It’s often the first glimpse of Lake Tahoe that truly captures the imagination of meeting planners. The Sierra Nevada mountain range encircling the blue, crystal-clear lake is one of the most beautiful sights in North America.
Add to that the array of outdoor activities available year-round and the variety of accommodations, from top luxury names to cozy timber-lined lodges, and the possibilities for groups to meet around the shores of Lake Tahoe seem almost as endless as the stars sparkling above on a clear night.
Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, straddles the California and Nevada border. It is a four-season mountain destination, its North Shore a 45-minute drive from Reno International Airport, while South Lake Tahoe is about an hour from Reno.
Tahoe’s ski resorts are renowned for breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada’s massive granite peaks and the lake, often seen glittering like a jewel thousands of feet below the ski runs. Each year brings a new round of improvements and additions to North Shore and South Shore ski areas, resorts and the surrounding communities that dot Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.
Even though winter season generates a lot of buzz for skiing, summer actually is peak season at the lake. Boating, hiking, biking and simple relaxation are the main activities for visitors who enjoy the fresh mountain air, alpine meadows of blooming wildflowers and sunny days with mild temperatures.
The North Lake Tahoe area offers more than 30 meeting sites with 200,000 square feet of meeting space stretching from the quaint Granlibakken resort and conference center on the northwest shore, across the towns on the north side (Tahoe City, Squaw Valley, Truckee, Kings Beach, Crystal Bay, Incline Village, among them) to the Nevada side and the historic Thunderbird Lodge on the lake’s northeastern shore.
North Lake Tahoe’s draw is the natural beauty and mountain village atmosphere.
“It’s one of the most beautiful destinations in the entire world,” says Jason Neary, director of sales for the North Lake Tahoe CVB. “What impresses meeting planners are the amazing recreational opportunities in both summer and winter and the variety of properties, from the mom-and-pop lodges to the major five-star brands.”
Properties with meeting facilities run the gamut, from the small and homey, such as Mourelato’s Resort, a family-run establishment with 300 feet of sandy beachfront and a boardroom for 15 that overlooks the lake at Tahoe Vista, to the largest, the Resort at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley, with 33,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and another 14,000 square feet of flexible outdoor space.
Other major North Lake Tahoe properties with meeting space include the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village and the two-year-old Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe.
“That’s the neat thing about Tahoe,” Neary says. “There’s the natural beauty, obviously, but you can find a meeting space anywhere and for every price range. We have the high end and we have the low end. And, we have such a myriad of outdoor activities available, probably more than anywhere else in the country.”
The opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe in 2009 at Northstar ski resort helped boost the profile of North Lake Tahoe by adding a AAA Five Diamond property.
“When I talk to planners in the Midwest and East Coast and encourage them to come out for a site visit, this has helped put us on the list of destinations they want to see,” Neary says. “Now, when planners are looking at Vail and Jackson Hole, they are also looking at Tahoe.”
Also helping the destination’s meetings sales is air service to Reno airport, according to Neary.
“For a destination our size, we have excellent air service,” he says. “Reno has 160 flights a day.”
Heather Allison, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe’s director of sales, says the 170-room property has introduced meeting attendees to a “whole new destination.”
“We were the first new resort to be built in a long time,” she adds. “Prior to our opening there was no five-star, five-diamond resort in the region.”
The property offers a wide range of opportunities for groups year-round, Allison says.
“You get two distinct experiences. We are one of the few properties at a ski resort anywhere where you can ski in and ski out at all levels, even if you are a new skier,” she says. “We have the gondola to ride to the Northstar village with 35 shops and restaurants. In summer, our location gives the feel of a pure, quiet mountain experience, an intimate retreat atmosphere, and we have more flexibility in doing events in the village.”
The lake gives meeting planners much to work with, according to Neary. Several destination management companies in the area offer paddleboarding, full moon kayaking, sailing, parasailing, gliding, sightseeing tours by boat and, in the mountains above the lake, mountain biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and hiking. Two north Tahoe area golf courses, Old Greenwood and Gray’s Crossing, are nearby.
One popular activity for Ritz-Carlton meetings is to shuttle attendees to a lakefront restaurant in Tahoe City in the late afternoon for a sunset cruise to historic Thunderbird Lodge and a lakefront dinner.
“Every group that comes in the summer wants to add a boat experience on the lake, and this is one of our most popular experiences,” Allison says.
Neary says planners often leave north Tahoe site inspections full of ideas.
“We track planners who do site inspections and almost 90 percent end up booking a program at Tahoe,” he says. “That’s why we are big proponents of having people come out and see us, enjoy the incredible clean air and rejuvenate in our scenic beauty.”
For the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (LTVA), it’s gaming, nightlife and the world-class skiing within 100 yards of meeting rooms that gives South Shore an edge in the competitive market for mountain resort meetings and conventions.
Mike Frye, the LTVA’s sales and events manager, says the opportunity to hold a meeting along the “casino row” corridor at major properties Harrah’s, Harveys, MontBleu and the Embassy Suites in South Lake Tahoe and then emerge to clear mountain air and hop on the gondola for the scenic ride up the Heavenly ski resort mountain is a strong selling point. And, it’s not only for skiers during the winter.
“For those who don’t ski, the gondola ride to the mid-station on the mountain at Heavenly is drop-dead gorgeous, and the Tamarack Lodge at the top has terrific food and a full bar,” he says.
Other meeting properties in South Lake Tahoe are a bit farther from the casino row at the California-Nevada border but are nearby and along the shore, including Lakeland Village, Inn by the Lake and the Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge.
“We can do pretty good-sized conventions with Harrah’s and Harveys, with both close to having about 30,000 square feet of space each,” he says. “There’s over 100,000 square feet of meeting space on the South Shore. We do a lot of government, corporate and association groups.”
The South Shore has more entertainment and nightlife than other parts of the lake, which gives meeting planners more to work with, according to Frye.
“We’re a totally unique mountain destination,” he says. “We are a terrific value and you can find properties that will work with you to get you some very good rates and make your meeting special. We’re the only area at Lake Tahoe where our properties are actually on the lake, and we can offer gaming, headliner entertainment and the biggest concentration of retail in the Sierras in one place. If you want a quaint little mountain village you can find it in other areas, but we have more to offer.”
The Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, within walking distance of the major “casino row” hotels, is home to the annual Celeb-Am tournament, which draws about 40,000 people each July. The course’s main restaurant can accommodate large groups for banquets in rooms with beautiful lake views, according to Frye.
Zephyr Cove Resort, just a short drive from Stateline offers two sternwheel paddle boats that can accommodate groups of about 300 for dining and sightseeing, including cruises to Emerald Bay, the jewel-like inlet on the southwestern corner of the lake.
Just steps from Harrah’s, Harveys, MontBleu and the Embassy Suites is the recently opened Van Sickle B-State Park, featuring trails and acres of spots for a picnic with views on the mountainside overlooking South Shore. It is designed to eventually connect with a longer trail system in the region, including the Tahoe Rim Trail that encircles the lake.
“If you’ve got a meeting and people are inside all day, they can take a break and just go outside a few hundred yards, walk in a forest, sit on a granite boulder and look at the most incredible views,” Frye says. “There’s no place in North America like it.”
It’s often apparent at the end of the meeting that it’s been a success, Frye adds. But how can he tell?
“People don’t want to go home,” he says. “They’re trying to figure out how they can stay and even move here.”
San Francisco-based freelancer Laura Del Rosso is the author of Great Escapes: Northern California.