It’s a blizzard outside, fires are roaring in fireplaces and skiers’ and snowboarders’ heads are dancing with dreams of acres of deep, white powder and endless vertical miles. Summer is light years away. Not for the wise and savvy bride-to-be. If she’s like most brides, she’s dreaming of that summer wedding. Or, maybe the lacy flurries are reminding her why she and her beau fell in love with the Vail area in the first place. What could be more perfect than the Vail or Beaver Creek Chapel with a winter wonderland as a backdrop? Either way, the wise bride is already putting her ducks in a row for that perfect, once-in-a lifetime day. Now is the time to make sure you have venue in hand, wedding planner in tow and all the delicious details falling harmoniously together so bride and groom can truly enjoy that special day.
Eagle County is filled with dream-making options ideal for any fairy tale wedding – summer or winter.
”We are so fortunate; we have the best chefs, the best venues and the best views,” observes certified-professional wedding consultant and Mountains & Meadows proprietor, JoAnn Moore. From a touching outdoors vow under the rarified azure sky to a glam ballroom fit for a princess, there is no shortage of inspiring vistas and inviting spaces to make any bride blush.
But how does a bride-to-be reconcile her enchanting vision to what funds she may have available? What if she only has a shoestring budget? Can she still expect her dream to come true?
Absolutely. But it takes some forethought. Weddings are typically more expensive here in the Vail Valley than back home. What $10,000 might have conjured up in the mid-west or Denver just won’t go far here.
What draws people to the Vail Valley for a destination wedding is the gorgeous mountains. And they are available to anyone – regardless of the budget – whether on top of Vail Mountain or in some secluded, wildflower-filled meadow. An outdoor wedding can be as simple and fuss-free as an intimate “I do,” or as over the top as a movie set. Local wedding photographer Kelly Lemon, of Kelly Lemon Photography, observes many brides she works with are seeking a sort of mountain elegance for their ceremonies here in Vail. “More and more it seems, each bride I see wants nature involved,” she says.
Mountain elegance can be accomplished in many ways. Lexi Deluca, Marketing Director for Vintage Magnolia, says wedding parties love birch vases, which have a Colorado feel. And they tend to choose Colorado colors. States Lemon, “The Colorado wedding is different. Brides and grooms want to incorporate the active lifestyle of Colorado, and the things they like about the outdoors.”
Mountain & Meadows, which arranges an average of 20 to 30 weddings in the valley per year, frequently handles wedding budgets over $100,000. But the firm also handles weddings on smaller budgets. Moore reminds brides that even the sought-after chapels of Vail and Beaver Creek have fees that range from $1,200 to $1,500 for ceremonies alone. That doesn’t touch the reception or include transportation costs –whether limousines, gondolas or golf carts. Brides with a $10,000 or under budget, points out Moore, must be willing to make a few compromises with their visions. For instance, if there are going to be 100 guests, a $10,000 budget is probably not going to cut it – unless, the bride and groom are open to a fun wedding in the park and a festive BBQ dinner.
“Think outside the box, “ says Meredith Brewer, Director of Catering and Conference Services for the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, that handles small to very large weddings. Be flexible, she suggests. Like getting married during the week, or offering beer and wine or a signature drink to honor the bride and groom, instead of having full bar service. Or, serve simple hors d’oeuvres instead of a four-course meal.
No one wants to imagine a wedding without flowers – inside or out – and they tend to be a very personal choice. But don’t despair if your favorite flowers are orchids. Instead of having floral arrangements on every pew, be strategic. Deluca recommends waiting to order floral arrangements until after the venue is selected. “Some ceremony sites have such beautiful mountain backdrops that arches aren’t necessary, and perhaps two urns filled with flowers could frame the bride and groom,” she says. Providing pictures of what type and color of arrangements you have in mind helps everyone stay on the same page. Keep in mind, some wildly popular flowers, such as peonies or dahlias, have short growing seasons.
On-mountain ceremonies on Vail and Beaver Creek Mountains are favorites with locals and visitors alike. That is why Vail Resorts created a wedding deck on Vail Mountain several years ago, with, assures Vail Resorts Senior Group Sales and Services Manager Roger Markel, the “most spectacular scenery in the valley.” Beaver Creek’s brand new wedding deck in Rose Bowl, with stone amphitheater seating, has 360-degree views and trees wrap the deck like Mother Nature’s canopy ceremony.
