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Vail events continue to adapt to ‘smaller is better’ format

Some of this year's COVID-forced changes to events may become permanent in coming years

Vail will have tree-lighting ceremonies this year in Lionshead and Vail Village, but those events will be held in a COVID-friendly way.
By the numbers:
  • $780,000: Total funding for 2021 from the Vail Commission on Special Events.
  • $3.6 million: Total of all requests for funding.
  • 61: Total applications for 2021 funding.
  • 52: Funded events.

After years of big-attendance, big-dollar events, Vail is learning to stay smaller.

Public health orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic have limited crowd sizes. Scrambling to do that this year has been successful, with good reviews from residents, guests and business owners.

That trend is going to continue through the coming ski season and into the summer of 2021.

Many of those events are funded through the Vail Commission on Special Events. That group has had its funding cut for the coming year, but still found funds for more than 50 events in 2021.

There are some new events, including a Vail stop from the North American Van Show. That show was supposed to happen in September of this year, but has been postponed to September of 2021.

Commission Chairwoman Alison Wadey said the show would have come this year, but was put off because wildfires in California forced some sponsors to pull out.

“It can be really COVID-friendly,” Wadey said, noting there are options to view participating vehicles on video screens, so poking a head inside a van is up to visitors.

Another summer market

Another new event for 2021 is an expansion of the Vail Farmers Market into Lionshead.

Wadey said that market organizers and town officials learned a lot from market operations in the summer of this year.

Wadey acknowledged there were a few “bumps” in this year’s market, particularly regarding limiting crowd sizes. The biggest bump was selling tickets to the event.

“A lot of Meadow Drive businesses weren’t happy,” Wadey said, adding that additional funding helped open up the streets to those who wanted to visit a business.

Wadey said the commission “was very confident” that market organizers can pull off a Lionshead event as well as one in Vail Village.

Wadey added that the “pop-up” concerts throughout the resort villages and at a new, smaller stage on the lower bench of Ford Park were all well-received.

In addition to music, Wadey noted that beer, wine and food events at the park were also popular.

“We got some really high (user) satisfaction scores” from those events, Wadey said, adding that plenty of space, short lines and the ability to grab a piece of lawn were all hits with the public.

Some events didn’t make it

While 51 events were funded, several events didn’t pass muster with the funding group.

The Bourbon and Bacon Fest Vail didn’t receive town funding, nor did the 2021 Vail Film Festival.

But the Vail Oktoberfest received funding, to the tune of just more than $53,000.

In addition to the commission-funded events, a number of ongoing smaller events through the ski season will be funded by the Vail Town Council.

Vail Economic Development Director Mia Vlaar said the calendar for the rest of 2020 will be released shortly. Those events will include skating, astronomy events and, of course, music.

“We’re learning and adjusting to this new reality all the time,” Vlaar said. “We’re discovering the power of intimate, smaller-scale activations.”

Those smaller-scale events can be effective right now, Vlaar added. “We’ve had so many limitations that we’ve had to come up with cool, innovative ideas.”

The town is looking at different ways to hold the 10th Mountain Division parades. The events may be “static” with displays guests can wander around to admire.

The town’s tree-lighting ceremonies in Lionshead and Vail Village are being designed so guests can space out effectively.

In addition to new, smaller events, town officials are looking to make some permanent changes to long-running events.

The Vail America Days parade this year went to static displays that guests could visit as they wandered through Vail Village and Lionshead. That approach proved so popular that town officials are thinking of making it permanent.

“We got great feedback on that,” Wadey said. “We’ve been discussing with Highline (Sports and Entertainment, the event promoter) what next year might look like.”

While the parade in past years has filled and emptied the town in a matter of hours, Wadey said businesses reported they had more consistent traffic through the day. That fills the age-old “now what?” between the parade and the afternoon and evening concerts and fireworks.

It’s too early to guess what effects the pandemic will have on the coming ski season. But, at least for now, it appears that smaller is better when it comes to entertaining guests.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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