On most business trips, you have to squeeze in time for fun with evening outings, layovers and days added to the trip. But if your meeting is at a ski resort, you'll likely find your schedule is intentionally blank for a block of hours midday so you can enjoy the slopes.
Continuing education programs for medical and legal professionals make up one of the largest segments of group business travel to ski resorts in Colorado each winter. Usually these meetings start early, with sessions from 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. Then they recess for a few hours so participants can enjoy the best part of the day skiing or snowboarding. Meetings then resume from 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.
"They want to conduct business, attend seminars and learn and grow in their professions, but they also want to enjoy these resorts," said Marcella Bettis, director of sales and marketing for the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colorado, which hosts 35 to 50 such meetings each winter. "Often times they bring their families, too, especially when it's a long-term program that's been in the valley for years. They say, 'This is an opportunity to bring my family while doing business.'"
For some organizations, mixing ski trips and professional pursuits is a tradition. "Some continuing education groups have been visiting Snowmass for 40-plus years," said Rose Abello, tourism director for Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado, where continuing education groups made up a third of group business last winter.
And group business isn't all continuing education. Lamborghini, the luxury carmaker, has hosted a VIP driving school at Snowmass for top customers including days on an ice track plus skiing, and the American Institute of Architects is coming this winter.
"It's a good business for the resort industry," said Michael Berry, spokesman for the National Ski Areas Association, who said that ski areas in other regions -- including Utah and Vermont -- host business groups as well.
But while major convention cities like New York, New Orleans or Orlando, Florida, attract thousands of participants to individual events, ski resort meetings "aren't huge. These are seminars for 75 to 150 people," said Bettis.
For those who don't ski or snowboard, other activities include spas, culinary classes and snowmobiling.
Some meetings head to the mountains in the summer, when outdoor fun includes hiking and biking. Colorado's famed Aspen Institute is busier hosting conferences in summer than winter, though they host winter events as well. The institute's meetings range from executive and leadership seminars to its Socrates program, which introduces participants to the great books and the Socratic method.
"For an executive who loves to ski, it's an opportunity to mix a winter vacation with an educational seminar," said Killeen Brettmann, spokeswoman for the Aspen Institute. Sometimes staffers pair with participants for time on the slopes, according to skill level. "With the Socrates seminar, generally what happens is someone from the institute will say, 'Who's an expert skier, who's a beginner?' Then if you'd like to participate in the group, you can go, but you also have the option to go off on your own," said Brettmann.
Smaller ski areas also attract group business, often with team-building activities or fun group outings for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. At Canaan Valley Resort in Davis, West Virginia, group sleigh rides are popular. At Sleeping Giant in Cody, Wyoming, ice climbing is a specialty.