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Lake Tahoe is easily one of the most spectacular wintertime getaways in the West, but you don’t have to go into "snow business" to show your group a good time.
From zip-lining excitement to Shakespeare beneath the stars, the region offers an avalanche of unique adventures—spring, summer, winter and fall. "Tahoe is simply an amazing destination all year-round," says Amelia Richmond, media and public relations manager with Squaw Valley USA.
Richmond points to Tahoe’s world-class skiing and snowboarding during winter and spring, summertime festivals and activities such as mountain biking and golfing, and adventures perfect for the crisp fall weather, including hiking and biking.
Spring is the most diverse of the seasons in Tahoe, running the gamut from skiing on the still-snowy slopes early in the season to sunny May and June climes that could give any attendee spring fever.
One new spring possibility for smaller groups to experience is a zip-lining adventure offered by Kirkwood Mountain Resort near the lake’s southwest shore, the ZipTahoe Treetop Canopy Tour. The outings—which take adventurous visitors from treetop to treetop via zip lines ranging from 250 to 600 feet—began last October and run year-round. They can accommodate groups of up to 10 at a time, with the tours lasting up to three hours.
Another superb outdoor offering come spring is getting your group into the swing of things with a golf outing, and it’s tough to top the setting at Edgewood Tahoe, nestled along the South Shore near the California-Nevada border.
"Edgewood is a public but upscale golf resort right on the lake that works very well for meetings and small conferences," says Bethany Drysdale, media relations specialist with the Nevada Commission on Tourism. "It hosts the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament in July and is a favorite among celebrity golfers because of its location, scenery and amenities. It can accommodate 40 to 250 for groups and meetings."
Edgewood also offers spectacular—albeit limited—lodging options that small groups might consider, including Twin Pines, a luxury estate designed by the famed Julia Morgan that comfortably sleeps around eight. Drysdale also recommends the property’s casual restaurant and bar (featuring an outdoor deck) and its more formal restaurant, featuring "a very high-caliber menu with dishes like organic chicken breast, elk and soy-braised pork belly."
During the warmer months, Tahoe is a sunny haven of swimming, hiking, biking and boating, in addition to unique offerings such as taking in the immortal bard beneath the stars at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival on the lake’s eastern shore.
"Lake Tahoe is a wonderful place in the summer," says Daphne Lange, marketing and communications director for the Shakespeare Festival. "From paddle-boarding on the clear blue water to enjoying a world-class theater production, there is something for every taste."
This year’s featured production is the popular comedic classic Twelfth Night, running from July 15 to Aug. 21, but the real star of the show is the enchanting setting at Sand Harbor State Park, which will have attendees feeling as if they’re in a midsummer night’s dream.
"Nowhere else can you sit on the shores of a 6,500-foot-elevation lake and watch a spectacular theater performance, all while enjoying a breathtaking sunset," Lange says. "It is truly a memory-making experience on the east shore of Lake Tahoe."
Smaller groups can enjoy the tasty but casual walk-up ordering system at Shakespeare’s Kitchen, or planners can arrange to use the Clarity Lounge, hosting up to about 70 guests.
A completely different experience can be encountered at the Wanderlust Festival, set for July 28-31 at Squaw Valley. The unique annual celebration focuses on yoga, live music and fun—with fire sculptures and a late-night dancing affair known as the Mass Midnight Twister among the highlights. A Kula Village offering two sound stages and various dining options is at the heart of the event, and groups of 10 or more receive discounted tickets for Wanderlust.
"Wanderlust promotes the collective experience creating an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and trust," says Jeff Krasno, a co-founder of the festival, which also has a Vermont-based version available in the Green Mountains. "Within this environment, people feel secure to challenge themselves and take risks. Attendees experience the best in yoga, music, and local and organic foods, tastings of sustainable wines, lectures and speakeasies held by inspirational and motivational leaders, group activities such as hiking or rafting, and personal time in meditation and spa treatments."
