Kick off a destination wedding weekend in the mountains with a bang. 

Photography by D’arcy Benincosa

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Traveling to a destination wedding can be taxing for guests. What better way to reward them than with a warm mountain welcome and a festive, outdoor barbecue? But we’re not talking any typical picnic. Think: massive teepee, bluegrass band, gourmet cuisine and pony rides for the kids.

Los Angeles lifestyle blogger, writer and video host Brooke Peterson dreamed of a “true destination wedding experience.” What does that mean? Event planner Meredith parsons of Bluebird Events explains, “Brooke wanted an intimate weekend at an isolated location where all her guests could stay and play.” Sundance Resort, nestled amid trees and winding paths, fit the bill. “Her number-one goal was to have everyone stay at one place and in room types ranging from studios to private residences. Sundance excels at accommodating varying guests’ needs.”

As visitors checked into their rooms, they were free to explore the resort at their leisure until the welcome reception began that evening on Ray’s Lawn, a central locale easy for everyone to find. Combining the couple’s bohemian aesthetic with a love of the great outdoors, Parsons and Peterson welcomed their guests to Utah in style. Here’s how they pulled it off with flair to spare.

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INVITE EVERYONE

Although the couple hosted a small rehearsal dinner earlier that evening (where closest friends and family received Navajo blankets as favors before they rode the chairlift up to Sundance’s Bearclaw cabin), all 140 guests were invited to the welcome reception. “Brooke wanted this to be inclusive of every single guest,” says Parsons, who suggests including welcome party information on a separate “details card” that accompanies the invitation suite.

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SERVE CUISINE FAMILY STYLE

Save formality for the wedding day. For this luxe picnic, Parsons favored multiple food—a less formal approach than a plated meal and more interesting than a single buffet. Tables offered traditional barbecue items like cornbread, slaw, baked beans, a baked potato bar, buffalo burgers, Andouille sausage, Anchiote marinated chicken breast, Southern pulled pork, chipotle and garlic-rubbed grilled shrimp and mixed berry cobbler.

Instead of using typical stainless chafers, the planning team presented the cuisine in beautiful serving dishes from which guests served themselves “just like at home,” she says.

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FORGET FORMAL SEATING

Incorporating the couple’s laid-back California aesthetic, Parsons used mixed seating arrangements with lounge groupings, several bar-height tables, plus a few dining tables surrounded by chairs. “For this very casual lawn reception, we defined the perimeter of the party with hay bales, rope and large lanterns,” Parsons says of the additional decor.

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SET IT APART FROM THE BIG DAY

How does one keep back-to-back events form seeming like the same event? “Style each event differently,” says parsons. “For Brooke’s welcome dinner, we kept it very casual. Yet for their wedding day, the couple hosted a formal plated dinner set inside the Redford Ballroom.” Black chivari chairs, black and gold taper candles and an Edison-bulb light treatment amped the glam factor of an otherwise rustic room.

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PAY ATTENTION

The only rule to weddings is that there are no rules. Traditionally, a groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner, yet today anything goes. “More and more brides and grooms are paying for the wedding themselves,” says Parsons. “Or oftentimes one side of the family will offer to pay for one or the other or both. Every situation is completely different.” She recommends broaching the topic delicately and respectfully.