A Half Century of Convening Locally and Thinking Globally

Some would say that Vail was made, not born. Founded in 1966, this renowned year-round destination started because its snow and terrain were some of the best in the world for alpine skiing. In 1971, some of its leaders had an existential moment: If Vail was to be more than a ski resort, what would it be, and how would they influence and shape it?

Those early conversations led to the formation of the grassroots Vail Symposium, kickstarted by the town manager at the time, Terry Minger, and then-Mayor John Dobson. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, ideas formed in the Vail Symposium’s second year were incorporated into Vail’s first comprehensive master plan. The plan’s outcomes included Dobson Ice Arena, the Transportation Center, Ford Park, bike paths, and ideas for managing building density and protecting view corridors.

Vail Symposium’s mission remains evergreen: To provide educational programs for the Vail Valley community that are thought-provoking, diverse and affordable.

Now, the symposium is run by three-and-a-half staff members and a long and notable list of active and emeritus board, advisory and committee members. It’s almost entirely donor funded. “We present 40 to 45 programs a year now, partnering with other organizations for some excellent synergy,” said executive director Kris Sabel. “All of the programs are timely, covering important topics that affect our world.”

Overarching themes in programming include Arts & Culture, Geopolitical, Financial, Science & Technology, Environmental Awareness, Hot Topics, Speaking Locally and Unlimited Adventure to name just a few.

“Alpine Bank is a longtime supporter in addition to being Vail Symposium’s bank,” Kris said. “With COVID, the programming became entirely virtual in 2020, and the bank stepped up to underwrite it.”

Kris adds that now, people in as many as 30 states are tuned in to any given session or lecture by webinar, versus having every event in-person in the Vail Valley. Moving forward, the symposium plans for about a 50-50 split for video conferencing to live programming.

What’s in store for the next 50 years? “That’s the question everyone asks,” said Kris. “I think it will continue to be interaction with engaged community members who support our mission and yearn for content.”

To learn more about the 50th anniversary winter programming, see archived lectures or to get involved, go to vailsymposium.org.

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