Good news in 2020: How the Vail Valley shifted to smaller events to provide some needed fun
With big events out, organizers and artists got creative
Editor’s note: Ready for 2020 to be over? Yeah, us too —but not before highlighting some of the bright spots in a year unlike any other. Instead of doing a typical look back at the news of 2020, we’re focusing on the stories that showcased the indomitable spirit of our mountain community during a difficult time.
For most of its history, the Vail Valley has focused on thinking big. That changed in 2020.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting everything from restaurant occupancy to how many people can sit in a gondola car or lift chair, people promoting events have had to scale back their thinking.
The pandemic’s first shock in March resulted in a near-shutdown of the local tourist economy. Spring Back to Vail was the first big event canceled, with other big events soon falling off the calendar as the pandemic’s grip persisted.
A number of those events — but not all — can serve as a draw for guests.
As restrictions eased and lodges, restaurants and shops reopened to one degree or another, entertainment options had to be rethought. Shoulder-to-shoulder events at Vail Valley venues were out. In their place came smaller events.
Musicians played in the resort villages, allowing guests more space. Vail America Days was scaled back, and used a “stationary parade,” with static displays. Guests could wander around those displays in the resort villages instead of packing a parade route.
A small, temporary stage on the lower bench of Ford Park, near the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, quickly proved popular. Attendance was limited for events there — reservations were required — but guests reportedly had a good time, whether for scaled back performances from the Vail Jazz Festival, Bravo! Vail Music Festival or performances from the various iterations of the Shakedown Family Band.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater also hosted a few performances, all with scaled-down attendance — 175 people or less.
Those performances from the Shakedown crew did more than entertain guests. Those shows also provided paying work for local musicians.
The pandemic has also had a crippling impact on national touring musicians and local promoters.
The annual Bonfire Block Party — a June event in Eagle — was canceled. A two-night Bonfire event in July was also canceled just days before it was to take place, thanks to shifting public health orders.
Highline Sports & Entertainment, a longtime stalwart of the local events scene, announced in January that the operation had “gone dormant.” The entire staff was furloughed, and Highline co-founder James Deighan said the company had started to work with companies on COVID-19 testing and other services.
But the small events were popular enough in the summer that smaller is better is the theme for this winter, from small-scale musical performances to warming huts and fire pits scattered throughout the resorts.
It’s going to be some time before we see large events in the valley. Snow Daze won’t happen this season. Neither will the 2021 version of Spring Back to Vail. The 2021 Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, first set for the first week of March, was canceled in May of this year.
For the foreseeable future, thinking big is out, and small is beautiful.
A very short list includes:
The GoPro Mountain Games
Spring Back to Vail
Bonfire Block Party
Salute to the USA
Vail Snow Daze