With fairytale-like castle hotels, ski resorts and ice bars situated in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Alberta meetings offer a complete sense of escape in winter and summer months. This was certainly the case this past February at The Gathering brand-marketing event, which included 800 people—with speakers from the top brands in the world—from over 500 marketing organizations, held at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Our group hobnobbed with conference attendees to get a feel for what hosting an event here would be like. The answer: “This environment is spectacular,” says Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO for Airbnb and a speaker at the event. “I genuinely feel that this place is an inspiration and spectacular space to have your imagination stimulated. There’s something about looking at the view and walking around these grounds that gave me such a positive energy before getting on stage.”
The 764-room Fairmont Banff Springs, built to look like a Scottish baronial castle, spotlighted the tourism potential of the Canadian west in the late 19th century. Groups meeting at the property can choose between the on-site conference center and grand banquet halls, such as Mount Stephen Hall, whose massive ceilings, stained-glass windows and glazed stone floors make it ideal for Medieval-themed events.
There are 10 restaurants available (six during the winter season) at the property, but Executive Chef JW Foster can work with groups on creative dining settings. For example, there’s a demonstration kitchen located in the Authentically Local Wine Store, where the chef can cook in front of attendees or provide culinary classes for groups. For a little R&R, attendees won’t want to miss the hotel’s Willow Stream Spa, created to mimic the hot springs that attracted travelers more than 100 years ago. Three waterfalls, a mineral pool and an outdoor hot tub provide the ultimate sanctuary and backdrop to Alberta meetings.
About a 45-minute drive from downtown Banff stands the massive 548-room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. What was originally just a one-story log cabin was turned into a retreat that Cornelius Van Horne envisioned for the outdoor adventurer, especially with its location on the lake’s shore. Known as the birthplace of Canadian mountaineering, the retreat quickly became an ideal stomping ground for climbers to come and take guided tours into the towering summits.
Today, adventurous Alberta meetings include guided cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking day and night. In the summer, the emerald waters of Lake Louise provide a picturesque setting, while in the winter, groups can don ice skates from the hotel and glide atop the lake. Meeting planners will also love the ice bar for hosting opening receptions. Positioned along the lake, attendees can bundle up and drink mulled wine and hot buttered rum here.
Taking the group inside, the hotel offers innovative culinary experiences such as the Vinyl Diner, the brainchild of Executive Chef David MacGillivray. Smaller groups can meet inside the kitchen where MacGillivray and his culinary team cook a multi-course meal to a perfectly curated playlist, created by the chef from his very own record collection. Classic hits from Aretha Franklin, David Bowie and The Eagles set the tone and encourage attendees to sing or even dance along.
Hotel staff can also organize a horse-drawn sleigh ride for attendees to be transported to the nearby Brewster Cowboy’s Barbecue and Dance Barn. To get into the Western spirit, the barn staff can organize everything from line-dancing instruction to a gunfighters stunt show to bringing in a horse for the CEO to make a grand entrance. The barn’s signature Hip of Beef dinner also introduces attendees to the province’s famous Alberta beef, aged and roasted to perfection.
Considered a UNESCO National Heritage Site—one of about 100 in the world that’s not a cultural site—and considered the fourth most-visited national park on the planet, Banff National Park offers a variety of activities for attendees to explore year round.
In the wintertime, attendees can go skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing at one of the area’s many mountain resorts. At Sunshine Village, groups of about 70 can even stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge—the only ski-in, ski-out hotel in the national park. Dogsledding is another way for attendees to get outside amidst the winter atmosphere. Kingmik Dog Sled Tours can take six sleds out at a time (with two people in each sled), giving attendees a ride with a musher (dogsled driver) and eight dogs through the snow before taking turns at mushing themselves. The company can organize three tours a day, taking a total of 36 people out.
“Even if your group isn’t able to experience dogsledding firsthand, due to time, budget or season, the dogsled experts can come to speak to a group about how a dogsled team makes a perfect analogy for leadership and teamwork in the corporate setting,” says Karin Wallace, regional director, Alberta for Cantrav Services, a local DMC.
For more low-key groups, downtown Banff provides a picturesque alpine village setting for attendees to dine, shop or even check out some live music. The Banff Collective owns restaurants such as The Maple Leaf, Bison Mountain Bistro, Park Distillery, Balkin and the recently opened High Roller, which features six bowling lanes and two bocce ball courts. Meeting planners can work with Banff & Lake Louise Tourism to organize a dine-around in downtown, where all of the restaurants are located within walking distance of each other.