Vail runs on visitors. But how to attract those visitors is evolving.
A good example is the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships. After a seven-year run in Vail, the last of the snowboard extravaganzas was held in 2020. The company in May 2020 announced an early cancellation of the 2021 event due to uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic still had much of the local economy shut down at that time.
Burton in the fall of 2021 announced it was rethinking the entire idea of the U.S. Open. A company representative confirmed the event wouldn’t return to Vail anytime soon.
The Burton show was an “unmatched event” on the winter calendar, said Brian Butts, the general manager for the Evergreen Lodge. Between the competition and the events surrounding the on-mountain action, Burton was “the winter anchor event, like the Mountain Games in the summer,” Butts added.
Burton also brought thousands of guests to the Vail Valley. The event was always held the last week of February, an already-busy time at the resort.
With Burton gone, at least for the foreseeable future, is it time to look for another big, mid-winter event?
The short answer is “probably not.”
In an email, Vail Economic Development Director Mia Vlaar wrote the town is “in the process of stepping back and creating an intentional strategy for special events.”
What that means is town officials are now looking at events through the lens of the still-developing Vail Stewardship Roadmap. That effort started in 2021 to find ways to welcome guests while still maintaining the experiences that draw people to the valley.
Part of what’s driving that effort is data about visitors, Vlaar said. The challenge is to apply that data in the context of the stewardship plan.
In the future “We’re probably going to step back … and be mindful and intentional in the way we go about events,” Vlaar said.
That doesn’t mean changes to the town’s legacy events — including the Vail Dance Festival, the GoPro Mountain Games and the Bravo! Vail Music Festival.
“Nothing’s broken there,” Vlaar said.
What’s going to change is looking more closely at ways to build times when a little more visitation would be nice — for instance, May and the weeks in June following the Mountain Games.
Whatever those events might be, though, Vlaar said the town needs to ensure they both draw visitors and are attractive to the community. The town also needs to ensure that future events align with the goals of the stewardship roadmap.
In the winter, Vlaar said the town and Vail Resorts need to work in harmony on events.
A new, big event is coming in April, a concert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Vlaar said an announcement of who’s on the bill is “very close.”
Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said local business owners “do miss Burton.”
But, like Butts, Wadey noted that Burton came during an already-busy time for the resort. Today, given continuing worker shortages at local businesses, many are learning to operate with smaller staffs.
“Right now I think (businesses) are happy with the approach that’s been taken,” Wadey said.
Building a better model
As the town’s stewardship roadmap takes shape, Wadey said she believes the town will be better positioned to find a model for group business that works better for both businesses and the community.
In addition to her work with the chamber, Wadey also chairs the Vail Commission on Special Events and is a member of the Vail Economic Advisory Council.
Those groups are paying attention to event proposals that are “more in tune” with both business and community desires.
Butts said the Evergreen and other properties should be able to still fill rooms during the last week of February and other popular times.
But, he added, “there are certain times we need help.” Noting that the town put “quite a bit of money” in Burton — $490,000 for the 2020 event — Butts said some of that money could be put toward events in times of need.
While Burton brought a great show to Vail, Vlaar said the event reverberated beyond the valley’s boundaries.
Burton “brought so much exposure,” Vlaar said. “It was great for Burton and great for us. But those times are gone.”