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STYLE Wedding

MOUNTAIN VOWS

It’s the allure of the vast, open spaces, however, that draws couples to these ranches, the connection to the natural beauty that is only enhanced by the rustic structures. 

Many guests find that once they’re ensconced in the serene expanse of the ranch, there’s really no reason to leave.

Perched at more than 10,000 feet above the ordinary world, it seems as if this space is what wedding dreams are made of.

photo by Polly Babcock

It’s summertime in the Vail Valley. Every day brings some new opportunity to appreciate this stunning setting from a blazing sunrise to the rainbows that pop up after an afternoon shower. It’s no wonder that so many couples choose to tie the knot in this idyllic location, whether it’s a local couple, former residents or long-time visitors. Each ceremony is unique, ranging from over-the-top opulence to intimate elegance but no matter what the theme, many couples are choosing to embrace the alpine atmosphere with an outdoor wedding.

Incorporating the outdoors is easy when you take the party outside and there are a wide range of opportunities in the Vail Valley. From mountaintop nuptials to under canvas celebrations, colorful Colorado sets the scene in these incredible outdoor weddings.

Not Your Typical Tipi

Wedding Planner: Joette Gilbert, Gatherings

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photo by Brent Bingham

The early families that settled in the Vail Valley, the farmers and ranchers, realized the power and beauty of the land. And though the area has changed, growing ski resorts rather than potatoes and cabbage, some of the family ranches remain. These rolling expanses, most often dotted with cattle, have started to welcome other large groups in the idyllic summer days: weddings. 

With incomparable mountain views and a veritable blank canvas upon which to paint a dream, ranches like the Eatons’ and the Oilers’ are ideal for those who want an atmospheric setting with true Colorado roots. And for those who want something a little out of the box, well, that’s where the tipis come in. 

A tipi wedding is a specialty of Gatherings in Vail. “I think the tipis are magical,” says Joette Gilbert. “I love that they’re shaped like mountains, which fits so well in our surroundings. “It takes an enormous amount of planning and a great support team to coordinate these remote, enchanting weddings. The memories are priceless.”

Because they mimic  the peaks of the mountains, these tipis are also called Kåtas, or “Giant Hats.” They’re originally from Sweden and were inspired by the Sami people of Northern Europe who used these traditional “Kåtas,” or Nordic tipis, as their home.

Fully customizable, each tipi is approximately 34 feet in diameter (with the sides lowered) and 43 feet in diameter with the sides raised and can accommodate about 65 people. Under the Sky  provides the tipis as well as specialized lighting and other accessories to customize the look.  

photo by Polly Babcock

Guests can rent one or more tipis, depending on their vision. However, the largest so far has been six conjoined tipis, explains Patrick Anderson, owner of Under the Sky and self-proclaimed tipi enthusiast. “It was like a village of tipis.”

There was one tipi with a massive bar and lounge area; another housed the band and dance floor. Yet another sheltered the dining area where Red Maple Catering created a stunning, gourmet meal. 

Though they make it look easy, Red Maple’s co-owner and director of operations, Fletcher Harrison, says there are some unique challenges for these under-the-stars events that hotel ballrooms don’t face — like running water, bars, staff, ice machines — elements that are missing in a field or at a working ranch. However, Red Maple’s professional staff, drawing on years of experience from establishments like Sweet Basil in Vail to Bellagio in Vegas, truly brings restaurant-quality cuisine to all of their events.

It’s the allure of the vast, open spaces, however, that draws couples to these ranches, the connection to the natural beauty that is only enhanced by the structures. The tents are beautiful, with rustic elements that seem grown rather than designed. It’s a perfect blend of shelter and space, allowing the party to roam wild and free as the stars dance in the night. 

Golden Aspen Elegance at the Ritz-Carlton

Wedding Planner: John Tobey, John Tobey Events

photo by Chad Chisolm, Custom Creations Photographer

There is no shortage of beautiful vistas in the valley and each season brings new colors, textures and highlights. At The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, the mountain is awash in gold as the aspens shed their green and usher in autumn splendor. It’s a beautiful backdrop for a ceremony, but the weather doesn’t always cooperate. 

