Outdoor Entertainment

How to plan the perfect event for any occasion. 

Quick, hide this article. Otherwise, you can’t take all the credit for orchestrating one stand-out family reunion, company retreat, friendly gathering, corporate conference, or other outdoor outing right in your proverbial backyard. As a gift to you, dear reader, the O/B planning plebeians have whipped up six schemes for successful mass assemblage—complete with suggested springtime diversions destined to reunite the crabbiest of cousins, the crankiest of coworkers, and the crustiest of college compadres. No Jell-O. No trust falls. And absolutely NO “icebreakers.” After all, there’s no better icebreaker than a southwest Montana spring.

Swank Ranch Reunion
What sounds like more fun—swapping stories about the good ol’ days with Aunt Edna… or bringing the whole family to experience it themselves on a Wild West ranch vacation? Southwest Montana is chock-full of dude ranches eager to host your extended family—and in scenery so stunning, you’ll be transported right back to the good ol’ days. Except now there’s indoor plumbing.

Awake to potent cowboy coffee, hearty eggs & bacon, and the quiet beauty of a Montana sunrise. Then take your pick of several equally alluring outdoor activities. Saddle up and steer your trusty steed through verdant meadows and pine-scented forests teeming with spring life. Grab a fly rod and chase brilliantly bespeckled trout as the pellucid water rushes past, making its long, lazy voyage to the mighty Missouri. Or strap on boots and hit a hiking trail to truck off those three pieces of Texas toast and take in amazing views of wide-open country and rugged alpine peaks. Other diversions include rafting, biking, and, later in the season, rip-roarin’ rodeo action at one of the many local arenas.

As evening settles in, gather your group around the dinner table and regale each other with stories from the day’s adventures. With bellies bursting, repair to the bar for a whiskey-ditch and a few more laughs before turning in. And when the sun again peeks through the shades, rousing you from your zombie-like slumber, you’ll smile at the thought of getting up and doing it all over again.

Tele-Conference from the Tram
Big Sky harbors more than just the biggest skiing in America—it’s also centered on one of the most beautiful peaks in America. And the best part is that it takes very little effort to reach the pretty lady’s tipity-top summit. (Perfect for the energy-drained office superstar who’s been on overtime for the past, oh, year.) If you’re lucky enough to host your conference, seminar, retreat, tradeshow, or other business-mixed-with-pleasure meeting in the shadow of Lone Peak, your attendees may be so inspired by the simple beauty of this little slice of Montana that they trade in their BlackBerries for a Grizzly Adams beard.

While that transition takes place, the friendly folks and bustling businesses in and around Big Sky are certain to keep you entertained. Stately mountainside meeting rooms are paired with earthy gear stores and funky local eateries. A wide range of shops provide a casual break from both mind-numbing computer time and adrenaline-filled outdoor action.

As spring claws its way toward summer, mountain biking trails (both downhill & cross-country) dry out on Lone Peak, and lunch breaks are well spent strolling up nearby Beehive Basin. Big Sky Resort also has numerous zip lines to test the mettle of your conference attendees, while the high-ropes course offers the kind of team-building you can’t get from a book or webinar. (Squeals of excitement and awkward, fear-induced flailing can’t help but bring coworkers together.) If your team needs to let out a little aggression, match up inter-office adversaries on the paintball course and let the best Rambo-wannabe win.

Open-Air Music
As winter’s stormy skies clear and the snowpack gives way to abundant green grasses, musicians from around Montana converge on local outdoor venues to usher in spring in style. Music lovers appear en masse, eager to shed constricting layers and loosen up their limbs after a long winter of pseudo-hibernation. From impromptu concerts on makeshift plywood stages to major annual festivals at professionally designed pavilions and bandshells, there’s no shortage of spots to gather ‘round and get down. See page 83 for a full list of this spring’s best social events set against the backdrop of a wide Montana sky.

Recession-Resistant Retreats
Current economic conditions may preclude a Mediterranean cruise for the staff this year, but there are options right in your back yard with plenty of bang for the buck. The Gallatin National Forest houses several drive-up rental cabins as well as backcountry abodes accessed by a short hike, bike, or horsepack. Most cabins can be had for as little as $30-$50 per night. The Battle Ridge Cabin, just a short hop past Bridger Bowl, adjoins Battle Ridge Campground, providing overflow for larger parties. Hiking and mountain biking abound in the Bridgers and Bangtails… or simply partake in some evening stargazing or wildflower walks with the HR Director. Show gratitude to your IT staff by roasting up their favorite kielbasa over an open fire, then break out some spooky office-product stories while toasting marshmallows (think Swingline staplers gone mad, computer-screen Poltergeist, etc.).

Another popular location for corporate retreats is Hyalite Reservoir. There are several large camping sites on the east side of the lake, so bring your canoe, kayak, or SpongeBob floaties and dive in. Stroll up the road to Grotto Falls or Palisade Falls, or for the more agro-minded, mountain bike up to Hyalite Peak and gawk at the emerging Crayola box of wildflower color poking out from the snow.

Livingston-area employers may want to consider the Mill Creek cabin for its proximity to good fishing on the Yellowstone River, rock climbing at the Mill Creek crags, hiking up to Elbow Lake, or mountain biking on one of the many trails in the area. Whatever your pleasure, just be sure to make it back to camp in time for your inebriated administrative assistant’s performance of Baby Bash’s cult urban hit “Cyclone.”

