VAIL — This is Susie Tjossem’s third run for a Vail Town Council seat. Her first, unsuccessful, foray into town politics taught her a lot — mainly that she needed to be more involved in how the town works.
“Even when you think you’re an informed community member, you only know the tips of the waves,” Tjossem said.
After that first run for council, Tjossem applied for, and was appointed to, a seat on the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission. Her next run for council, in 2009, was successful, and Tjossem credits her time on that board as part of the difference in that second campaign. Now, seeking a second term, Tjossem said being on the council is one of those jobs that can’t really be prepared for.
Tjossem’s no stranger to big jobs. She arrived in Vail in 1974, a stereotypical Front Range college student coming to Vail “just for a winter.” Nearly 40 years later, her closest friends are the people she met in her first couple of seasons here.
“Those people are my extended family,” Tjossem said. Celebrating holidays together and watching each other’s kids grow up has been a “rich experience,” she said.
While Tjossem came to town as so many others did, she quickly landed on a career path with Vail Associates, the predecessor to Vail Resorts. She worked for the company for 25 years and was the company’s vice president of sports and recreation for Vail and Beaver Creek before leaving for a job with Vail-based Booth Creek Holdings. The Booth Creek job cut Tjossem’s business travel and allowed her to stay closer to home. She’s managed to stay even closer to home since 2007, when she took the top job at the Colorado Ski Museum.
That’s where Tjossem has really come to understand what went into creating the state’s ski industry. Working at the ski museum has given her a chance to get to know some of the pioneers of the business.
“I understand what drove Pepi (Gramshammer), the Slevins, the Gorsuches,” she said. “All the decisions they made were what was best for everybody.”
That Vail, when lift operators and the people who helped finance the resort all spent time at the same places, is a spirit Tjossem would like to see in town again.
But there are conflicts and difficulties in just about anything involving humans, of course. In retrospect, Tjossem said the current council may have tackled too much at once during the past couple of years.
“At one time we had the Town Hall, Ford Park and the golf course all at once,” Tjossem said. In retrospect, she said, “It might have been naive thinking we could vet all those projects at once. ... It showed our limits.”
The golf course controversy may have come from the council moving too quickly based on the results of a 2011 election that approved a series of projects to be paid for with money from a fund once targeted toward building a town conference center.
Now, with neighbors suing to stop a planned golf course clubhouse replacement, Tjossem said the town has to keep going with litigation in order to get a judge to determine just what is covered under “covenants” — items specified in the sale contract of property — before moving ahead with the project. Part of the neighbors’ lawsuit claims that covenants attached to the sale of the golf course property forbids creating the kind of clubhouse envisioned in the current plan.
Tjossem said backing down from that fight could have affected plans for recreational property throughout town. On the other hand, she said, “If we hadn’t lawyered up so soon, we might have found a compromise.”
It’s all been a lot of work — and headaches — for someone who has a full-time job as well as family commitments to both her grown children and her aging mother.
“The reward is being involved, being in the know, helping shape the community you’re in,” Tjossem said. “I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
And, she added, she believes she can be a voice on the council for those who don’t come to the meetings or send emails. Those people, despite their differences, are still in Vail for one reason — the place.
“We all came with a common thread — loving the pristine environment we have here,” she said.