Rosana and Johannes Faessler named 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year
Local couple has contributed decades of community-building support to a wide range of nonprofits and causes
Special to the Daily
In the Christmas season of 1979, a cozy, 37-room, European-style lodge near the Covered Bridge opened its doors for the first time. This may not have seemed like very big news in a 17-year-old ski town where new lodges often opened, closed, or traded hands.
However, the opening of the Sonnenalp hotel turned out to be a seminal moment in the story of the Vail Valley community. It is a story that has its roots in Europe yet branches into nearly every aspect of our community. It is not only a tale of the growth of a family business, but also how a caring and dedicated family has given decades of their time, vision, and leadership to grow and sustain our vibrant community.
That is why this Christmas Day, the Vail Valley Foundation announced that Rosana and Johannes Faessler are the 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year. The couple, who are proprietors of the Sonnenalp and the Sonnenalp Foundation, will be honored at the 2022 Black Diamond Ball at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa on February 18, 2022.
Since their very first days in the valley, Rosana and Johannes Faessler have been exceptionally active contributors to, and creators of, a wide array of nonprofits and institutions that are now pillars of the community.
They have provided lasting support to the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Health, ECO Trails, Vail Valley Partnership, Vail Veterans Program, the Vail Religious Foundation, the VVF Community Fund, and the VVF Engagement Committee. They established the Sonnenalp Foundation and the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center, and they host the annual Scramble Against Cancer and the Casual Bicycle Classic. They have been leaders in creating more sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices, and they are active in nearly all aspects of charitable giving, volunteering, and leadership in our valley.
“In Rosana and Johannes we have an example of what can be accomplished when caring, thoughtful people have the ability to understand the needs of their community and follow through on providing those needs with steadfast, long-lasting support, vision, and leadership,” said Ann Smead, chairman of the Vail Valley Foundation, who administers the award on behalf of the community. “Once they put their support behind a cause or a project, they follow through and find success.”
Smead has seen that impact first-hand working with the Faesslers on or through the Vail Valley Foundation Board of Directors, where Johannes has been a board member since 2008. Johannes also chairs the VVF’s new Community Engagement Committee, which is actively seeking ways to alleviate and improve the valley’s need for additional child care facilities. Eagle County currently estimates that more than 1,000 children may need or want licensed child care in Eagle County but are not getting it.
“Rosana and Johannes are two of the most charismatic and considerate people in our community, and they have always selflessly dedicated themselves to doing whatever possible to improve the lives of the people around them,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “They do this in a very understated way, and I believe many in our community may not be aware just what an incredible impact they have had on creating a better community for each and every one of us. They are very deserving of this award, and we are very pleased to help honor them.”
‘How do we truly make a difference?’
Johannes Faessler was newly graduated from the University of Denver when he first came to the Sonnenalp Hotel in 1983. His family had, for several generations, been successful hoteliers in Ofterschwang, Germany. His family’s choice to open a hotel in Vail was not whimsical, but rather stemmed from a belief that Vail was a special place on Earth and worthy of a long-term investment.
“This was not about coming to Vail and making a quick buck,” Johannes said. “It takes an investment of yourself, and time, and money, but we knew that in 20, 30, or even 40 years that the Sonnenalp would be awesome when it all fell into place.”
It wasn’t long before Johannes met Rosana, who hails from Brazil, and the two were married in 1985. Among the many interests they share is a strong desire to give back to the community.
However, they did not want to simply “give things away,” as Johannes said. “We were both fully invested in the community and committed to the long-term vision. We wanted to be able to really make a difference.”
In 1997, Rosana led the way to establish the Sonnenalp Foundation. The foundation has contributed to a host of causes in the community but is best known for its “Casual Classic” cycling event, which raises money and awareness for ECO Trails (since 1996), and for its critical role in establishing (in 2002) and supporting the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards.
“At that time, in the 1990s, Johannes and I saw that we could truly have an impact in our community by trying to take care of what we saw as very important needs in our community,” Rosana said. “The way this community has embraced these initiatives is truly inspiring, and we are so grateful for the incredible support and cooperation we’ve received from this community in our work.”
“The Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center is a name that has become synonymous with excellence,” said Dr. Jan Ugale, who was medical director for the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center from 2002-2020. “Rosana is the reason for that. She is a fireball, and she works extremely hard at the things she believes in.”
“They have a tenacity, an unwavering commitment to put their heads down and get the work done that’s needed,” said Ellie Caryl, who worked closely with the Faesslers on the Casual Classic and ECO Trails support through her role as former Director of ECO Trails for Eagle County. “They have continued to support ECO Trails, year after year, and it’s made an incredible impact on helping us be successful in the long-term vision of this project.”
A view of the future
When COVID-19 struck, the Faesslers were quick to adapt to the changing situation. Always known as a leader in the local business community, Johannes stepped into a key role on the COVID-19 Community Task Force to help navigate the difficulties posed by the pandemic and communicate with health officials about the intricacies of running a business in those swiftly-changing times.
The COVID-19 Community Task Force is only one example of how the Faesslers have led the way when it comes to important community issues.
Much like their work on the ECO Trails project, which began 30 years ago and is now nearly to completion, the Faesslers have steadfastly taken on a variety of issues and held true to the vision of seeing them through to completion.
Environmental stewardship, said Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid, has been yet another example of how the two have provided essential leadership.
“They have been admirable leaders in the sustainable business and destination space,” Langmaid said. “They have also always been actively involved with the town of Vail, with the community as a whole, and have been champions for local business.”
“Early on, we recognized that the true value of the Vail Valley is the beauty of its natural environment,” Johannes said. “This is something that we have to be highly aware of, and we have to do everything we can to keep it this way now and into the future, even if making some of these adjustments can be difficult at first.”
To make those first difficult adjustments — on any issue — and then to continue to work, to fine-tune, to never give up — these are the attributes that have helped the Faesslers build what started as a small hotel in 1979 into what is now Sonnenalp Properties Inc., including the Sonnenalp Resort and Spa of Vail, Sonnenalp Property Management, the Bully Ranch restaurant, the Swiss Chalet restaurant, and the Sonnenalp Club in Singletree, all of which are consistently ranked as some of the top properties in the world. Also, the Sonnenalp Hotel in Ofterschwang is doing well and is still managed by Johannes’ brother Michael and his family.
Rosana and Johannes’ success in business is one of many signs of a consistent and lasting dedication to quality, and to the quality of life of those around them. In their receipt of the 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year Award, the community is able to reflect those same ideals, and show them just how valued and remarkable their achievements have been for all.
Rosana and Johannes Faessler will be celebrated at the Black Diamond Ball Feb. 18, 2022, at the Vail Valley Foundation’s Black Diamond Ball at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa. Visit BlackDiamondBall.com for more information.
Tom Boyd is the former editor of the Vail Trail newspaper, and is currently the director of PR and communications for the Vail Valley Foundation.
What: Honoring Vail Valley Citizens of the Year Rosana and Johannes Faessler
Where: Black Diamond Ball at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa
When: Feb. 18, 2022, 6:30 p.m.
Theme: Bavarian Black Tie
Learn more: BlackDiamondBall.com