Vail and Yamanouchi, Japan, are investigating a sister city agreement |

Vail and Yamanouchi, Japan, are investigating a sister city agreement

A group of town government and other officials from Yamanouchi, Japan, spent a couple of days in Vail this week, part of an investigation into creating a sister-city agreement between the two towns.
Townsend Bessent |

About Yamanouchi

• 5,752 miles from Vail.

• Japan’s famed “snow monkeys” bathe in the area’s hot springs.

• Human use of the springs dates back more than 1,300 years.

• Yamanouchi is near the ski resorts at Nagano and a national park.

VAIL — For years, the Vail Town Council chambers had a flag from St. Moritz, Switzerland, touting a sister city agreement between the towns. But that agreement was more of a “you never call; you never write” arrangement. Town officials lately have been seeking closer ties with potential sisters.

The latest potential sister to come courting is Yamanouchi, Japan, a small city in the Nagano Prefecture. Those who follow the Olympics will recall that Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Games. The ski resorts in the region — particularly Shiga Kogen — supply the name for particularly epic powder: Nagano snow.

During a recent presentation to the council, officials from Yamanouchi traded business cards with their Vail counterparts. Officials also gave photo and video presentations about their respective towns.

The presentations included an invitation from Yamanouchi Mayor Yoshitaka Takefushi. With the aid of translator Eiichi Kodama, Takefushi invited a Vail delegation in January or February 2018.

Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid said she’d jump at the opportunity to make the trip.

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“I’ll clear my calendar to go,” Langmaid said.

‘Learn as much as we can’

Langmaid founded Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon and said a sister-city agreement with Yamanouchi could give Vail an opportunity to learn more about sustainability practices from another successful resort.

“We need to learn as much as we can learn from other countries that might be ahead of us,” Langmaid said, adding that she’d like to see multiple agreements with resorts around the world.

Vail already has an active sister-city agreement with the Mexican resort city of San Miguel de Allende. There have been a handful of cultural and culinary exchanges with that city during the past couple of years.

While San Miguel isn’t a winter resort, Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet said there’s a good bit of commonality between the two towns.

“Our customer base overlaps pretty substantially,” Moffet said. “When I was there, I was amazed at how many people came up to me and said, ‘My family’s had a place in Vail for two generations.’”

Moffet acknowledged he was skeptical about the arrangement with San Miguel until he visited the place.

“We have art and culture overlap, and those benefits are substantial,” he said.

While much farther away, there seems to be a good bit of cultural overlap with Yamanouchi, too.

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival includes a significant education component. In Yamanouchi, famed conductor Seiji Ozawa has for 30 years led music programs for students there.

But there’s the matter of distance. Yamanouchi is a long way from here: more than 5,700 miles.

Moffet noted that a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu takes about eight hours. A flight from Denver takes another eight hours or so.

Being on the same continent as Vail, San Miguel de Allende is a much shorter trip — 1,650 miles.

That said, Vail Mayor Dave Chapin at the meeting noted there are nonstop flights from Tokyo to Denver. There are also nonstop flights from Tokyo to Los Angeles, which enables a relatively easy winter flight connection to the Eagle County Regional Airport.

Despite the distance — and a relatively steep language barrier — town officials seem to like the idea of adding another sister city.

“Any time we can get our brand out to a new market, it broadens our customer base,” Chapin said.

As far as distance is concerned, Chapin noted that Australia is farther away than Japan. While visitation from Australia has dipped in recent years, that nation not long ago was a strong market for winter guests.

“They’re trying to achieve some of the same goals we are,” Chapin said. “If we can help each other achieve them, that’s a win-win.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.

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