t right on the Columbia River, but panoramas abound. “You have lots of river views and mountain views,” McGhee says. “The one big venue that’s right on the river is the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn.” Its largest room can accommodate 450 for meetings.
Another lodging that fits the need for groups is the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel, with a maximum group size of 100.
Besides river recreation, the area is also known for its wine, and the very urban Springhouse Cellar Winery, with a maximum capacity of 125 indoors and 175 outside, and the similarly sized Gorge Crest Vineyards in nearby Underwood, Washington, are two of McGhee’s favorite local event venues. At Springhouse, McGhee has helped organize the annual Table of Friends fundraising dinner and dessert auction for The Next Door, a local foster care nonprofit.
Heidi Venture, The Next Door’s communication manager, raves about the venue, especially the turn-of-the-century cannery turned music venue known as The Ruins. “I always like it,” she says. “The Ruins is especially cool.”
Hood River By the Numbers
Population: 7,379 (2013)
Elevation: 499 Feet
Miles from Nearest Major City: 62 Miles East of Portland
Prime Water Feature: Columbia River
Situated on the northeastern corner of Flathead Lake—the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the Lower 48—and on the outlet for the river of the same name, Bigfork is a fly-fishing and boating destination only a short drive from Glacier National Park and Whitefish Mountain Resort. Bordered by the Mission and Salish mountains, Flathead Lake covers nearly 200 square miles. It’s dotted with state parks, including 2,143-acre Wild Horse Island.
With 60 studios and condos, Marina Cay Resort and Conference Center is home to the town’s most extensive meeting facilities. The maximum capacity of the largest room is 150 seated for dinner or 200 theater-style, and a seasonal outdoor tiki bar with a view of the marina accommodates 50. Water sports are front and center here, and Marina Cay offers kayaks, paddle boards and a wide range of motorboats for rent. Corporate groups “typically rent out all of the boats,” says Rebekah King, resort manager.
Katana Ewbank, account manager at Kansas City-based advertising agency Woodruff Sweitzer, organized a twoday executive meeting for client Amvac Chemical Corporation at Marina Cay after the National Potato Council met in nearby Kalispell last summer. “It was a great balance of being attentive and leaving us alone so we could get work done,” Ewbank says. The lake view “was better than four gray walls,” she adds.
Just east of Marina Cay, Bigfork’s charming downtown area features a summer community playhouse and a number of restaurants and galleries, but it is fairly limited in terms of meeting space. Five miles to the south of town, Mountain Lake Lodge is another local meeting venue with 30 guest rooms and event space for up to 40.
Bigfork By the Numbers
Populaltion: 4,270 (2010)
Elevation: 2,979 Feet
Miles from Nearest City: 99 Miles North of Missoula
Prime Water Feature: Flathead Lake
Salida is the whitewater capital of the Rockies, as there are few rivers that attract more rafters, kayakers and other paddlers anywhere than the Arkansas, which snakes right through historic downtown. It’s also one of the artsier towns at altitude, with galleries galore, and a short drive from skiing and hiking on Monarch Pass.
Ericka Kastner of Ululani Event Design in Salida—ululani is Hawaiian for inspired—has focused on destination weddings, but she’s working to grow her corporate business. “Something I want to see more of in Chaffee County is corporate team-building events,” she says. “The area is so diverse, whether it’s summer or winter.”
Kastner often works with Dvorak Expeditions and other local rafting guides to get groups out on the river. “Learning a new skill is a great way to bond,” she says.
Salida SteamPlant Theater and Event Center is a versatile riverfront venue downtown for meetings and events of up to about 200 attendees. The former power plant now features a ballroom, 200-seat theater, meeting room that can subdivide into three breakout rooms, and outdoor plaza on the river.
The state’s arts agency, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), held its annual Creative Industries Summit in Salida. The event brought about 300 creative professionals, outstripping the SteamPlant’s capacity, so organizers arranged to close the street for a big tent holding larger events. “It was a really cool place to have a conference,” says Christy Costello, CCI program manager. “They really put a lot of effort in to make it work.”
Outside the SteamPlant but still in Salida proper, the Hampton Inn, with meeting space for 200, is one of the larger facilities. Just outside town, Hutchinson Ranch also has capacity for about 200.
Farther afield, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort and Monarch Mountain are notable nearby venues. Mount Princeton’s largest event facility can seat almost 300. After working out a permit issue with the U.S. Forest Service, Monarch is new to events in 2016. The ski area, 20 miles west of Salida, has plenty of room with the largest space seating nearly 400 and numerous rooms that can be configured as breakout space.
Kastner was involved in the push to open Monarch’s facilities to meetings. “It’ll be more summer events,” she says, “but we could also hold meetings in the winter.”
For an off-the-beaten-track option, Salida-based Settings Event Rental can provide big tents for events in wilderness settings. “There are so many options for meeting space,” says Kastner. “It doesn’t have to be in a conference center.”
Salida By the Numbers
Population: 5,409 (2013)
Elevation: 7,083 Feet
Miles from Nearest Major City: 142 Miles Southwest of Denver
Prime Water Feature: Arkansas River