By Kathy Chin Leong, Smart Meetings -- Slogging through the snow, frozen snowshoers finally arrive to their destination, a Mongolian yurt hidden among powdery mounds. It's not exactly a reenactment of the historic Donner Party, for these trekkers immediately cast off their bulky layers, uncork their wine and descend unrelentingly on a five-course meal. This is Solitude Resort near Salt Lake City, a hip spot for skiing and a gourmet dinner, which includes a one-mile snowshoe hike into the woods to an authentic, round tent framed with wood beams and stretched canvas.

And in the spring in Utah Valley, with brushes in hand, novice artists come face-to-face with Mt. Timpanogos, Utah's second-highest mountain in the Wasatch Mountain Range. Discovering their inner Monet, they recreate the scene before them on easeled canvases during a corporate retreat at Sundance Resort.

This statewide patchwork of landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to magnificent bowl valleys, is a catch-all for groups of every interest level. With such variety, you can tackle a fresh adventure every time you bring your entourage to the Greater Salt Lake area.

Meeting planners can turn their sights to these five thriving regions: Salt Lake City, Park City, Utah Valley, Davis County and Ogden. Each locale delivers on convenient trade-show venues, widespread lodging, memorable restaurants and activities that will challenge the mind as well as the body. For additional information on where to host meetings in Utah, you can go to


Originally occupied by the Ute, Shoshone and Fremont Native American tribes, the state of Utah was established by Mormons in the 1840s. And in 1896, the state was admitted into the union.

Today, with "industry" as its motto, Utah is ranked among the top 10 for best states to find a job. The state's economy is amazingly strong, boosted by industries such as healthcare, high tech, government and education-which are its main employers. It is no wonder that the bee is the state's official insect and emblem.

In July 2009, the state loosened its liquor laws, which resulted in mixed reviews. Gone is the "private club" rule that forced people to purchase temporary memberships for a few dollars whenever they went to visit a bar. And breweries and distilleries can now sell entire bottles of liquor directly instead of selling them to the state and buying them back to sell to customers at a higher markup. Microbreweries such as Squatters in Salt Lake City are now allowed to make beers with higher alcohol content.

Utah continues to evolve, shedding more of its conservative lineage. With a current population of 2.7 million, the Latino contingent has increased 128% since 1997, making it the largest ethnicity in the state. Asians are the next largest, followed by Native Americans. Attracting people to Utah are both job opportunities and the promise of outdoor adventure. Utah is home to 13 ski resorts and five national parks, including the popular Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.


Against the scenic backdrop of the Wasatch Mountain Range, the state's capital bustles. Downtown Salt Lake is on the verge of becoming a major destination for shopping and dining thanks to a nearly $5-billion investment from business and community leaders toward refurbishing the central business district. The city is close to several resorts for winter and summer sports, which are only a 35-minute shuttle ride away. Downtown is near the Salt Lake City International airport, only eight minutes west.

For conventions that dominate, the go-to site remains the Salt Palace Convention Center, a three-story, L-shaped facility looming over three city blocks. With 515,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and more than 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting area, this meeting pad is the largest in the state.
Other city venues for gatherings include the elegant Grand America Hotel, with 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, built in 2001 specifically to accommodate Olympians and the Olympic staff during the Winter Games in 2002. The Five-Diamond, 24-story hotel is the dream-come-true for Utah developer Earl Holding. Festooned with glass-blown chandeliers from Milan and granite throughout, the European-styled hotel features a full-service spa, gym, stores, restaurants and a pool.

At least 13 hotels have opened or remodeled since last year, so guest rooms are more plentiful than ever. A few new hotels include the Hyatt Place Salt Lake City near The Gateway shopping plaza, with 128 guest rooms; SpringHill Suites near the airport, with 143 guest rooms; and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, with 94 guest rooms. The Little America Hotel, a Four-Diamond hotel with 850 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, spent $9 million in renovations on its grand ballrooms and 18 conference rooms.

Groups can also ski, hike or find many other ways to fill time pre- and post-meeting at recreation-focused resorts such as the adjacent Alta Lodge, Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort and The Inn at Solitude. Popular among snowboarders is Brighton at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. In the summer, the resort's Silver Fork Lodge and the Millicent Chalet are open for meals and views.

You can enjoy a yurt dinner at Solitude or comfy home-style cooking at Alta Lodge. Away from the city and high in the mountains, these venues have proven ideal for small group retreats, sales incentives and training sessions. Snowbird features 882 guest rooms in four lodging properties, as well as 29,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

For that adrenaline rush, take teams to zip around the track at Miller Motorsports Park, where they can race motorcycles, cars and go-karts.

In every group, there are those who prefer to indulge the mind more than race the body. And for that, consider This is the Place Historical Park. Conference attendees can stroll through the 450-acre living history state park and learn more about the heritage and history of Utah.

Salt Lake City is a time-tested commodity for conferees. Bridget Sypolt, director of events at MPI in Dallas, held the World Education Congress here in 2009. "The city is so walkable, and the convention center area and hotels feel just perfect for a group. You get to ‘take over' those blocks of the city." During her stay, she organized a running group in the mornings to take advantage of the mountain views.

