Vail has “friendship” agreements with three cities: St. Moritz, Switzerland, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Yamanouchi, Japan. A contingent from Vail this week has visited St. Moritz, the town’s oldest international friend.
In a phone call from Switzerland, Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid said town officials have been talking about a trip to the town since she was first elected to the Town Council in 2017.
This trip is about “re-igniting” relationships and exploring future partnerships, Langmaid said. A contingent from Vail has visited San Miguel de Allende and Yamanouchi in the last several years.
Those trips include taking in skiing and other social and cultural activities, but there’s also a good bit of work, looking into how international friends handle issues common to all resort communities.
Langmaid said since Vail’s mission is to be a premier international resort, “It’s important to understand what’s going on in the rest of the world … It’s important to reach out and have these conversations.”
That’s especially true these days, with war raging in Europe for the first time in decades and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still reverberating.
While Switzerland is relatively removed from Ukraine, Langmaid said the Russian invasion of that country is perhaps the top issue in Europe right now.
“They’re nervous about what the future holds for tourism, and hopeful the United States will play a stronger role moving forward,” she added.
Langmaid noted that St. Moritz is seen as the “birthplace” of winter tourism. But beyond the the centuries-old mineral water spring and ancient castles, Langmaid said the city, along with nearby St. Anton, Austria, can provide lessons for Vail.
The resorts have figured out how to embrace history while innovating for the future. Landmaid said as Vail works on its Destination Stewardship projects for sustainable tourism, this was a “perfect” time to see how those old resorts have managed to stay fresh.
Langmaid said she’s been impressed by the transportation systems in St. Moritz and St. Anton, adding that those cities are also putting more money into electric buses.
There’s a strong focus on renewable energy in both communities, Langmaid said, adding that she’s seen a number of old mountain chalets with solar panels on the roof.
While the European resorts may be ahead of Vail in terms of sustainability efforts, there are some common problems.
Both St. Moritz and St. Anton have housing challenges similar to those in Vail and Eagle County, complicated by the fact that those resort economies are more seasonal. Those areas are also seeing an influx of well-off people deciding to live full-time and work remotely from places usually thought of as getaways. That’s resulted in serious increases in real estate prices.
Resorts everywhere have had to deal with rises and falls in COVID cases. While St. Moritz still hasn’t reimposed an indoor mask mandate, St Anton just this week again requires masks in those places.
Part of friendship is reciprocity. Langmaid said the St. Moritz council is expected to vote in coming weeks to formalize continuing the towns’ relationship. And, she added, Vail can expect a visit from its Swiss friends in the next year or two.
A full report on the trip will be delivered at the April 5 Vail Town Council meeting.