By Beth Buehler
How to choose top meeting destinations in the mountains? I travel my home state a lot, for both work and leisure. So when someone asks me to list my favorite Colorado mountain towns, I have a hard time responding as there are so many that I like, but for different reasons. So, I immediately want to take them through a list of questions. Are you going for fun or business? What do you like to do? Are you seeking action or relaxation? How much money do you want to spend? What kind of lodging, venues and activities are you looking for? What kind of vibe matches you and your attendees?
So for the sake of keeping within a blog-length response, I’ll keep this focused on the topic of meetings and divide the information in the manner that first came to mind.
Classic Ski Towns with Rich History
Many of Colorado’s classic ski towns started out with mining, ranching and railroads deep within their souls. Skis were ways to get around (sometimes even to get mail across the mountain passes between places like Crested Butte and Aspen) and to have some fun during rare off time from the grueling rigors of hard work and settling the West. Ignore the thoughts of today’s ski resorts, as they didn’t exist but envision downtowns that thankfully have been preserved to provide a whole lot of character like beautiful historic hotels and opera houses and distinct restaurants, shops, museums, venues and nightlife.
Colorado mountain towns that fit this description and are top meeting destinations in the mountains include Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Winter Park. A couple of surprises for some—as they aren’t associated with skiing quite as much — are Durango and Granby.
What I love about all these towns is the fact that they are all incredibly different yet steeped in history and have different amounts and types of meeting and event space, ranging from true conference facilities to on-mountain lodges and restaurants. Aspen and Winter Park were the first to get ski resorts in the 1940s before more popped up in Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Durango and Steamboat Springs in the 1960s and Telluride in the early 1970s. Granby Ranch is the newest on the scene.
And don’t forget Nordic skiing for groups who are up for something different (check out Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa near Winter Park and YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch near Granby for example). Also remember that ski towns like these and those mentioned below are year-round destinations that are equally fantastic in summer and fall! In fact summer visitation has eclipsed winter in many ski towns in recent years due to festivals, outdoor concert series, and amazing recreation like hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing and rafting. Plus, Durango has the amazing Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to chug through stunning mountain scenery.
Ski Towns & Resorts with a Newer Twist
Then there are top meeting destinations in the mountains that hail back to some of the same history but didn’t turn into towns or resorts until after a ski area was built like Copper Mountain, Keystone, Snowmass Village, Vail and Beaver Creek—all opening from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Keystone Conference Center is the largest stand alone mountain meeting facility in the state, Copper Mountain has a sizeable conference center that overlooks the slopes, Snowmass boasts a conference center that is attached to The Westin Snowmass Resort, and neighboring Beaver Creek and Vail have several hotels with significant meeting and event space as well as the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
One of the handiest features is how condensed these destinations are in terms of walkability for guests between venues, lodging, meals and activities. Unless you are going far for off-site gatherings, transportation might not even be needed. During free time, guests can walk or bike along paved recreation paths or utilize public transportation to get around in many cases and frequently attendees can just step outside a meeting facility to be on the slopes and trails within minutes or on a chairlift or gondola to a sublime on-mountain dinner or reception.
Mountain Towns with Distinct Twists
Plus, there are several top meeting destinations in the mountains of Colorado that don’t involve downhill skiing and snowboarding but are worthy of consideration. Black Hawk, Buena Vista, Estes Park and Glenwood Springs all have impressive histories of their own and are diverse in venue and lodging types, local personalities and geographic locations.
Black Hawk is a historic town west of Denver that has become the place to go for people who enjoy casinos but don’t want the big-town backdrop of places like Las Vegas. One large casino property with an abundance of lodging and meeting space is Ameristar Resort & Casino, and Monarch Resort Casino Spa Black Hawk is undergoing a major expansion to become a major player in Colorado’s meetings and events scene.
Buena Vista not only has all sorts of recreation like some of the best rafting and hiking in the state, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort has meeting space for getting down to business, cabins and lodge rooms for staying overnight, and amazing hot springs pools to soak in. Plus the downtown has come into its own in recent years.
Estes Park is one the best-known non-ski towns in Colorado’s mountains, in part due to being a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and the location of YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center. For groups, there is a growing amount of meeting and event space, and the iconic Stanley Hotel continues to up its game with new gathering and concert spaces. Glenwood Springs also falls in this category with the world’s largest hot springs pool that opened in 1888 and the beautiful Hotel Colorado that opened five years before.
The bottom line is make sure to know your crew and budget to best match up with one of these top meeting destination in the mountains and don’t let the worldly reputations of some scare you away. There are deals to be had during “off-seasons” or times when demand isn’t so high like when kids go back to school, weekdays vs. weekends, January instead of March and May instead of July. A mountain meeting may just be the what your group needs to refresh and reshape a future meeting.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.