The decision to utilize a tent is not always an easy one, says Shannon McLaughlin of John Tobey Events. Many couples envision standing in the wide open with nature as the only décor. However, the weather is always an unexpected guest. The solution? A gabled, transparent tent from Event Rents.  

“We definitely advise people that tents are sort of the thing in Colorado, just because of our unpredictable weather patterns,” McLaughlin says. However, the quality and variety of tents have certainly evolved from large canvas tents from days of old.. 

Situated on the social lawn on the south side of the resort, the transparent nature of the tent allowed the splendor of the aspens to be clearly visible, yet guests were comfortably seated on a level floor. Due to the nature of the tent, it provides a frame in which a wide variety of décor, like the crystal chandelier, can be added for an opulent touch. The gable ends of this type of tent (rather than the traditional hip or shift ends) also allowed for a more open feel and expansive views. 

Highlighting the stunning backdrop while ensuring a weather-proof ceremony, this wedding illustrates that tents can truly be transformative and provide a unique, open-air experience.

Over the Pool Paradise at Four Seasons

Photographer: Frances Marron, Frances Photography

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the wedding bridge at Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail could inspire a best-selling fairy tale. Suspended over crystalline water, the bridge is a metaphor embodied and has become the most requested wedding space at the resort. 

“The pool bridge is a signature wedding of ours,” says Amy Moser Harrison, director of sales and marketing for the hotel. “We definitely have more than five weddings a year that choose that as their ceremony… I actually just had this happen twice today, that brides call us specifically because they’ve seen a picture of our bridge ceremony.”

Perfect for larger wedding parties (150 guests or more), the bridge provides the perfect fusion of both outdoor and urban settings. Panoramic views of Vail Mountain can be enjoyed in the intimate, mountain-modern design of the pool area while the hustle and bustle of the Village pass by above.

The bridge is a product of Pink Monkey Events and Moser Harrison says that they have the setup down to a science: It takes less than 45 minutes to construct. In addition to the bridge, the space lends itself to an easy flow and a seamless transition from ceremony to cocktails to beyond. Lighting, flowers, décor and other individual touches are easily incorporated into the space, creating a beautiful blend of elegance and ease.

Couples may not always feel as if their partner walks on water, but for one magical evening, the storybooks will insist that it’s true at Four Seasons Resort Vail. 

An Outdoor Oasis at Piney River Ranch

Wedding planner: Kelly Karli Weddings and Events

Photographer: Shane Macomber

Some believe that the journey is part of the adventure — at Piney River Ranch, getting there is half the fun. Travel 45 minutes into the White River National Forest and leave the cares of the real world behind. Here a pair of bald eagles soars over the lake; a resident moose emerges at dusk for a snack at the lake’s edge. And over it all, Mount Powell presides over the expanse from its perch in the Gore Range. 

“Piney River Ranch has now become one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets for weddings because of the fact that it’s so unique, with it being located in the White River National Forest,” says Monique Busold, manager at Piney River Ranch. 

The wedding deck, which can accommodate 200 guests, juts out onto Piney Lake making ceremonies seem suspended in blue — the sky reflected in the water. Individual touches like elaborate floral arches are certainly possible but the views as you say “I do” are truly the most breathtaking element of the occasion.

“Let’s be honest, you can transform any ballroom to be the most magical space with design,” Busold says. “But that’s the beauty about Piney. You don’t have to bring a lot of design elements in because you have the most beautiful backdrop.” 

The incredible outdoors are not just for looks at this glorious setting. Here, guests can hike the Piney River Falls trail, kayak or paddleboard on the lake or try their hand at fishing. With six cabins and three glamping tents, friends and family can truly experience the splendor of the wedding location because it’s simply part of a wedding weekend.  

For couples that want to immerse themselves in the wild beauty of Colorado, a wedding at Piney River Ranch an ideal location that is accessible yet seems a world away. 

