Vail ponders cultural exchange with Japanese ski town |

Vail ponders cultural exchange with Japanese ski town

Officials from the town of Vail and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico were all smiles in 2015 when the two towns signed a cultural exchange agreement. Vail officials are now pondering a similar agreement with the city of Yamanouchi, Japan.

Where’s Yamanouchi?

• In the northeastern part of the Nagano Prefecture.

• About three hours by train from Tokyo.

• Near the Shiga-Kogen and Kita-Shiga ski resorts.

• Near the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park, home of the country’s “snow monkeys.”

VAIL — The city of Yamanouchi, Japan would like a cultural exchange with Vail. But what does that mean?

Sister cities agreements are nothing new, but Vail is looking to add to its fairly recent cultural exchange program with some real goals in mind.

Starting in 2015, Vail launched a fairly serious cultural exchange with the city of San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico. That city, with a history that dates back to the 1500s, is popular with visitors from Mexico City, like Vail.

The city also has a thriving arts and cultural scene, and is a United Nations World Heritage site. Yamanouchi is also a world heritage site.

Town of Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald said the exchange with San Miguel has been beneficial to both cities.

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“When we signed the (exchange) agreement, it had a lot to do with cross promotion for culture, tourism and, hopefully, education.”

mutually beneficial

Since then, town officials and local representatives from both towns have visited both places.

In February of this year, one of San Miguel’s best-known chefs was in Vail and put together a couple of tasting menus at Sweet Basil restaurant in Vail Village. Sweet Basil owner Matt Morgan said the nights were big successes, and helped both Vail residents and visitors better understand a bit of the culinary scene in San Miguel.

Morgan was on one of the Vail-to-San Miguel trips, and said he’s a big fan of the exchanges.

Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said exchange programs can be mutually beneficial for communities. Chapin said Vail representatives have learned from San Miguel’s cultural and culinary scenes.

Vail resident Barry Davis is the chairman of the Vail Commission on Special Events, a volunteer town board. Davis was in a Vail contingent to San Miguel during that city’s annual literary festival.

“We learned a lot,” Davis said. “There are a lot of things like that we could be doing … there’s an opportunity for us to export some expertise and to import some (from San Miguel).”

Chapin said San Miguel may have benefited from some of Vail’s ideas about maintaining an environmentally sustainable resort community.

‘it’s an opportunity to learn’

Chapin said San Miguel representatives realized the importance of those efforts, as Vail representatives gained a better understanding of the importance of culture and art.

“It’s been a neat exchange,” Chapin said. “A lot of our citizenry has the ability to travel, and they want to go places that are in line with our brand and our goals.”

Davis said there’s a similar opportunity with Yamanouchi.

“It’s an opportunity to lean, and to get better,” Davis said. Going to San Miguel was a revelation, particularly regarding melding historic preservation with modern features, Davis said.

Besides what the towns can learn from each other, Davis said there are opportunities for the communities to promote each other.

Chapin said there are some interesting opportunities for cross-promotion with Yamanouchi. A lot of people from Colorado seem to go to the Nagano area for snowboarding — Davis quickly, and with good humor, volunteered to head there on a snowboarding fact-finding mission.

That’s an opportunity for Vail, Chapin said.

‘we need to keep working’

“If (visitors) go there and learn Vail partners with this place, that’s great,” Chapin said. “It gets our brand out there to a new market, and recognized by a growing skier base.”

Morgan — who also with good humor volunteered for the first exchange delegation — said that based on the success with the San Miguel exchange, he’s interested in exploring an exchange with Yamanouchi.

“From a town perspective, it has to make sense,” Morgan said. “But we need to keep working on it.”

Chapin agreed that Vail needs to be selective in the exchanges it participates in.

Both San Miguel and Yamanouchi “align with our brand,” Chapin said. “Any time we have an opportunity to promote Vail on a world-wide level, we need to take advantage of it.”

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

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