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On the Road: Winter Wonderlands

By Selena Fragassi


Yes, winter is here again. But instead of begrudging the next twelve weeks and hoping the groundhog finally sides with you this year, there’s reason to actually look forward to the season—if you pick a special event venue like the five featured here. From boasting thrilling ski activities and relaxing hot springs that warm your bones to providing a “floating resort” in the middle of the Caribbean, your attendees won’t have to hibernate this season.

Rainbow Ranch Lodge (Gallatin Gateway, MT)
Winter doesn’t always have to be known as the drab, dull, overcast gray season—not with all the colorful activities to explore at Montana’s Rainbow Ranch Lodge. Here, the events team can arrange downhill skiing at Lone Mountain—the largest ski area in North America—and snowmobiling, snowshoeing and horseback riding at the neighboring Gallatin National Forest.

After an adventurous day, guests can relax on-site with a large hot tub and an array of 21 peaceful guest rooms complete with wood-burning fireplaces and decks with views of the snow-covered mountains. “Winter is our second busiest season,” says Sales Director Pattie Graffe, noting the property promotes ski and stay packages as well as frequent corporate events. Spaces include a private wine room that holds up to 10 people, the North Dining Room for 30 and South Dining Room for up to 50 guests—all with A/V services available.

In addition to in-room Keurig coffeemakers and daily fresh-baked cookies, Rainbow Ranch also boasts a bar and restaurant, open 7 days a week, that features regional cuisine by an award-winning chef who recently took home the “most creative” honor from the Big Sky Battle of the Chefs competition. “Our bar is extensive with housemade barrel-aged cocktails, bitters, a $40,000 wine cellar and many local beers,” adds Graffe.

Banff Centre (Banff, AB)
You might call it the Sundance of the North. In addition to being the site of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival (now in its 40th year), the Banff Centre is also similarly renowned for being “a town with a lively winter scene,” says Aysun Lynch, meeting architect (conferences) at the property in Alberta, Canada. That includes a quaint downtown area with festive shops and a number of local partners that can arrange guided excursions including a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain, climbing routes to the summit of Munt Norquay and skiing, skating, snowshoeing, dogsledding and other winter survival team-building activities. “The town is a basecamp for adventure,” furthers Lynch, also pointing out the famous hot springs that are enjoyed year-round.

With so much buzz about town, the Banff Centre has become a popular choice for conferences and events. More than sixty meeting rooms, lecture theatres and auditoriums can accommodate groups from five to 1,000 participants. “Groups can also take their event to the next level with our Conference Connectors,” says Lynch of the innovative team-building programs that have 16 tracks, including culinary, cultural, community and outdoor events, meant to enhance participant experience and support meeting and event goals. “A 90-minute session is equivalent to three days of traditional networking at an event,” says Lynch. Also new is the Meeting Architecture practice where an expert, or ‘architect,’ weaves together human interaction, conceptual design, creativity and technical production to further generate results.

Bella Vista Estate (Steamboat Springs, CO)
Even the “Real Housewives” love the Bella Vista Estate. The Atlanta crew hosted a televised “winter wonderland” getaway at the private grounds nestled on seven acres in Colorado’s National Forest. “Bella Vista has hosted a number of different celebrities over the years, but we also love hosting families, weddings, corporate retreats and regular folks, too!” says Property Manager Sarah "Sal" Albert.

All visitors can enjoy the “privacy, luxurious accommodations, spacious meeting areas and no restrictions on food, liquor or entertainment,” adds Albert who calls it the perfect option for overnight groups of 35 people (though it can host events for up to 200 guests). In the Main House, teams can gather together for work and collaboration but then retire to 12 suites with private bedrooms and bathrooms.

In winter in particular, “the most attractive aspect of renting our venue is the convenience of the world-class Steamboat Resort, just 10 minutes away in our chauffeured shuttle,” says Albert. Here activities include snowmobiling, ice fishing, sleigh riding and snow tubing, among others. The Bella Vista team also offers special packages to give the Rocky Mountain ‘local touch’ such as ski rental discounts, grocery shopping before your arrival and free airport transportation. Combined with an on-site grotto and incredible views, “we have the amenities of a five-star resort with a relaxed environment that hotels in the area simply cannot offer,” says Albert.

Historic Rosemont Manor (Berryville, VA)
Built in 1811, this former Civil War battleground site and the once private estate of Senator Harry Flood Byrd, Sr. is where “history meets elegance.” At no time of the year is that more true than during the holidays when the Main Manor House and accompanying Carriage House are decked out with thousands of lights and decorations that have become quite the “regional attraction,” says General Manager Bill North. Additional winter tea parties, “Downton Abbey”-themed dinner parties and homemade ice creams made with fresh seasonal mint have made the 60-acre grounds in the Shenandoah Valley a popular choice from Thanksgiving weekend to late January. Golf packages make it a draw year-round, too.

The once private estate was only opened to the public in 2010 and has since booked a number of corporate events, group retreats and private meetings, as well as weddings and other special events for up to 150 people. The Main Manor House features the Rosemont Dining Room, a parlor, sunroom and grand portico for socializing in addition to eleven suites and guest rooms with private bathrooms complete with original claw foot tubs. Additional guest cottages allow accommodations for up to 30 people. The Carriage House is ideal for larger meetings of up to 100 people classroom-style with smaller breakout areas. Although the site is historic, it’s been fully modernized with Wi-Fi and A/V services for the modern visitor. Says North, “We’re sharing the history of what happened here and moving the site forward.”

Royal Caribbean International (Miami, FL)
If you really want to escape winter altogether, you might consider Royal Caribbean International, the number-one cruise brand in the Caribbean that has a strong meeting and incentive draw particularly in the early part of the year when everyone wants to head south. “January and February is a great time to book with us in terms of value proposition because rates are lower before increasing in March and April during the holidays and spring break,” says Lori Cassidy, director of global corporate, incentive and charter sales.

Planners can choose from three-to-seven-night cruises that sail from home ports in Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida. Each ship has dedicated and complimentary meeting spaces (the largest for up to 1,400 people) as well as complimentary A/V services and a whole list of extra curricular activities that provide a little something for everyone. That includes Broadway plays, shopping and dining on the ‘Promenade’ and private island experiences with beaches, zip lining and other water sports. “It’s like a floating resort,” says Cassidy.

New this year is a revamp of the popular Majesty of the Sea vessel that will offer the fastest high speed wireless connectivity, offered free of charge year-round. As well, the new Anthem of the Sea ship debuted in New York City in November offering five-night outings to Bermuda. “If you want something unique and outside the ordinary you can definitely find it here,” says Cassidy.

Get Connected

Banff Centre
Banff, AB
(403) 762.6485

Bella Vista Estate
Steamboat Springs, CO
(970) 879.4449

Historic Rosemont Manor
Berryville, VA
(540) 955.2834

Rainbow Ranch Lodge
Gallatin Gateway, MT
(406) 995.4132

Royal Caribbean International
Miami, FL
(800) 762.0458