Boho Chic at The Collective 

Photography: Elisa Watkins Photography

When is a tent more than a tent? When it’s part of Collective Vail. 

A member of Collective Retreats, an “experiential outdoor hospitality company,” as Jordan Bibeau, director of groups and events at Collective Retreats, describes it, Collective Vail is located on 4 Eagle Ranch, approximately 30 miles west of Vail. Exemplifying the glamping movement, Collective Vail has created a luxurious retreat with 18 lodging tents – complete with coffee and tea service, spa towels and robes and upscale bath amenities –  that embraces the idea of wide-open spaces and an immersion in nature.

Though the location makes it easy to explore the nearby resort towns or grab a bite to eat, many guests find that once they’re ensconced in the serene expanse of the ranch, there’s really no reason to leave. 

“We provide unique overnight accommodations, locally-inspired dining, activities and a mix of indoor and outdoor event spaces to create authentic connections,” Bibeau says. 

Collective Vail caters to small weddings — 35 guests is the max that can be accommodated — yet  the small group engenders a  shared joy of the occasion and remains onsite to, perhaps  horseback riding, hike or fly-fish.. 

Bibeau says they’ve always worked with couples that appreciate a natural environment but they’re now seeing interest in open-air spaces beyond the aesthetics.  And, Collective Vail has the ability  to mix and match 
the indoor and outdoor spaces for its guests.  The ceremony can be held under the expansive sky while a temporary, clear-top event tent helps mitigate the unpredictable nature of Colorado weather while maintaining the outdoor feeling. What’s more,  fully catered experience, incorporating local produce and flavors to round-out the immersive experience allows event planners to help manifest the nature-based nuptials.

“It’s a beautiful backdrop,” Bibeau says. “Whether you want something really simple or something more elaborate, it really can be woven into the environment.”

Top of the World at the 10th

Wedding planner: Jennifer Pletcher, Gemini Event Planning

Photography: Danna Frost

Being in love can feel like being on the top of the world and for those who want to capture that feeling for their “I dos,” there’s no better place to pledge your troth than at The 10th. Vail’s premier on-mountain, fine-dining restaurant, The 10th is located atop Gondola One at Mid Vail, overlooking the majestic Gore Range. However, it’s not the dining room with its panoramic windows that beckons so many couples, it’s the expansive patio that is the perfect canvas for creating the outdoor wedding of your dreams.

“The 10th is so popular because you’re on top of Vail mountain and it is your private mountaintop,” says Jennifer Pletcher, owner and creative director of Gemini Planning and Design – one of Vail Resorts’ top planners —creating  more weddings at The 10th than anyone else. 

Yes, there are other airy options on Vail Mountain, like the wedding deck at Eagle’s Nest (which is booked in hour-and-a-half increments), but none provide both the space and the privacy of The 10th. 

“The only people getting out of that gondola after 4:30 p.m. are you and your guests,” Pletcher says. “You can celebrate out there and have your reception under the stars. We can put a clear top tent on the patio and you can go to 1 a.m.”

Ideal for weddings of all sizes, multiple spaces can be customized for various guest lists and visions. Parties ranging from 180-200 can be accommodated on the patio; the interior dining space is also an option for a change of scenery or uncooperative weather. Of course, almost anything is possible with the right planner, like building a custom tent between Chairs 3 and 4. Perched at more than 10,000 feet above the ordinary world, it seems as if this space is what wedding dreams are made of.

“Not only is getting married on top of the mountain unique, but there are so many ways you can utilize that space to make it truly unique to the couple,” Pletcher says. ”I think that’s why mountain weddings are getting so popular – it’s this concept of people connecting with something special that they can create a tradition with.”

From tents to tipis and over-the-water “I dos,” there’s magic in the wide-open spaces of the Vail Valley. Let Mother Nature provide the décor and gentle zephyrs set the rhythm for the wedding of your dreams. Whether it’s a party of 20 or 200, simple elegance or over-the-top extravagance, only the expanse of the sky will mark the limits of your love with an unforgettable outdoor wedding.