A Backwoods Bash
Couldn’t picture prim and proper Aunt El clambering out of a family-style tent in out-of-the-way Pipestone, MT? Neither could she, until she straddled a growling dirtbike and kicked up her first trail of prairie dust. Prove to your sophisticated out-of-state family that the motorhead, meat-eating, beer-swilling rumors about Montana are irrefutably true, then watch as they transform into the long-suppressed, rip-roaring hick buried within. Pipestone’s remote location ensures that your fam-damily can’t escape, and the slew of high-octane opportunities means that (after some motivational speeches, a couple deep breaths, and a few cheap beers) they won’t want to. Load up the four-wheel drive, stake tents at the primitive campsite, then set off for a day’s adventure: miles of trails await the engine roar of dirtbikes and four-wheelers as well as the panting of motivated mountain bikers.

If Weird Cousin Walter absolutely refuses to indulge his redneck side (come on, Walt, everybody has one), rope him up and send him high up into the alpine air. Many a climber has bonded with partners on the crack systems and face climbs at Spire Rock—choose from the multipitches of the King or the shorter scrambles of the Queen. Climbs range from beginner through 5.13, and bouldering keeps anyone without climbing equipment entertained.

Pipestone’s not without its educational merit, however. Take a break from adrenaline to marvel at the geologic spectacles along a guided tour of Lewis & Clark Caverns, or closer by at the nearby Ringing Rocks, where the legendary boulders mysteriously ring like chimes when tapped. There are even some small caves in the area for any would-be spelunkers in the party. Drive into Whitehall for dinner, and encourage the group (except your 16-year-old niece, of course, who through lack of seniority is stuck on Designated Driver detail) to join you for après-meatloaf drinks. A full belly and happy head will improve everyone’s ability to face the fam the next day.

Plan B (B is For Bozeman-Based)
When it comes to get-togethers with old coworkers and college buddies, do it like you did before you settled down: fly by the seat of your pants, keep your wallet mostly closed, and relax, maaan. With Bozeman as your base, details are as easy as posting embarrassing high-school photos to your Facebook page. A few well-placed sleeping bags in the den, backyard tents for the offspring, and an extension cord out the window for your friend Rusty’s semi-sized RV–throw in a bag of bagels and it’s bed AND breakfast. Set some chairs and chaise lounges on the patio, stash a few towels by the hot tub, and you won’t need the house for anything but cocktail-induced bathroom breaks.

Sure, you could sit about and reminisce for hours, but the ol’ roomies have procreated and the kids WILL get bored. Keep the minis entertained with in-town hiking or biking at Peets Hill, Story Mill, or the Gallagator Trail. Swing the young-uns by the dinosaur park on Bozeman’s west side for a more educational experience. Bozeman Beach, the pavilion at Lindley Park, and Bogart Park all make pretty spots for an in-town picnic on warm afternoons. Or rent your own party tent, stock up with industrial-sized boxes of burgers and brats, and invite the neighbors for the biggest bash your sleepy subdivision has seen in years.

After coffee, breakfast, and a handful of aspirin, motivated moms and dads can take in a scenic road-biking route or kayak the roaring runoff on the Madison or Yellowstone. Better yet, deck out the entire team in river gear and huck yourselves into the Gallatin for a wet and wild ride through the notorious Mad Mile. If that doesn’t whet your appetite for another massive meal and subsequent libations, nothing will.

With the wealth of springtime options in southwest Montana, retreats and reunions go from dreaded snore-fests to an eager aggregation of emails demanding “when’s the next one?!” Please, steal our ideas, mix and match, and bask in the compliments—but make sure to pass the torch on to next year’s host. Otherwise, don’t blame us if you get unanimously elected to host the next Family Reunion-O-Rama.

Who's the Boss?
Scenario A: You wake up, it’s your wedding day! Grab breakfast, wake your bridesmaids, head to the wedding location, spend the morning setting up, making flowers, setting place settings, putting chairs out, filling vases, etc.; then you rush to the salon, get your hair done, get into your wedding gown—BLINK, you’re married. Now you need to make sure the DJ starts on time, that your maid of honor is there for the speech, that the photographer is there for the cake cutting—BLINK, how did you get into your getaway car? And wow– you’re married!

Scenario B: You wake up; it’s your wedding day! You enjoy a cup of coffee, wake your bridesmaids, and head to the salon. While you’re getting pampered, you have a mimosa and chat about your excitement with your maid of honor. You get into your wedding gown and meet the man of your dreams for some beautiful pictures, you kiss your groom at the altar, you hug every guest… and the food is amazing! The details of your wedding are just how you wanted and more—because you remember how it felt to be a part of your own wedding day. 

Which scenario would you choose? 

Having someone else in charge—an event coordinator or “boss”—can help transform a hectic and stressful experience into the best day of your life. And this applies to all events, not just weddings. Call them planners, coordinators, best friends, devoted secretaries, whatever—these people are here to help. Event coordinators act as your advocate, communicating your needs to all the different entities involved in the event. They can also put out any occasional fires that might otherwise burn the place down.

A professional event planner can take things a step further. They know the vendors, processes, contracts, and tricks of the trade that will save you time, money, and anxiety. They’re experienced, educated, and they act in your best interest by alleviating your stress about the whole event. 

Successful events are all about logistics, timing, and attention to the details. But very few actors can direct and perform in their own plays. Very few restaurateurs can be hostess and head chef of their own restaurants. And no bride should have to be the center of attention and run a wedding all at the same time. 

So if you’re ready to have someone else—someone you trust—be the boss of your wedding or event, then you may just be ready to enjoy it as much as the guests. 

-Abby Turner