Craig Northwest Colorado -- and Steamboat Springs in particular -- is a popular wedding destination for out-of-town couples because the rugged geography and gorgeous vistas serve as a memorable backdrop for a momentous occasion.
"I'm amazed at the number of people from out of town who get married here," said Jeff Little, owner of Ore House at the Pine Grove. "I think we do an equal number of receptions for both locals and out-of-towners."
Couples have the advantage of capturing the same ambience for their weddings at a more affordable price because they don't have to allocate part of their wedding budget for travel and lodging.
Whether you're a visitor to Northwest Colorado or a lifelong resident, planning a wedding in Steamboat boils down to the same two basic elements as anywhere else: deciding where to have the ceremony and where to have the reception.
Some couples choose one location that will serve both purposes -- a church, a lodge, a guest ranch or a mountaintop are a few examples. Others want a church ceremony, but choose a reception outdoors to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Or at a fine restaurant where their guests can enjoy a full-service dinner.
Planning the perfect reception is as important to most brides and grooms as planning the perfect ceremony, said Caroline Fisher, owner of The Perfect Occasion event planning in Steamboat Springs. After sweating the details of the wedding itself -- flowers, music, wedding dress, vows -- many couples are ready to let their hair down and show their guests a good time. But planning a reception can be difficult. Couples are often paralyzed by the vast array of choices, Fisher said. Outdoors or inside? Sit-down service or buffet? Live band or disc jockey? Open bar or cash bar? Casual atmosphere or formal? And what if it rains?
Luckily there are plenty of professionals to offer advice. Spending time with a wedding planner, a caterer, a restaurant manager or a hotel event director can clear up a lot of confusion about the costs and feasibility of pulling off the kind of reception the couple has envisioned. These wedding pros know musicians, bartenders and suppliers who can round out the details.
Money is the biggest consideration, Fisher said. How couples choose to spend it largely determines the scope of the reception. On a limited budget, some couples may offer guests a modest meal and make up for it with free alcohol and a rocking live band. Others will pour their resources into a lavish meal and forego entertainment altogether.
The tradition of the groom's family paying or the rehearsal dinner and the bride's family paying for the reception hasn't disappeared, Little said. In his experience, many families are still living up to those obligations.
But Fisher said it's a growing economic reality that couples are bearing more and more of the costs of their weddings and receptions.
So what can couples anticipate spending for a wedding reception? Food will usually determine the lion's share of costs. Generally, restaurants, reception halls and caterers come up with a per-person price to feed and serve guests. Little, owner of the Ore House, said most couples won't spend less than $20 a head and usually plan for quite a bit more. Having a reception at the Ore House means couples won't be charged for space and they can have it outdoors or indoors.
The Steamboat Yacht Club is another popular location for wedding receptions because it has a lawn overlooking the Yampa River and features an outdoor bar.
"In a given year, we book 20 or more weddings," said manager Liza Scudder. "Every year it grows. People want a wedding or reception that reflects the beauty of the area."
"We cater to most pocketbooks," she added. Prices range from $50 per person and up for a wedding reception, which includes the gratuity, tax, food and liquor.
"We can take care of an intimate party of 10 or serve 250," Scudder said. "Whether it's a casual affair or formal. Whatever the budget, they always get great service, whether it's barbecue for an entree or chateau briand."
Both the Ore House and Steamboat Yacht Club can give guests the run of the entire grounds or put them in selected dining rooms. They both do brisk business hosting rehearsal dinners as well.
The rehearsal dinner is a more intimate gathering than the reception, usually reserved for the wedding party, and often includes the clergyman and his or her spouse, plus the spouses and partners of the wedding party, grandparents and other favorite relatives, according to etiquette experts. Costs are again determined by a per-person price that reflects the menu.
If the prospect of paying $50 a head for a reception is daunting, there are more affordable alternatives. For example, the Center of Craig, a renovated church that serves as a full-service facility for weddings and receptions, charges $125 a day. But couples will have to book their own caterers.