Meeting planners can contact the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors' Bureau for additional information on hot spots and activities.


One-of-a-kind fun and distinctive meeting venues make Park City, a former mining-turned-ski town, an unforgettable adventure only about 35 minutes east of Salt Lake City. Ideal for corporate getaways as well as family groups, the town offers top-of-the-line dining, shopping and recreation. Reserve a shuttle ride from the airport with Park City Transportation and spend a carless weekend moving about town via cab or complimentary public bus.

For conventions, the Newpark Resort & Conference Center offers one- and two-bedroom hotel suites and townhomes, nearly 6,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and access to more than 75,000 sq. ft. for parties or events in the Newpark Town Center, a residential shopping enclave where the hotel is situated.

Indeed, lodging in Park City is plentiful. The regal Goldener Hirsch Inn, an Austrian-themed, 20-room hotel, is steps away from the slopes and is highly experienced working with small groups for meetings and retreats.

Kim Blackburn, recruiting and marketing coordinator at Ray Quinney & Nebeker, Salt Lake City, gives Goldener Hirsch and Park City a hearty thumbs up. "I have coordinated events at many different venues over the years and must say my experiences at Goldener Hirsch Inn have been exquisite on all levels-food, atmosphere and service. Likewise, Park City is an ideal destination, whether you meet in spring, summer, fall or winter. Attendees and guests can always find something enjoyable to do-strolling galleries, eating in the finest restaurants, hiking, biking, skiing or boarding, relaxing in world-class spas. Park City really does have it all."

Not far way, you can book the top suites at the new Waldorf Astoria Park City, which carries all the opulence of the mother ship in New York, complete with 175 guest rooms and 1,080 sq. ft. of function space. You'll find modern cottages and 100 guest rooms at Hotel Park City, located on the premises of a golf course with a spa. In December 2010, the beautiful Montage Deer Valley will open its doors to the public. The property has 174 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor meeting space, as well as 35,000 sq. ft. outdoors.

Foodies will be enthralled with restaurants offering historic ambience as well as scenic views. Hit the new High West Distillery & Saloon restaurant, dubbed the world's first ski-in distillery and "gastro-saloon," and one of Utah's first distilleries (it was built in the 1870s). The establishment occupies a former private Victorian home and the menu boasts eclectic American cuisine with a host of boutique whiskeys and vodkas and fascinating liquor-infused desserts. The restaurant can host groups of up to 175.

Groups can get their chocolate fix during a chocolate talk at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, where cocoa goods are crafted by the executive pastry chef. The luxury property also offers more than 19,000 sq. ft. of versatile meeting space and 170 guest rooms, and was the recent host of our June Smart Meeting. Event attendees commented on the hotel's jaw-dropping beauty, and our event planners were pleased by the accommodating, welcoming spirit of the hotel staff.

When a black-tie affair is in order, your group can gussy up and schmooze with customers at the tony Spruce Restaurant at the new, 175-room Waldorf Astoria Park City, which offers two meeting rooms. Once at the Spruce, you are surrounded with elegance: luxurious deep-chocolate hued walls, leather chairs and Baccarat crystal chandeliers. The menu includes delicious new-American cuisine with an emphasis on farm-fresh ingredients. And an extensive list of beers, wines and signature cocktails is at your disposal.

Spas are becoming increasingly popular in Park City, and each has its own look and feel, as well as specialties. One of the newest to town is the Golden Door at the Waldorf Astoria, a two-level mega spa with face, body, hair and nail salons. And at the intimate, Asian-themed Amatsu Spa at The Sky Lodge, customers can soak tired muscles in Japanese ofuro, box-like tubs made of bamboo. At the spa at Hotel Park City, guests can sample a host of anti-aging treatments and massages designed for golfers and skiers.

Three ski resorts, Deer Valley, The Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, are within five miles of each other. While you can ski and participate in snow activities in the winter, you can also enjoy a pleasant summer with hiking, biking and more at the same resorts.

For something unusual and inexpensive, take the crew snow tubing at Gorgoza Park. Pit one team against the other in a tubing race down the hills.

And for Olympic-sized thrills, check out the Utah Olympic Park to attempt bobsledding all year long and watch aerial freestyle ski jumping shows in the summertime.

For cocktail parties, consider booking the Kimball Art Center in Old Town Park City. All three of its galleries, which provide 3,900 sq. ft. of space, and its outside patio, with 4,000 sq. ft. of space, are available for private events.


Like the other scenic regions of the state, Davis County, the smallest county in Utah with a population of less than 300,000, holds its own with winter skiing and summer golfing. The Davis Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff, who know the inside track, can work extensively with meeting planners and offer creative ideas and suggestions. The county is located just north of Salt Lake City on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. The high-desert region experiences fairly mild winters in the 30s and 40s with low humidity in the summer, when temperatures are generally less than 90 degrees.

As far as group gatherings go, the county features the recently renovated Davis Conference Center, an investment of more than $10 million that gives the center a total of 70,000-plus sq. ft. of conference space. The property is attached to the 147-room Hilton Garden Inn Layton for extra convenience.

