Wissot: A changing Vail is good for some, but not others
I distinctly remember the day I first laid eyes on Vail. It was Aug. 31, 1977, and I was driving across Colorado from my former home in San Bernardino, California, to take a teaching position at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. I only stopped to gas up the U-haul carrying my family’s belongings before leaving the crisp mountain air and driving towards what I soon discovered was the pungent smell of the Monfort feedlots outside of Greeley.
The moment was brief, but I made a vow then and there to someday live in what I thought to be one of the most pristine places I had ever seen. Twenty-three years later, I fulfilled that vow when my wife, Alyn, and I purchased our Wall Street condo on June 30, 2000.
For several years before we bought here, Alyn and I would spend as much time as we could enjoying all that the winters and summers had to offer. She was far more familiar with Vail than I was, having stayed at the now-demolished Roost Lodge in West Vail when she first learned to ski in the mid-1970s.
She was determined to become a proficient skier and used the mantra “the worst that could happen is I’ll die” to overcome her fears and bolster her confidence. I can assure you that mantra would never have worked for me, because I have an acute, unhealthy fear of death.
Another one of Alyn’s favorite expressions is: “The only person who likes change is a baby in a diaper.” Where she comes up with these lines is a mystery to me. Vail has experienced some discombobulating changes since we bought here. They have been great for those who can afford them. The same cannot be said for those who came here to ski and now struggle to earn enough money to stay.
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I understand why longtime locals have been alarmed by what has happened to Vail in the last two decades. Ritzy hotels, high-end shopping, condos selling for $3,000 per square foot, homes priced in the tens of millions of dollars, have transformed Vail from a legendary haven for ski bums into a rich person’s paradise.
And what has proven to be nirvana for monied tourists and second-home owners has not been for residents forced to move further and further down the valley — will people be commuting from Rifle in the future — because of astronomically expensive real estate prices, and for workers who cannot afford the rents or the rising living costs that have accompanied runaway affluence.
We could use a wealth tax on well-off people like me to subsidize more affordable housing and pay our workers enough money so that they don’t have to move to Timbuktu to enjoy — with apologies to the state of Montana from whom I stole the line — our own “last best place.”
Another change is the cultural and racial diversity of who comes here to visit. A video taken of the people walking in the village in the summer would capture Muslim women wearing hijabs, Hasidic Jewish men sporting side locks and Indian women in colorful saris.
In winter, I see more and more Black skiers headed toward the parking structure after a day on the slopes. That was not the case 20 years ago and is proof that skiing is not a racially exclusive sport. Fresh powder is oblivious to the skin color of the skiers skiing on it.
Two other groups from historically connected backgrounds are also adding to the town’s diversity. You can easily identify the visitors coming here from Mexico in the summer because they turn the village into a playground for families. From the kids and their parents riding bikes together during the day to the boys playing soccer under the lights at night on a makeshift pitch at Solaris Plaza, they take advantage of Vail’s communal charm.
Global warming is what has compelled many Texans to seek refuge from the state’s soaring summer temperatures and perspiration-provoking humidity. Texans don’t want to remain hostage to air conditioning and having to shower every time they venture outside. In Vail, you only need to shower once a day, and we don’t run the air-conditioning 24/7.
I’m encouraged by the fact that the Texans and Mexicans have let bygones be bygones and put the Alamo and the War of 1848 behind them as they each seek sanctuary in our unique oasis.
Having grown up in New York City, I am familiar with the energy, vitality and excitement that is generated when groups get together for frivolous fun. It is the reason so many kids from throughout the valley hang out in the village.
Nighttime is the right time in the summer for throngs of the young and restless to throw spontaneous block parties lasting into the wee hours of the morning. On most evenings, the sounds of drunken laughter and disco loud music coming from a nearby club lull me gently to sleep in my condo nearby.
I not only welcome it, I demand it. When the music and laughter fade, I can be heard shouting from my balcony to the revelers camped below: “Crank up the music and more drunken laughter, please. I can’t stay asleep. It’s too damn quiet.”
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.