On Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Flyer is the world’s only US Coast Guard-certified vessel designed to launch and recover hot air balloons on water. From the flight deck, groups up to 12 people climb in the balloon basket for the ascent from lake level to 9,000 feet, with views on a good day stretching 150 miles to Yosemite. For larger groups, planners can book multiple balloons to launch from terra firma.
“This is spectacular year-round,” says Barry Isola, vp of sales for the DMC, Tahoe/Reno Experience. “There’s nothing else like it with the blue water and snowcapped peaks. Anyone who does it finds it stunning.”
If you’re curious what the temperature is like at 9,000 feet in winter, there’s no worries. The 200-degree furnace blast that lifts the balloon tends to keep things downright balmy.
Reno-Lake Tahoe is making a name for itself as “America’s Adventure Place,” with 18 ski resorts inside 90 minutes of Reno-Tahoe International. When the buttes aren’t blanketed in white stuff, the summer rec roster includes hiking, ballooning, mountainbiking, powerboating, sailing, kayaking, hang gliding and off-road Hummer tours. Not to mention about 50 golf courses and two old-timey paddlewheelers.
“It’s exciting to hear planners talk about being able to do so much in a single day,” says Isola. His company’s Tee & Ski program packages a full day of fishing, skiing or snowboarding, snowmobiling, golf and hot air ballooning.
“Where else could we do all that?” asks Isola. He explains that Reno’s high plains desert location is a milder climate 15-25 degrees warmer than Tahoe’s slopes, located an easy 30-minute drive away. “People aren’t aware of how nice the weather is year-round, here.”
Do planners dig the diversity, Barry?
“To be able to play golf while others are skiing is a highlight for a lot of groups,” he says. “We had one group staying at the Hyatt on the North Shore. They skied at Squaw Valley, which was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. So that in itself makes it popular with groups. Others golfed at Lakeridge in Reno and snowmobiled at Zephyr Cove Resort. They can handle over 400 people easily in a day.”
This particular pharmaceutical group also wanted to fish, which was easy to organize since Hyatt has its own pier.
“Of course, it’s all weather dependent,” says Isola. “If they can’t fish, we’ll move them to snowmobiling or skiing.”
LAKE TAHOE VALUE
Besides the incredible diversity of experiences in Lake Tahoe, another major draw for the region is price.
“A lot of large groups choose Reno because it’s really affordable,” says Linda Hansen, sales manager for Sierra Event Company. “They’ll achieve their meeting objectives in Reno, then have their fun time to enjoy the outdoors at Tahoe. The easy accessibility means there’s a smooth transition between the two.”
Hansen’s previous clients have included NASA, Google and Citigroup, who Hansen says appreciate her refined service along with the rugged outdoors. Her most popular teambuilding excursions include the Lake Rim Road Rally, Sailing Regatta and an Xtreme Sport Challenge.
Every year, The Great Lake Tahoe Bike Race is an annual event organized by the city, where bikers speed around the lake’s rim. Stay away from Tahoe then, advises Hansen. Other times, she organizes customized bike rallies for groups.
“There are just so many biking options here,” she says, “riding around the lake or taking groups off road for Tahoe rim trails in the woods. Courses go up and down hills, so it’s a huge challenge, and people who bike here are blown away by the pristine views. It’s hard to stay focused on the rides because of the scenery.”
Hansen also creates sailboat races aboard easy to maneuver Sunfish boats, which are very stable for those who haven’t developed their sea legs, yet.
We like the Cool Cold Cache event where teams use a GPS satellite navigation system to complete a treasure hunt while cleaning up a local park or beach. Hansen says, “Groups love it because it’s fun, it’s competitive and they’re doing something good for the environment.”
She also highly recommends Woodward Cruises’ 80-ft Safari Rose, a restored 1940s yacht for cruises around Lake Tahoe for up to 65 passengers for day charters or sunset receptions with wine and hors d’oeuvre pairings.
Maggie Kearney, meeting/publications manager for Chicago-based International College of Surgeons, US Section, also chose Reno-Tahoe based on the myriad choice of activities.
“We stayed and held all our activities at Atlantis,” she says, because her group of 150 surgeons was heavy on day sessions. “My group is very independent. They want a long list of arranged activities they may or may not choose to do, but know are available. Reno-Tahoe definitely offers that flexibility.”
Choices ranged from Heavenly Mountain gondola rides to power boating at Zephyr Cove, and a few doctors ventured to the Truckee River Whitewater Park. Threading through town, the development provides multiple launch sites so attendees can drop canoes or kayaks right into the rapids near their hotel, rather than driving for miles and hauling gear to a drop-in point.
Arlene Lawson is executive director of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association, based in Silicon Valley. She planned a trade show for 2,100 attendees at Peppermill Resort.
“We set up a sporting clay tournament at Sage Hill Clay Sports in Reno,” says Lawson. “They thought it was great to be able to shoot clays and compete against other shooters.”
The sporting clays competition moves shooters through a 14-station course, shooting a set number of pairs prescribed at each station, and everyone is capable of this after expert guidance. Lawson also scheduled a golf tournament for 100 at two courses, including Wolf Run Golf Club.
For arguably the region’s most relaxed excursion, Convention Activities books groups aboard authentic Mississippi paddlewheelers. The M.S. Dixie II and Tahoe Queen put together dinner themes accommodating 360 and 210 respectively, including big band era blowouts, murder mysteries and casino gaming.
“I’d also recommend the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival mid-summer,” says Todd Tuttle, president. It’s held at the Warren E. Trepp Stage, bookable for group events up to 1,000 attendees.
DUAL DESTINATION DRAW
“Every meetings destination has hotels with function space and staff to service it,” says Mike Frye, sales and events manager for Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. “You can have that anywhere. But you won’t have all the recreation, gaming and entertainment in one place.”
Frye says Lake Tahoe’s preservation of the environment has long been a lure for groups. One of the area’s beloved stories is the popular planet-hugging website ecomom.com, founded here by Kimberly Danek Pinkson.
While woodsy Tahoe is spread out and laid-back, the city of Reno is the urban center with a whopping 1.5 million sf of convention space, 17 casino resort properties, 20,000 hotel rooms and an ongoing $2 billion redevelopment that hasn’t bogged down in economic mire.
“That’s all taken place simultaneously as the economy was downturning,” explains Phillip D’Amico, vp of convention sales for Reno-Sparks CVA. “We’ve continued through it. So while many other cities have halted projects, we’re completing ours.” He adds that the CVA manages the bulk of Reno’s higher profile off-property meeting venues. “We’re a 1-stop shop since our salespeople have flexibility to negotiate from move-in to move-out and the amount of space needed.”
Supplementing 600,000 sf of hotel-casino meeting space, group facilities include the 565,000-sf Reno-Sparks Convention Center, 118,000-sf Reno Events Center and the new Downtown Reno Ballroom with 32,700 sf. For more offbeat sessions, check out the National Bowling Stadium—a championship 78-laner dubbed the “Taj Mahal of Ten Pins.”
“When embarking on our expansion, we viewed gaming as an amenity,” explains Pat Flynn, executive director of hotel sales at the 1,635-room Peppermill Resort Spa Casino. “So we focused on the total experience.” Peppermill has brought the romance of Tuscany to Reno as part of a hefty $400 million redevelopment completed at the end of 2008. The themed hotel tower added 600 rooms, while a clear-span ballroom raised the property’s convention space to 102,000 sf.
In January, Safari Club International will hold its annual convention in Reno for the 8th consecutive year. Peppermill will host all evening events for the estimated group of 20,000.