Falling for Tahoe
Showcasing fantastic foliage and crisp mountain air, it’s hard not to "fall" for Tahoe in autumn.
"Although summer and winter are considered our high seasons, one of the best times of year to meet is fall, when the foliage begins to change and the yellowing aspens provide a striking backdrop against the forest evergreens," says Jason Neary, director of conference sales at the North Lake Tahoe Visitors and Convention Bureau. "Fall is also a time of activity, with standup paddle boarding competitions, marathons and adventure races making for great participatory and spectator events."
Fall also marks North Lake Tahoe’s culinary season, according to Neary.
"Foodie events include the 26th Annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival and Lake Tahoe Restaurant Week, when meeting attendees can take team-building cooking classes and enjoy wine tastings and the best in mountain cuisine," he says.
The 2011 edition of the Autumn Food and Wine Festival is slated for Sept. 9-11, when it will once again transform Northstar-at-Tahoe into a culinary paradise of seminars, Iron Chef-like cooking contests and superb wine and cuisine samplings from vineyards and restaurants near and far. The capper is undoubtedly the grand finale on Sunday: the Grand Tasting and Culinary Competition, in which dozens of booths pair a fine wine with a superb small plate.
And if your group’s expectations go beyond wining and dining, Northstar-at-Tahoe boasts an array of outdoor autumn offerings. Mountain biking, horseback riding, golfing, geocaching, gondola rides, a ropes course and roller skating are but a sampling of the alfresco escapes.
Other "eventful" excursions can be made to the singular Camp Richardson, located on the southwest shore of the lake. The historic property hosts an annual Oktoberfest each fall, perfect for a group looking to get festive. The Kokanee Salmon Festival is another possibility, hosted by the U.S. Forest Service each October at its Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Lodging possibilities at Camp Richardson range from a handsome 26-room hotel to Richardson House, a mountain home sleeping 20 that might be ideal for a corporate retreat.
It’s not exactly a news flash that Lake Tahoe is one of the most splendid winter wonderlands in the world, with a trove of top-tier ski resorts and other properties offering planners a variety of venue choices.
What might be news to some, however, are the wintertime wonders available for non-skiers to enjoy. A good place to start is Zephyr Cove Resort on the southeast shore, boasting the largest fleet of snowmobiles in the nation and offering boating jaunts with breathtaking views of the surrounding snow-covered peaks.
"Zephyr Cove Resort’s location on one of Lake Tahoe’s most beautiful beaches, its popular activities and meeting space for 20 to 200 people make it the perfect destination for work and fun," says Lauren Pearce, spokesperson at the resort, adding that snowmobiling tours can handle groups of up to 180—and even offer unforgettable options like a monthly "full-moon" evening trek.
Attendees can also take to the lake aboard one of Zephyr Cove’s handsome paddle-wheelers: the MS Dixie II and the Tahoe Queen. Groups can join in on a regularly scheduled outing or charter one or both vessels. The MS Dixie II holds up to 320 for a private dining event, and the Tahoe Queen accommodates up to 150. The two-story yacht Tahoe Paradise is a sleeker alternative that will suit groups from 25 to 100 nicely. The jaunts run year-round and provide a unique viewpoint that many Tahoe visitors never take the time to experience.
As for winter celebrations, Tahoe’s well-established SnowFest marked its 30th edition in March of this year, with special events, parades, races, parties and concerts taking over the North Shore. Groups can break the ice with a "polar bear plunge," try out their snowman-building skills, or just savor the fantastic food and wine flowing during the popular weekend.
For attendees who want to stick to good-old skiing, there’s a brand-new way to plunge down the powder in 2011. Pacific Crest Heli-Guides (in partnership with HeliTahoe) officially added heli-skiing to the nearly infinite skiing and snowboarding options that were already available in the region. Professional guide service, safety gear and lunch are included. The operation is limited to a maximum of 16 guests per day, with a ratio of one guide to four guests.