‘Vailization’ a dirty word?
Sorry to break the news, folks, but in case you didnt know: Were the bad guys.Well, not us specifically, but Vail Resorts takes quite a beating in the documentary Resorting to Madness: Taking Back Our Mountain Communities, produced and directed by former ski-industry workers Hunter Sykes and Darren Campbell as the first film for their media company Coldstream Creative.Much maligned for the excessive sprawl, elitist air and their assertive business tactics, Vail is the epitome of mountain development run amok, narrates filmmaker Hunter Sykes. What follows is a chorus of talking heads from other resort towns, all proclaiming they would hate to be another Vail.Ouch. But once you get over the sting, the film has its points: Few can argue that the valley hasnt undergone a rapid expansion, especially in terms of real estate. Some of the land-trade deals involved in expanding resort territory seem shady at best. But while watching grass-roots community victories in Mammoth, Calif., and Mad River Valley, Vt., and a glowing portrayal of Sundance and Aspen Skiing Co.s environmental initiatives, its easy to wonder if Vails getting a raw deal.For me, (the film) was a lot about how Id been living in ski towns for all my life Id bitch and moan about what I saw, but I never did anything at all, said Sykes, who managed ski shops in the Vail Valley for several years and even had an internship at Beaver Creek. The real catalyst was when I was working in Vail. When we started to film, we were going to focus on just the environment. But the biggest notable effects were the loss of small businesses and the vibrant ski culture of the midlevel ski towns.
Sykes sought interviews with Vail Resorts but was denied access; perhaps as a result, the film seems a bit one-sided in its case against Vail. Whatever positive land-use processes Vail has enacted are summed up by the filmmakers in a short voiceover at the end of the segment rather than explained by a representative.We really did try (to interview Vail), and in some ways (the film) doesnt cover the bases because they didnt respond, Sykes said. They had preconceived notions. I tried to make a point that Vail does do (positive) things. Its a shame I have to say that instead of them saying it.Vail Resorts does have some initiatives worth lauding, like the resorts reliance on 100 percent wind-power credits and an ongoing plan with the National Forest Foundation to distribute $225,000 to local conservation projects in the White River National Forest. But Vail Resorts didnt want to comment on those projects in connection with a story on Resorting to Madness.We declined to participate in that film, and in that light I dont think its appropriate to comment on it, said Kelly Ladyga, director of corporate communications. Weve been collecting these funds for several months and will soon see positive impacts this is a completely separate story thats important to the community.Vail Resorts doesnt always deny interview requests company representatives just didnt think they would get their point across, participation or not.It just became clear to us … that the filmmakers were not going to be receptive to any opinion contrary to the premise of their film, Ladyga said. They were not interested in all of the significant efforts we undertake to be good environmental stewards.Ladyga also points to the Ever Vail project as a rebuttal of Sykes and Campbells film. The billion-dollar project will turn West Lionshead into a truly green multi-use resort village that will become the largest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified project. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a development meets accepted high standards for environmentally responsible, sustainable development as determined by a coalition of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council. When the opportunity presented itself to create a new neighborhood at the base of Vail Mountain that would be truly sustainable, we knew that this was the right thing to do for the environment, our guests, our company and the community, said Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz in a statement. Ever Vail will be designed and built incorporating the highest-quality materials and finishes and the latest in green building techniques. We know it will become a symbol of our intrinsic relationship with the spectacular mountain environment we operate in.That the statement went on to mention the 150 to 250 whole-ownership condominium units, 75 to 125 fractional-ownership condominium units, a 100,000-square-foot hotel, 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of commercial retail, office and restaurant space and a 100,000-square-foot mountain-operations facility sums up the paradox nicely. When a resort expands so prolifically, does it matter if its green? Does it matter that we enjoy the spoils regardless?
A Google search for the word Vailization turns up 200 matches; a few more years, and we may see it officially enter the nations lexicon. But what will it mean, and how will our fair valley shape its meaning?For Resorting to Madness, Sykes and Campbell interviewed several locals from each resort, but from our area only Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi and town of Eagle Open Spaces Coordinator Bill Heicher made the final cut. They helped capture what residents might feel about Vails expansion, but compared with other segments, Vail goes underrepresented by locals. They didnt really use much only 30 seconds at the end that seemed unrelated to what was in the movie, Menconi said. It felt a little bit like they wanted me to get on pointing the finger at Vail Resorts, and I said thats not where I go. I dont think its good to lump developers into any one group theyre a business thats seeking economic returns, and its the role of elected officials to negotiate on the community behalf so theres the right balances.Menconi also said he thinks Vail is on the right track as far as sustainability is concerned.Vail is doing a lot to be a forerunner in everything from LEED (building) to wind energy, he said.Heicher, a retired district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, weighed in on the environmental impacts of Vails expansion, especially regarding the displacement of elk in Bachelor Gulch.It definitely puts ski areas in a very poor light as far as the environment (is concerned), Heicher said. From my experience, the bottom line is money. They talk about being green, but not at the expense of making money. If theyre not making a profit, they wouldnt do it anyway.Despite Vail Resorts eye on the coffers, Heicher thinks the company might be taking tentative steps in the right direction.I see what Aspen and Pitkin County have done, and Vail and the Eagle Valley is following that trend theyre just 15 years behind, he said. Its a late start, but theres hope. But things are not going to be the same as they were 50 years ago.
Resorting to Madness has played at public showings in Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Summit County; Telluride; Aspen and Crested Butte, among other places pretty much everywhere but the home of the Big Bad. Sykes said hes made attempts to arrange screenings but was met with little interest.Ive looked to find anyone that might be willing to show it, and Im bummed that it didnt show, Sykes said. Theres a couple of copies out there, so hopefully someone will get one and show it.Sykes has a few theories as to why it hasnt shown in the valley.People in the valley get defensive because it attacks where they live, he said. Most of the towns I go to, theres pretty active organizations that are fighting against massive development. Pitkin has five or six, and Routte has two or three. In Vail, theres none. In Eagle County, theres only one.Wherever Sykes shows his film, he said, hes seen positive results.The most amazing example is from Crested Butte and Mammoth, Sykes said. After seeing the film, the level of attendance at the planning meetings doubles. More people are involved and giving money to local groups to fight for what the community needs and wants. At least in the short term, theres a surge in anticipation and the public gets interested and involved in the issues.The Vail Valley mightve missed its chance for a public screening: Sykes said he and Campbell have finished the primary rounds, and theyve already begun development of a new project.Its about trying to get the message out there, Sykes said. But it really depends on if anybody is interested at this point there doesnt seem to be anybody.Regardless of the films strengths and faults, both Menconi and Heicher think the community would benefit from a showing of Resorting to Madness.I think its thought provoking, Menconi said. It really lends itself to creating a greater awareness for decision makers on land use and understanding how one has to take community perspectives when negotiating land-use styles.Documentary films must have a point of view its the core perspective that makes a nonfiction film compelling. Whether you believe Vail Resorts is an evil, money-grubbing empire, a growing company striving to incorporate green ideals or something between, a showing of Resorting To Madness can only inspire discussion and community involvement. Be involved with the decision makers whether its town, state or federal government, Heicher said. As you go up, you have less influence, but the lower you go, those decisions have more of an immediate impact on your quality of life.Its amazing the amount of people who dont have a clue about whats going on in the world or our valley.