Davis County features a spate of hotels around the Davis Conference Center in a sector the Davis Area CVB calls the "Hospitality Zone." To date, there are at least 1,500 guest rooms at nationally recognized hotels in the county, and 450 rooms within easy walking distance to the conference center. Some 90 restaurants out of the 250 in the region are also nearby.

Another rentable venue is the Legacy Events Center, an indoor/outdoor riding arena with 22,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. Popular here are national dog shows, equestrian events and trade shows in its three enclosed buildings.

When it comes time for group bonding, take them to Antelope Island, the largest one in the Great Salt Lake area. Considered the best place to experience the lake, Antelope Island State Park offers picnicking, hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, sailing and boating. If you go in November, take your group during the Annual Bison Roundup to view the 600 American bison that graze here. You can charter a bus for your group, and also view deer and bighorn sheep.

Golfers will enjoy their favorite hobby at any of the county's nine courses with backdrops of the mountains. And in the winter, Davis County boasts access to 10 popular ski resorts. Snowbasin, the venue for the 2002 Olympic downhill and Super G events, is a 20-minute drive away, while Powder Mountain is within 30 minutes.

For festival-goers, August is a great time to experience the Summerfest in the city of Bountiful, which celebrates world cultures through ethnic dance at the Bountiful/Davis Art Center. Another interesting event is the Antelope Island Stampede held every Labor Day weekend, featuring hot-air balloons, professional kite flying and live music.


Only 40 minutes north of Salt Lake International Airport, the city of Ogden (pop. 82,865) backs up against the Wasatch Range with year-round sunshine. This should be an attractive feature for meeting planners wondering where to go during off-peak vacation months. In addition to temperate weather, the town is approximately 30 minutes away from ski resorts, so it is easy enough to plan a team ski outing for the day.
Formerly a rough-and-tumble railroad stop with saloons and brothels, the Ogden of the 21st century is a meeting planner's dream. The Ogden Eccles Conference Center offers 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and a restored theater that seats 800. The Ogden Marriott is not far away with 14,107 sq. ft. of meeting space, while the Pineview Lodge at Wolf Creek Utah Resort offers 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

A charming downtown known as Historic 25th Street offers dining, shopping, entertainment, art galleries and an amphitheater. The Union Station, a former train station, is open for groups from 20-300. The facility's three museums that showcase firearms, trains and antique cars can also be reserved for private functions.

Is the gang up for something challenging? A popular party venue for team building with athletes in mind is the new Salomon Center. This clever sports and entertainment facility houses a Gold's Gym, restaurants and indoor attractions such as skydiving, surfing and rock climbing; guests can even "catch a wave" at Flowrider, an attraction that simulates surfing. For those with tamer interests­-but still interested in having a good time-the center also touts bowling, miniature golf and bumper cars.


With sights such as the famous Brigham Young University, Robert Redford's celebrated Sundance Resort and Timpanogos Cave National Monument, it is not surprising thousands of cultural mavens and nature lovers are drawn to Utah Valley, 30 minutes south of Salt Lake City.
Conference attendees with a heart and soul for art will be satiated at the Sundance Resort. And with its new 3,375-square-foot Redford Conference Center, groups will find comfort in its open reception areas, patios and stunning fireplace. The conference center is also an eco-friendly building with geothermal heating and cooling, and adds to the resort's existing 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The property is also in the throes of a multimillion-dollar facelift for its 110 lodge rooms that will make life even more luxurious for overnight guests.

To underscore its support for the arts and culture, Sundance operates an art shack with classes on pottery, painting and jewelry making, along with a spa that emphasizes Native American traditions.

To date, the largest conference site is the Provo Marriott & Conference Center, with 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 330 guest rooms downtown. And the McKay Events Center in Orem is a grand place to host a trade show, with 24,000 sq. ft. of multiuse space.

In Spring 2012, in historic downtown Provo, the granddaddy of convention centers will open with 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Dubbed the Utah Valley Convention Center, the $43-million facility, which is seeking LEED Silver-certification, will be an attractive venue for those groups seeking an eco-savvy location.

For smaller meetings and events, Thanksgiving Point is an unforgettable venue for learning and discovery. While not a theme park per se, the 55-acre complex features 15 themed gardens, a golf course, a dinosaur museum, shopping, restaurants and 2,760 sq. ft. of function space.

Team-building options are plenty. Your group can book a ropes adventure with Clas Ropes and learn the ins and outs of ropes courses. The company also offers ziplining and canoeing. Bonneville Sailing sets folks up with yacht-racing lessons on Utah Lake. High Country Rafting takes groups out on guided rafting and kayak trips and fly-fishing expeditions on the Provo River.

Experts at the Utah Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau offer one-stop shopping when it comes to booking event space.

Freelance writer and editor Kathy Chin Leong has written for the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Working Women and many other publications.


* Each area is nearby the Salt Lake International Airport, which has 100-plus direct flights to and from cities all over the U.S. The Provo Airport is currently a municipal airport, but is in the process of becoming a berth for commercial airlines.