How to Plan Meetings with Plenty of Outdoor Space

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Planning Meetings with Plenty of Outdoor Space

By Beth Buehler

One of Colorado’s major strengths when planning meetings has always been abundant outdoor space for gatherings and activities, no matter if the destination is a city like Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, a medium-sized community such as Durango and Longmont, or one of several mountain towns. While planners have always tapped this amazing resource, Covid-19 has illustrated just how much more groups can utilize the outdoors whether there is a pandemic or not when planning meetings! And the best part is the positive reaction from attendees, as it’s a treat to network, learn, share new adventures and get fresh air all at once.

I’ve also been impressed at how destinations and venues of all types have reexamined their outdoor resources and activated spaces that were previously used rarely or not at all for meetings and events. Necessity often results in innovation!

Let’s take a look at planning meetings with plenty of outdoor space with a few must-considers.

Odell Brewing Company's Fort Collins tasting room has a spacious patio. Courtesy Visit Fort Collins.

Get on the schedule and consider the seasons

Meetings and events (including many weddings) are getting rescheduled from 2020 and earlier in 2021 and new business is on the books as face-to-face gatherings return. Hooray! It’s important to remember there is more competition than usual for outdoor spaces. Don’t delay.

No matter where you meet in the United States and beyond, weather is a factor when considering how to plan meetings with plenty of outdoor space. Colorado is fortunate to have 300 days of sunshine annually, four beautiful seasons and fairly moderate temperatures. Regardless, always have a backup plan and make sure attendees bring layers and dress appropriately for the outdoors. Summer and fall work especially well for outdoor gatherings in Colorado, but don’t write off spring, especially May in towns that start greening up and blooming earlier than in the mountains.

Even in winter, there are plenty of unique ways to build in the outdoors when planning meetings, from activities (e.g., skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding, sleigh rides, ice skating) to having heaters and plenty of cozy blankets on a patio for lunch, après ski or cocktails. For example, my book club and friend groups were determined to meet over this past year. We became pros at holding amazing outdoor gathering around fire pits to discuss literature and life and to sip hot toddies after a full-moon snowshoe or Nordic ski in our town of Crested Butte.

In any season, combining unique outdoor transportation (e.g., chairlifts, gondolas, horseback rides, sleighs, snowshoes, pedicabs, etc.) with a meal or reception that has an outdoor component is sure to impress. A sleigh ride dinner to the mid-mountain Uley’s Cabin for a fund-raiser was definitely more memorable than a banquet dinner.

Getting creative with outdoor venues, even for book clubs during winter. Photo by Beth Buehler.

Match your agenda to the outdoors

After beginning the conversation with local pros, start looking at your agenda to see what will work outdoors. No longer is the outdoors limited to meals and receptions but has extended to breakout sessions on patios, keynotes in amphitheaters and outdoor music tents such as those in Vail and Aspen, and networking next to a lake complete with a visit from The Broadmoor’s falconer or HawkQuest in Aurora.

If you have an annual event, examine how you can shake up the layout. Attendees are sure to be delighted with something new like breaks poolside or overlooking the river at Grand Hyatt Vail and The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa Avon, Vail Valley. Pueblo Riverwalk and attractions like Denver Art Museum, Denver Zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens all offer loads of possibilities.

Denver Botanic Gardens has many scenic locations to gather. Courtesy VISIT DENVER/Scott-Dressel-Martin.

Dial in the food, A/V and gifts

Executive chefs and the food and beverage teams at hotels, resorts and ranches are sure to have great ideas that go beyond the standard cookout, which never really get old but can use some shaking up beyond denim and bandanas. I’ve seen examples of a farmers’ market format that features local farmers, cheese makers, brewers, wine makers and more for an outdoor reception/meal set up at a ski area base. Food truck roundups at a brewery also are a blast and so are receptions or picnic-style meals at one of Loveland’s amazing sculpture parks.

Also consider A/V solutions that can help make outdoor gathering go from good to great with solid sound solutions for speakers and entertainers. A/V companies also frequently have cool mobile big screens for outdoor movie viewings served up with tasty movie treats like buttery popcorn, craft sodas and a rainbow of candy.

Well-chosen gifts can be a great tie-in like a small fleece blanket embroidered with a company’s or sponsor’s logo for dinners on a lawn, a mix of hats and gloves to choose from and take home after s’mores around a campfire, and mugs handcrafted by a local potter for breakfast at a special place like the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction. Other great ideas are a sunglass bar for attendees to choose their own styles and a hiking backpack filled with sunscreen, lip balm, water bottle and ball cap.

I’m sure there are many more angles that could be covered about planning meetings with the outdoors, but you get the idea. The thought doesn’t need to be stressful; it just requires a shift in mindset and planning approach. This trend is likely here to stay!

Outdoor-related gifts I have loved receiving over the years: backpack from Visit Durango, picnic kit from Beaver Creek Lodge and handcrafted mug from Breckenridge Tourism Office. Photo by Beth Buehler.

Top Image: The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa Avon, Vail Valley. 

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.