Vail Daily column: Hits and misses from a summer in Vail
Ryan Summerlin August 17, 2014
By the time you read this I’ll be gone. No, not dead. Just not longer in Vail. But before I went I just wanted to say thank you to the people of Vail for helping fill the last 10 weeks with some of the best experiences of my life.
A lot of you have asked me what my favorite part about having America’s Best Summer Job was. What was the best activity? The coolest hotel? The most delicious restaurant? And I do have a lot of thoughts; in my short time here I have had the chance to see the town from all sides. So as an outsider, I thought what better parting gift than to share those thoughts with you—in signature Vail Daily style, no less. I’m certain many of these thoughts won’t be new to you. And I hardly understand the intricacies of local politics. But I have grown fond of Vail summer these last months and I think it deserves an honest reflection.
HIT: Natural beauty. Every morning was somehow more beautiful than the last. I’m not sure how that is possible, but it’s the truth. The views from Vail are views I don’t think I will ever tire of.
HIT: A more contemporary aesthetic. The Bavarian thing was cute — in the ’60s. So I’m glad to see Vail is letting go of recreating a European town. It’s great to see new homes, hotels, even restaurant menus embracing a more modern American look and feel.
HIT: GoPro Mountain Games. Vail really has something special on its hands with this annual summer event. The collection of funky fringe sports are a welcome alternative to the ’90s-nostalgic X Games. I could easily seeing it becoming the kind of marquee event that thrusts Vail into the national consciousness, like a Sundance Film Festival or a South By Southwest.
MISS: Early closing times. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a restaurant a few minutes before 9 p.m. only to get turned away. I understand employees want to go home. Or go out themselves. But it’s ridiculous that children are still flooding the streets but restaurants have stop serving food. Do people in Vail not like to eat late or have they just gotten used to the early closing times? If restaurants stayed open later, then might people eat later? I’m guessing the fast growing Mexican demographic would certainly take advantage if they did.
HIT: Kids here are awesome. Vail is one giant playground. So what better place to grow up than on its jungle gym. From the 8-year-old who smoked me in the Berry Picker 5K, to the mature campers of Walking Mountains, to the guts of Keen Kids Adventure Racers, the tykes of Vail achieve big and often.
HIT: Summer arts. Back home, 80,000 people show up to watch the New York Philharmonic play in Central Park. Here, you have them all to yourselves at Ford Amphitheater. Bravo!, Vail Dance Festival, Vail Jazz Festival, Hot Summer Nights; I was consistently impressed with both the level of talent and the production values of these events. Who needs New York when the world’s top acts will come to you?
MISS: Lack of affordable housing/rent. To learn it is as hard to find an apartment in Vail as it is in New York City was disconcerting. Especially after learning how many mansions are used only a few weeks out of the year. In a town fueled by 20-year-old manpower, shouldn’t their cost of living be a priority? Same goes for small business owners. We are living in an age of entrepreneurs. But I’m afraid Vail’s real-estate obsessed property owners are losing out on a generation of hot ideas.
HIT: Free stuff. I feel like everyone is always giving something away. Was it just me or did everyone win a GoPro during the Mountain Games?
HIT: A new thing every day. I was here for 10 weeks and didn’t do the same thing twice. Not once. The variety of summer activities and sport in the Vail Valley is impressive to say the least.
HIT: Llamas. I spent two days with these funny looking animals. If you’ve haven’t hiked with llamas before, then you’re missing out. Licorice, LBJ, Trent: I’ll never forget you!
MISS: Lack of counter service. When eating out in Vail, you have two options: Cheap to-go or expensive sit down. For the hundreds of workers who can’t afford $40 entrees, counter service is essential. But with only a few quality options in Vail — Moe’s, La Cantina and Yellowbelly—most just avoid eating in town all together. And that seems like a big missed opportunity.
HIT: Free bus. For a fan of public transit like myself, there was no greater thrill than taking a free bus to a trailhead where I could disappear into wilderness after a few minutes.
MISS: A free bus does not a public transit system make. Question: Have you ever taken the Vail bus for a reason other than avoiding parking or drunk driving? I thought not. If you had, then you’d know that getting around Vail without a car is frustrating. ($50 cabs don’t help, either.) If Vail is committed to creating a functional public transit system, it should design it to benefit those who use it to commute, not just as a way to ease parking woes.
HIT: Flying. The last thing I expected to do in Vail was fly my first airplane. But thanks to the folks at Eagle Airport and Alpine Flight Tours, I was able to circle over Vail in a Diamond Katana.
HIT: Local guides. Be it fly fishing or mountain biking, rafting or kayaking, the guides I had in Vail were all consummate pros. Knowledgeable, educated, experienced and fun, I always felt safe on my adventures and am grateful for their expertise.
MISS: Competitiveness. It’s hard to be an amateur in a town of experts. And while there are so many amazing activities and sports to get involved in, it can be hard to find people patient and welcoming enough to do them with. Look, there is nothing wrong with being competitive, but just because you’re a pro doesn’t mean you should make a newbie feel bad for trying on your sport. We all hard to start somewhere, right?
HIT: Fitness. After a summer in Vail, I think I’m in the best shape of my life. Something about the air and the people just inspire you to live healthier. Here I found the motivation I never was able to conjure back home. And once I was in the hands of experts, like Jeff, Blake, Mandy, and Ellen at the Vail Vitality Center, I was on the fast track to a better me.
MISS: Town-mountain tensions. It seems everyone has an opinion on Vail Resorts. And it seems Vail Resorts has an impression of Vail locals. But in my short experience, it didn’t seem like either side had it right. And for a factory town like this one, the better either side can work for the greater good the better life and business will be for everyone.
HIT: Local talent. I quickly learned that Vail isn’t just billionaires and ski bums. There is some real talent in town, such as expert firefighters, accomplished chefs and cutting edge artists. Where else can you find the world’s leading sports medicine doctors and helicopter pilots in the same place?
MISS: Casual homophobia. This was one of the most disconcerting parts of my stay in Vail. But it’s important that residents know that this side of their town exists. I had insults tossed my way on more than one occasion and was even accosted on another. Blame the lack of openly gay people in Vail. Or the macho, competitive, Peter Pan-syndrome attitude young single males in Vail tend to develop. It’s a shame that I should feel less safe after two months in Vail than I have after eight years of living in New York City.
HIT: Everything happening downvalley. Though I didn’t get a lot of time outside of Vail proper (not having a car makes that kind of hard) what I saw and heard about Avon, Edwards and Eagle showed me that downvalley is really happening. From hot new restaurants to cool concept bars, that developing culture helps make the Vail Valley a more vibrant and exciting place to visit.
MISS: The valley’s success is Vail’s loss. Many of my “misses” seem to converge around the same point: Vail has forgotten the locals. Vail is too expensive, has a housing shortage, doesn’t support small businesses, has no counter service restaurants, lacks of nightlife. These are all things that matter to locals. And without them, locals will take the money they make in Vail and spend it somewhere else. That seems like a great loss both in terms of tax revenue as well to the local culture. For summer to ever truly be dynamic, Vail has to be the center of life for both visitors and locals. Because if locals like something, then you can bet tourists will, too.
Benjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Solomon has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine.