Vail International Dance Festival 2015
A year is a long time, when looking to the future; in retrospect, a year is almost unbearably short.
I have now lived in Vail for one full year of my life. My 22nd year on Earth, I spent in Vail. My 23rd, I will spend in Asia. I hope it will be better.
Although on August 1, I knew a year had passed, the length of time somehow didn’t hit me until I attended the 2015 Vail International Dance Festival.
Watching the 2014 VIDF was one of the very first things my girlfriend and I did after moving to Vail. To return to the same spot, for the same activity, with a year between, really forced me to reflect on my year in a ski town.
The Vail International Dance Festival is an annual, two-week long celebration of classical and modern dance. Programming showcases everything from traditional ballet to YouTube sensations to newer, more urban styles of dance. There’s dancing in the streets, in the air; during these two weeks you might even catch some better-than-usual dancing in Vail’s limited number of bars. Where else can you take shots with world-famous ballerinas and dancers and not even know it?
That’s the thing— you might be able to brush elbows with those sorts of people in certain neighborhoods of New York City, or LA, or London, but you would know it. People who live in the hip neighborhoods know why they are there, and they know the pedigree that surrounds them.
Young people in Vail are almost completely ignorant of this pedigree.
Vail is simultaneously a ski town and a cultural center. Both identities are true for this town. But they are separate identities, for separate communities.
When we moved to Vail, we didn’t know this distinction existed. After a year here, it is easy to forget that the culture even exists. We nearly missed the entire dance festival, and my girlfriend was a ballerina for 17 years. It is a not-small passion of hers. But we have been running in circles which don’t think much of dance. In fact, one could say we have been running in circles which don’t think much at all.
The community in Vail is incredibly segregated. There are basically two groups: the ski bums, and the successful.
The Ski Bums
The ski bums come to Vail because they are young and unready, unable or unwilling to pursue a more traditional career. These are people from all across the world— people pausing for a moment: between high school and college; between college and the “real world”; between a divorce and a new life. The stories are endless. More often than not, these people are running from something indescribable, some existential fear of wasting their lives. Sometimes, it’s a more direct physical fear: a brush with the law; some bad blood back in Atlanta. Whatever the reason, the young, the disenfranchised, and the broke end up in Vail.
And despite their hopes, this is not a place where many change their fortunes.
The money here can be good, especially in tipped service-industry positions. The lifestyle is pricey, and if it’s not pricey, it’s lonely. Most people leave Vail with little more than they arrived with, despite some people making $20k to $40k per season.
Even with that, you still feel small in Vail.
Vail, Colorado, is a place where people come to ENJOY their fortunes.
Vail’s class of young service workers lives in indentured servitude to Vail Resorts. Vail Resorts, in turn, caters an experience to these rich tourists, an “experience of a lifetime” that is so sickeningly sweet, it turns the stomachs of the employees. Over this, a town I naively thought would be the site of a cultural exchange between the young and the experienced instead turns out to be ugly and bitter.
Vail is much better to visit, than to live in, I posit.
Because if you live and work here, it is almost impossible not to resent those that visit.
This past year, I occupied an awkward no-mans-land between these two groups. I am 22, college-educated, employed in my field, and have more than a few weeks of savings in my account. I telecommute to my job with Inside.com. At the 2014 Vail International Dance Festival, a kindly old man asked if I was a tech millionaire. “No, just work for one,” I replied.
I don’t belong in the traditional ski bum space. I did not wait tables, operate lifts, or get an employee ski pass. I found no peers in the Vail Valley. Ambitious young professionals do not exist here. The culture simply isn’t there.
Coming straight from university, this was an adjustment.
A few months ago, I applied for a second job at a local guidebook company I found on Craigslist. I was hired the second I walked in the door. “You have so many skills,” the recruiter said. My resume doesn’t list that many skills. At least, I don’t think it does.
Here in Vail, I think it’s the fact that I simply have a resume.
This is why I’m leaving Vail. This town doesn’t provide opportunity on par with its pedigree. Vail should provide a wonderful mix of people, young and old, learning and interacting and GROWING, as a whole. At least, that’s what I saw in my head during the 2014 Vail International Dance Festival.
In 2015, I just saw a bunch of privileged old white people, blissfully ignorant of anything smaller than Tiler Peck and the New York City Ballet.
Next stop: Digital Nomad.