Vail Chamber & Business Association: It’s time to act, not debate
When I moved to Vail in January 2000, I was on a mission. During and directly after graduation the previous spring, I had spent summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, working as an outdoor cook, hunting camp jack and wrangler for an iconic western dude ranch.
At the time, my tenure proved to show blatantly obvious facts of trying to establish a new life in the area. First, Jackson Hole was woefully behind on employee housing and access to year-round employment opportunities. Second, the small resort town brought with it personal growth and advancement issues for a young up and coming “professional.”
After leaving “Th Hole” in late fall 1999, I spent two months doing my homework on resort towns on the I-70 corridor, Utah, and Wyoming from my home in Pennsylvania. Mission critical to my future was finding a community with opportunities and competitive advantages in sync with my own personal goals at the time.
I sought an outlet for my skiing passion, quality of life within a mountain community where lifestyle advantages far outweighed cubical office and city life, and a place to put down roots where my future social and professional relationships could emerge. Back then, Vail and the Vail Valley stood out head and shoulders above all others.
Why? Primarily because employee housing was available and offered almost immediately when I arrived at Vail’s Human Resource office in the Seasons building. Nowhere else did this opportunity readily present itself. More so, I would have my own room.
At 22, I was over bunking up with others on a ranch and my dormitory years in college ended after sophomore year.
Back then, Vail Resorts did not own or manage the international portfolio it now maintains. I thought long and hard about the possibilities of growing within a corporate mountain company. Where else would have the most and best opportunities for advancement — locally. I knew that I did not want to live a transient seasonal life, and our local skiing environment was superb.
Flash forward 20 years to today. Being intimately aware and involved with the current housing crisis in our community, I am saddened by the unbending divisiveness among our local stakeholders. I will not go down the path of pointing fingers or bringing up the hot topic points of discussion dominating public comments at the town of Vail’s planning and environmental commission board, design review board and town council meetings, or subjective and often factless Vail Daily letters to the editor. Why, because “this too shall pass.”
What is more important and what we need to consider seems blatantly obvious to a business-minded individual with an advanced degree in “sustainable business” practices, a conservationist background (my uncle was the former head of U.S. Fish and Game), and above all respect for the culture, history and environment of Vail and the surrounding areas. Much like taxes, the only thing we can count on in our lives is change and death.
You may think you can cheat the tax man, but you can’t. You may think your short-term personal selfish wants will impact long-term community needs if you bark loud and often enough, but they will not, and ultimately one day we all shall pass on.
What is paramount in this process, and has been echoed since Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton stood atop the back bowls, is maintaining a fluid legacy for the development of the Vail Valley and Eagle County based on long-term need, not short-term wants.
Let’s now put to test the same scenario facing me 20 years ago. Is the Vail community losing its competitive advantage, allure, and ability to recruit and retain quality employees? With out a doubt.
If you think otherwise, I’m here to tell you that you are naïve. Our core industry has been fragmented by Vail Resorts’ own portfolio growth, creating more competition within its ranks and resorts for quality employees. The “pass wars” and progressive resort development at other mountain communities has also fractionalized the potential base for talent acquisition and retention. Finally, our ski industry faces a major crisis.
While Vail Resorts’ yearly announcement of pass holder or skier days growth seems great, the fact of the matter is this is not due to an expansion of mountain riders in our industry. Instead, it is by gobbling up previous unassociated Vail Resorts skiers within the EPIC pass system.
We are seeing a contraction in development of new riders and losing current rider numbers at an alarming rate. If you don’t believe me, look up the facts yourself at USSA.org. Therefore, our business community faces more competition today than ever before in terms of owner, guest, and employee attainment both year-round and beyond Vail Mountain’s ropes. We must act now in order to return to the top as a mountain community. Otherwise, we have no need for civic plans taking us from a nine-month to a year-round business marketplace.
A conversation with my 9-year-old nephew who visited here last week said it best and resulted in the following back and forth:
“I sure would like to live here when I’m older Uncle Ryan.”
“Me, too, buddy, I love this place and bet you would too.”
“But where would I live, Uncle Ryan?”
“Out of the mouths of babes” should come the committed action plan for our community, especially in terms of housing our most important resource we have in this valley — our passionate and hardworking multi-generational local base.
Ryan Kelsey is the director of sales and revenue for the Antlers at Vail, a board member for the Vail Chamber and Business Association, and with his wife, DiAnna, is co-owner of Healing Hut TCM, a traditional chinese medicine and holistic clinic in EagleVail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org