Some people are surprised how many excellent golf courses Eagle County has – all with their own unique mountain settings and terrain. They’re always green during the summer, and the courses typically have generous and lovely clubhouses, with wonderful views and first-rate restaurants. The Vail Golf Course has an outdoor spot called the Island, with some of the best views of the Gore Range. It takes a little extra work to bring in the generator for the music and sound, but is well worth the effort and can be relatively easy on the budget. Or, just imagine a sleigh ride on a snow-laden course.
Richard Bailey, of Five Exquisite Tastes Catering agrees that outdoor weddings are spectacular, but notes that outdoor receptions – although equally enchanting – take far more planning and labor and tend to be more expensive. Often, everything must be a rented – from silverware to ovens and hot box. Also, there are electrical concerns: there might be enough electricity for an oven, but what about the DJ and PA systems?
Although couples may be tempted to skimp on the food to cut costs, advises Bailey, “when people come to our home, the Vail Valley, they want to be healthy, and they want to eat great food.” Plus, he points out, summer rains – or even snows – can spoil the outdoor party. “Indoors, seems to be a little bit better for the budget.”
Wedding Hoe Downs
The valley has fewer true working ranches these days than it did in its early homesteading days. But there are a few gems, which have morphed into wildly popular, and still largely wild places to have weddings and receptions. Guests can still witness (or participate in) cow wrangling for the true Western experience.
Wolcott’s 4-Eagle Ranch is regularly booked for weddings. Couples can be married in a small chapel on the ranch, and the large barn holds wedding parties of 600 to 700 people in comfort. Rehearsal dinners have lip-smacking, irresistible names like “Classic Colorado” or “Steer & Hen Combo,” and there is even a little winery to celebrate after the wedding. The ranch provides carriages so the wedding party can arrive in vintage style. Or, picture the groomsmen galloping over the horizon on horseback, or zooming in on snowmobiles.
Piney River Ranch is both blissfully remote and conveniently located not far from Vail. It has a pristine, postcard-worthy mountain lake and impressive mountain peaks as backdrop. Moose frequent the shores, and canoes glide silently over deep waters. Piney Ranch makes a charmingly rustic wedding site, which can handle 60 or fewer guests. A ceremony by the lake is stunning – yet a night’s stay in one of the cabins, yurts, or camping in one of the tent sites is an unforgettable (and an affordable) way to put up out-of-town guests.
Some brides and grooms are seeking to evade the wedding party scene altogether by eloping. With an elopement, the bride and groom can escape having to invite 300 people by going somewhere breathtakingly beautiful, and still afford to splurge on a fancy hotel or dinner at one of Vail’s famed restaurants. Photographer Kent Pettit of Pettit Photography says elopements are very special for him because they are laid back and make for more intimate photos. Often, he is enlisted to scout a beautiful, secluded spot for the ceremony, such as a spot on the Gore Creek or a high, dramatic ridge. Moore says eloping couples hire her to make their dream “magically appear” when they arrive. The dream might include a sweet ceremony on Vail’s trademark Covered Bridge, followed by a dinner for two with a private chef in their condo.
A more moderate budget of $10,000 to $45,000 allows the bride and groom a little more leeway in both what they include in their wedding and their reception. Studies have shown the average wedding entails 17,000 hours of preparation. Wedding consultants often charge by the hour or by package for a full-service event.
The same wedding deck ceremony on the mountain paired with the elegant Game Creek Club reception takes on a whole new level of mountain elegance. Smaller wedding parties fit cozily into its Club Room. But Game Creek can also accommodate 100 or more guests and a dance floor in its larger, Game Creek Bistro or dining area. Couples can keep costs in line by opting for a buffet of Game Creek’s excellent cuisine. Or, go all out with four-course plated meals and rent the entire facility for the evening for $17,000 to $20,000. Or, if the wedding party is small, go for the unforgettable pioneer experience with a cozy, yet gourmet dinner at Beano’s, Allie’s or Zach’s.
