by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Rocky Mountain High
With height and shape, colour and texture, mountains have always intrigued me more than other natural resources like oceans or beaches. Mountains have personalities and can be friendly and inviting, moody and foreboding, awe inspiring and remote. They are strongly symbolic, offering rich metaphors for human endeavour, for reaching beyond, for scaling the heights, for venturing beyond your comfort zone.
The Financial and Insurance Conference Planners Association, FICP, drew heavily and appropriately on all this imagery for its Education Forum which took place last week in Park City, Utah at the Montage Deer Valley. Entitled “Meetings Elevated” the Education Forum Design Team ably chaired by Jeff Leggett, delivered a thoughtful programme of inspiring education, effective networking and scintillating socials to just over 200 members and partners of the association. So, pun fully intended, what were the highlights?
1. The Resort
Montage Deer Valley, which hosted the event, is a perfect expression of the core brand attributes of this small but growing hotel group. Montage aspires to offer “artful experiences”. It strives for service standards at an uncompromising luxury level but wants to deliver them naturally and instinctively, without the pompous pretensions that often blight deluxe properties. It’s a kind of “new luxury” or “luxury re-defined” that’s in touch with changing demographic and lifestyle patterns. It’s understated, not extravagant, quietly confident not stridently opulent. I liked the guest room product very much – beautifully appointed and spacious rooms of almost 60 sqm with vestibules, walk-in closets, super-large bathrooms and a large sofa to sink into in front of your own fireplace. The vast main lobby area is dominated by a large feature fireplace and connects, on one side, with a panoramic terrace overlooking Deer Valley and, one the other, with a patio, complete with feature fire pits, facing Empire Mountain. There’s almost 5,500 sqm of meeting space.
2. The Education
The educational programme ranged from practical sessions on how to get the most from your iPad to motivational talks on how to get the most from your life. Thanks to the sponsorship of Goodman Speakers Bureau, SpeakInc and Keppler Speakers we experienced high quality professionals like Jean Chatzky, Juliet Funt, Ken Schmidt and Chris Waddell. Here’s some of the nuggets of wisdom they offered to us:
“Definition of financial fragility: you cannot lay your hands on $2000 in 30 days” Jean Chatzky
“Men relieve stress through sex and exercise, women through talk” Juliet Funt
“Harley Davidson’s largest competitor is not Honda, it’s golf” Ken Schmidt
“No one climbs a mountain alone” Chris Waddell
I particularly enjoyed Steph Pfeilsticker from Thrivent Financial who shared how she developed an idea hatched at an MPI event into a radical alteration of how her company handles meetings and the delightfully named Stormi Boyd né See (Stormi See – get it?) whose class on iPad usage was only outdone in passion and vibrancy by the remarkable patience and good humour she displayed towards a very mixed ability, motley crew of in-disciplined, wayward pupils.
3. Networking and Social Events
The opening party was a wonderful example of how competitors in a location can collaborate to create a truly impactful attendee experience, the whole of which far exceeds the sum of its parts. We started at the recently created 2,600 sqm event centre at the Stein Eriksen Lodge – amongst Park City’s largest location for meetings and events – and were treated to a breath-taking display of ski-themed acrobatics along with wonderfully tasty appetizers. We were then ushered onwards, our pathway lined with live vignettes of typical Park City attractions from fly fishing and mountain biking to skiing and horseback riding. Next stop was the chair-lift which whisked us exhilaratingly down the mountain to the awaiting transportation which delivered us finally to the hushed elegance of the confidently posh St Regis. There we enjoyed an elaborate, elegant seated dinner al fresco with two main courses – a Hawaiian Butterfish with Malaysian Chili Sauce and a Lamb tasting plate from a local farm set atop parsnip puree, summer peas, shimeji mushrooms with French buttered braising jus. The evening concluded theatrically with flourish and aplomb with a liquid nitrogen prepared ice cream served with homemade smores. Magic!
The final night, by contrast, was pure party with the entire upper lobby and lateral terraces at the Montage transformed into a magical wonderland of colourful endeavour and vibrant creativity featuring live artists and craftsmen, fashion models and artisan producers, accompanied by projections of famous paintings from Botticelli to Munch. It was a night to delight, a time to treasure with a constant sensory feast of textures, sights, sounds, aromas and tastes. We created our own photographic masterpieces setting ourselves in front of a majestic mountain scene; we embarked on a culinary odyssey to exotic places like India and Japan eating tandoori chicken and freshly prepared sushi; we sampled wine from local Utah vineyards and savoured 20 year old single malt scotch; we experienced the art of fashion too with astonishingly beautiful people dressed in beautiful clothes. And then we bopped ‘til we dropped almost out-dancing the repertoire of the super talented Metro Music Club who gave us Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder and Prince with a little blues interlude in between. Huge kudos to the Montage and to Nathan Boyd and team at RMC for such a memorable event.
4. The Destination
The 4th highlight, undoubtedly, was the destination itself – Park City. Offering two radically different destination experiences in winter and spring, Park City is a perfect location for small to mid-sized incentives and meetings where stunning scenery and active adventure are a key part of the programme mix. Host location for the famous Sundance Film Festival since 1981, Park City has a wonderfully supportive event infrastructure of great restaurants and venues as well as a beautifully preserved old town earning it a place in Forbes Magazine’s 20 prettiest towns in the United States. But it’s really all about the mountains. When you’re out there watching the sunrise as you hike along Mid Mountain Trail or feeling the sudden adrenalin rush as you mountain-bike through the silvery aspens you start to remember the song
“And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high”
A few shout outs
1. To Rob Walsh and the amazing team at DVIP, a DMC Network company for playing such a seminal role in the overall organisation and success of this event;
2. To Alison Hall and Dan Tavrytzky for the friendship, the hiking and the biking;
3. To Alison and Lydia for the dancing;
4. To Steve and the SmithBucklin team who pull it all together so effortlessly like gliding swans;
5. To Bob, Clarence, Diane, Julie, Isabel and Colleen for the hard work and the long laughs;
6. To Kelli, Jana, Shiela, Eldon, Marla, Lindsay, Caryn, Koleen and this time, especially, Jeff for making it all possible
Padraic Gilligan works for Ovation Global DMC and is proud to be a member of the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council at FICP