Vail Symposium commemorates 50th anniversary on July 30-31, 2021, launches year-long celebration |

Vail Symposium commemorates 50th anniversary on July 30-31, 2021, launches year-long celebration

The Nitty Gritty, an upcoming event put on by Vail Symposium, will address the geology, the environmental impact of extraction, the economics and the national security implications of rare earth elements.
Franco Antonio Giovanella / Unsplash

In 1971, then Vail Town Manager Terry Minger conceived of and hosted a once-annual, weekend “think tank” in Vail. Supported by Mayor John Dobson and other town founders and supporters, the idea was to formulate goals and ideals for the nine-years-young mountain recreation community to help guide future change. That “think tank” grew, morphed and evolved to become the Vail Symposium. July 30-31 marks the 50th anniversary of the Vail Symposium and to celebrate, the non-profit organization will spend the next year unveiling new programs, collaborating with iconic Vail organizations and producing the educational, thought-provoking programs that the community enjoys.

“Vail Symposium is one of the most venerable organizations in the Vail valley community,” said Kris Sabel, executive direction for the Vail Symposium. “In the early years we were integral in mapping out what Vail could become.”

The history

In the early years, the Symposium fostered the development of the Vail master plan, the formation of the Eagle Valley Forum, and was the platform from which President Gerald Ford made a major energy policy speech in 1976. Notable participants included Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Rene Dubos, Robert Redford, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, former Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus, Tom Brokaw, Sam Donaldson and sportscaster Bud Palmer.

By 1987, Vail was an established resort and other individuals and groups existed to define its future. The Symposium was cut loose from the town of Vail and was left to discover its new role in the community it helped to form.

“As the valley grew and developed, so too did the scope of the Symposium’s vision,” Sabel said. “Its public appeal widened, and the programming was guided by the growing desire of its members to bring more diverse experts and topics into the valley.”

The Symposium had many influences during this time of change—as the focus and mission changed, the programming began evolving as well. It was under Ebby Pinson’s leadership in the early 2000s that the program format changed to include program series including Hot Topics, Arts & Culture and Unlimited Adventure. In the past few years, newer series have been added such as Geopolitical, Financial, Consciousness and Environmental Awareness.

“It’s really incredible to look back at the speakers that we’ve hosted—from Robert Redford to Tom Brokaw, Sir Edmund Hillary to Sir Ken Robinson, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell to local athletes like Chris Anthony and Josiah Middaugh and so many others,” Sabel said. “It’s also interesting to see where our speaker alums end up—we’ve had speakers promoted to some of the highest echelons of government and raised on podiums for amazing physical feats. Our speakers truly represent a spectrum of excellence that is unparalleled for a community of our size.”

New for the 50th Anniversary

To celebrate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vail Symposium, Sabel said that there are a wide-range of program and events coming up—too many to fit into one day.

“July 30-31, 1971 was the first Symposium,” explained Noble. “We will kick off our year-long celebration on July 26 with a special program in conjunction with SummerVail Art Workshop (which also began in July of 1971) and the Town of Vail Art in Public Places. Details on this event will be released soon.”

In addition to this program, Noble said the Symposium softly launched a new series in conjunction with the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions program. Known as America’s largest discussion program on world affairs, the series will facilitate discussions about the most critical global issues facing America today; the first program will take place on June 16.

“This is just one of the new elements that we’re debuting this year,” Noble said. “We’re also looking forward to hosting Clay Jenkinson for three nights and welcoming back some of the speakers who visited in the early years. The 50th anniversary celebration and programming will continue through our winter season and conclude in June 2022. It’s going to be an eventful year; we look forward to seeing attendees virtually this summer and in person in late July.”

The Vail Symposium has hosted world leaders, politicians, authors, athletes, celebrities, Pulitzer Prize winners, adventurers and some of the most interesting people to set foot in Vail—and that’s just the first 50 years.

“I said in 2016, on the occasion of our 45th anniversary, that it seems that information is becoming more and more powerful and that being informed is ever more important,” Sabel said. “That has never been more true—and we look at the future of our community and consider our role in it to be a very significant one as we continue to bring experts in a wide variety of fields to Vail to share their knowledge and spread the wealth of information.”

The Vail Symposium Summer 2021 season began on Wednesday, May 19. Events are being released as they’re confirmed; the virtual nature of current programming means that events are coming together quickly as speakers’ schedules shift. Here’s a sneak peek at the season thus far.

Vail Symposium Summer 2021 Preview

The Nitty Gritty: What You Need To Know About Rare Earth Elements

Hot Topics Series

Thursday, June 3

6 p.m.

Rare earth elements are not actually rare, but they have been in the news. This program will address the geology (what are they, where are they found), the environmental impact of extraction, the economics (fluctuating demand, supply chain), and the national security implications of rare earth elements.

Crossing the Threshold: The Continuity of Consciousness From This Life To The Next

Consciousness Series

Wednesday, June 9

6 p.m.

Bruce Greyson, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, has been studying near-death experiences (NDEs) for almost a half century. In this presentation, he shares some of his most important findings on the nature of life and death, illustrating his research data with captivating examples.

Great Decisions: Global Supply Chains and U.S. National Security

Great Decisions Series

Wednesday, June 16

6 p.m.

New this season, the Vail Symposium presents Great Decisions programs developed by the Foreign Policy Association. For those desiring a more participatory experience, the Great Decisions programs involve advance reading, watching a short video, and participating in a guided discussion. Register by June 11 to attend.

By The People: Voting and Elections in America

Hot Topics Series

Monday, June 21

6 p.m.

Accommodations during the pandemic resulted in a widespread expansion of voting access throughout America–from 24-hour voting in Harris County, Texas to drive-thru voting in Arapahoe County, Colorado. Despite numerous officials from both sides of the aisle insisting the 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history, backlash to the expansion of voting access has been swift with restrictive voting laws under consideration in 43 states. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Catie Kelley, the Campaign Legal Center’s Senior Director for Policy and Strategic Partnerships, and moderator Peg Perl, deputy director of elections, Arapahoe County discuss the state of voting and elections in America.

David vs Goliath: Colorado Takes on Big Tech

Hot Topics Series

Tuesday, June 29

6 p.m.

In December 2020, Colorado joined 37 other states in a suit alleging Google is in violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The suit alleges that Google has a monopoly in search and advertising, discriminates against competitors, and continues its anti-competitive practices in emerging technologies. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is joined in conversation with Colorado Public Radio justice reporter Allison Sherry to discuss the suit.

The Foundational Freedom: Free Speech

Hot Topics Series

Wednesday, July 7

6 p.m.

“I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire

The Bill of Rights begins with the freedom of speech. From its inception the United States has championed the open and free expression of ideas, those widely accepted as well as those despised. In this timely program following the 4th of July holiday, Ian Rosenberg examines several of the contemporary, critical questions surrounding free speech and the Supreme Court decisions that may provide answers.



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