Vail Valley Foundation: Still producing pearls |

Vail Valley Foundation: Still producing pearls

Italian World Cup star Alberto Tomba was among the racers who competed in Vail and Beaver Creek after the Vail Vallley Foundation brought World Cup skiing back to the valley.

VAIL, Colorado – The Vail Valley Foundation is 30 years old today, and what a ride it’s been.

Three decades – billions of details and decisions dealt with, millions of dollars raised and distributed, hundreds of thousands of people please and inspired, and one pair of khaki pants for Willie Nelson.

How time flies when you’re having fun.

The foundation was launched in 1981 to help bring World Cup skiing back to Vail, functioning as part of Vail Associates’ marketing department.

Three decades later, the foundation is responsible for just about everything but the weather.

Vail and the Vail Valley Foundation grew up together, says Harry Frampton, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors. It now handles cultural and educational programs, and athletic events, including multiple world championships and World Cup events.

“We are literally bringing the world to the Vail Valley and the Vail Valley to the world,” Frampton said.

The foundation took over raising the money and managing construction of the Gerald Ford Amphitheater – and now most of us cannot imagine Vail without it.

A group of local musicians threw a huge concert as the first gig there.

Willie Nelson followed a few days later with the first professional show. A foundation board member knew a guy who knew Willie, and knew that Willie was a golf fanatic back then.

So Willie showed up, soulfully singing that all his heroes were still cowboys, and went down to Arrowhead to play golf. The foundation got a call from the golf course declaring that while Mr. Nelson is a wonderful human being and a Great American, he’s not playing their course in blue jeans. So the foundation folks scrambled around for some khaki pants for Willie.

Willie played the show. Willie played some golf. Willie was a happy guy.

Just another happy ending in 30 years full of them.

As a general rule, the foundation doesn’t do pants, but they do everything else.

In that first year, 1981, the Vail Valley Foundation reached out to both body and mind, launching what would become the American Ski Classic. Later that summer, the foundation hosted the first American Enterprise Institute World Forum, an unofficial summit of current and former world leaders and international corporate executives. Former President Gerald R. Ford headed the World Forum. It was always a lively but closed discussion, Ford has said, with real world ideas often emerging.

Ford served on the foundation’s board of directors until his death in 2006.

“He was a great inspiration for this entire valley and the driving force behind the success of the Vail Valley Foundation,” said Ceil Folz, current foundation president. “Not only did he bring a tremendous wealth of experience and leadership to our board, but he and Betty really enjoyed participating in all of our events.”

The foundation did, in fact, bring World Cup ski racing back to Vail in 1983. The foundation brought the world to town in 1989 with the World Alpine Ski Championships, and again in 1999. They’ll be back in 2015. The World Mountain Bike Championships followed in 1994 and 2001.

Vail was one of the first major ski resorts to allow snowboarding, and professional snowboarding hit Vail in 2003 with the Foundation’s Honda Session. The foundation bought the Teva Mountain Games in 2008. International road bike racing returns to Vail and Avon this summer with the Quiznos Pro Challenge.

In 1985, the foundation opened the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, two years after they took over the project. Faster than you can say, “free summer concert series,” they launched the Bud Light Hot Summer Nights free concert series.

Besides the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships that winter, the foundation brought the Bolshoi Ballet Academy of Moscow to the Ford Amphitheater that summer. That beget the Vail International Dance Festival. In 2006, former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel was tabbed to lead the festival.

The Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek opened in 1998. In 2001, the Vail Valley Foundation agreed to manage it for three years. The two organizations merged last year.

And then there’s the mind. The foundation put together the largest college scholarship program in the valley, raising and distributing $1.4 million since 1992.

The Foundation’s Success at Six followed in 2005. It ensures that every family in Eagle County can send their children to full-day kindergarten. It’s joined by Celebrate the Beat, Sowing Seeds, the Magic Bus, First Notes, and the Vilar Center’s STARS (Support the Arts Reaching Students) program.

“Without a doubt, the education component of our mission statement is the most vital,” Frampton said. “We are determined to become the educational leader for Eagle County, enhancing and expanding the valley’s educational opportunities for all students.

The Vail Valley Foundation was joined by Eagle County to raise the $12 million for the Eagle River Preserve, public open space in Edwards. The 72-acre parcel opened in 2009.

“We are extremely fortunate to be operating in a community that truly values and supports the programs and projects that we are able to bring to the table,” Frampton said. “We owe it to the Vail Valley to provide the best athletic, cultural and educational opportunities that we possibly can.”

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