Donovan’s Pavilion at Donovan Park in Vail has proven so popular it is almost booked for weekends for the summer of 2012. Set along Gore Creek, below a lush hillside meadow, the pavilion has manicured lawns and a tree-encircled back patio for the ceremony or extended reception on hot summer nights. The pavilion holds 200 people and, points out Tracey Van Curan, owner of Foods of Vail, ”It’s a blank palette.” The bride can bring in her own vision by adding special lighting or any kind of décor. Says Van Curan, “I like to do anything that allows brides to put their personal stamp on it.”
Moore arranged a gorgeous wedding here on a Wednesday, with floating candles, a DJ and BBQ buffet for $20,000.
Of course, a blank slate can be very labor intensive, points out Moore, since everything must be created from scratch. But, just picture a wedding ceremony under a lace canopy upheld by branches, under the evergreens outside, with the creek murmuring feet away. At the other end of the spectrum, Moore was hired to plan an extravaganza here that included swans swimming in front of the pavilion when guests arrived. When she could not come up with swans, Moore arranged for a carriage to carry the newly wed couple from the gondola to waiting black and white horses that carried the bride and groom down the mountain.
Sky’s the Limit
If dreams include ballrooms and fine china, there are numerous grand places for a perfectly elegant backdrop in the Vail Valley. From the Lodge & Spa at Vail or the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa, to the Vail Cascade, to the Hyatt in Beaver Creek or the Ritz Carlton in Bachelor Gulch – there is no shortage of venues. Most fine restaurants and hotels, however, have a minimum guarantee amount they want spent on a reception held at their establishment, often $12,000 to $20,000. The fees are usually well worth the investment and offer special opportunities for bride and guest alike.
The Sebastian in Vail is known for its appealing design and engaging atmosphere. “It’s cozy, welcoming and unlike any other place in Vail,” says Tammy Cox, Wedding Sales and Conference Services Director. Close to Vail Mountain and just caddy-corner from the Vail Chapel, “We’re in the perfect location,” assures Cox, who can help couples arrange every moment with menus and reception to meet individual budgets and wishes. In fact, Cox helped arrange a wedding with a couple from Ireland via phone and Internet.
Directly across the street from the Vail Chapel, is the esteemed Sonnenalp Resort at Vail, with its well-known European flair. This choice location is why many brides choose the resort for their reception or wedding, notes the Sonnenalp’s Marketing Manager, Susan Mitchell. “It’s a great place to put up family and guests, as far as being a high-end hotel,” notes Mitchell. Here couples have their choice of venues, offering different price ranges as well as décor. The elegant Ludwig’s is perfect for any upscale wedding. The Bully Ranch, not only is a local favorite, but also is somewhat less expensive to book. For a recent wedding, recalls Mitchell, the staff even managed to conjure up a mechanical bull to perfect the western touch.
The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon was booked pretty solid this past summer – 20 weekends, with some of the weekends hosting more than one wedding party. Set along the Eagle River, with the breathtaking backdrop of Beaver Creek’s mountains, the hotel can accommodate wedding parties of 20 to 250 people. It has a spacious lawn that drops down toward the river with a beautiful and convenient spot to hold a ceremony. Next door is the ballroom with an ajoining outdoor deck that can accommodate a band and dance floor.
Bailey has been asked to create extravaganzas, such as a $400,000 wedding dripping Caviar, truffles flown in from France, expensive champagne and strawberries and vegetables from local area farms. Imported chandeliers were installed and guests walked away with cute packages of truffles shaped like tuxedos, cookies and chocolate dipped strawberries.
But you don’t have to spend a fortune for the splurges. An equally impressive, but surprisingly affordable option is the chocolate fountains Bailey produces. Dripping with Belgium chocolate, the fountains look and smell heavenly and become a conversation piece. He loves to pair a dark chocolate fountain with a white chocolate fountain and, when you add an assortment of cupcakes and chocolate-dipped mangoes and papaya – who needs a cake? Bailey can create a chocolate fountain and provide a “fountaineer” to run it) for $650. A basic wedding cake typically starts at $6 to $13 per slice.
No matter how much you spend on a wedding, it is the personal touches that make it memorable. Whether it’s flip-flops in a basket at the reception for guests to kick off their shoes and party down, or little bags of chocolate chip cookies and milk left by the bedside – make the wedding yours. “It’s your special day,” says Bailey. “You can make it as elaborate or easy and simple as you desire.”