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High Hopes for 2021: Valley Leaders Offer Lessons From a Hard Year and Their Wishes for the Future

This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on January 1, 2021.

Fireworks erupt over Vail to ring in 2021 on Thursday night. Chris Dillmann/

The longest year. The hardest year. Whatever you want to call it, 2020 has been a year unlike any in our lifetimes, and the impacts from a global public health crisis a century in the making will be lasting.

COVID-19 reshaped our world and left us grieving for lives lost, jobs lost and businesses shuttered. Lockdowns and closures of local schools and ski resorts tested our stamina. We kept loved ones at a distance and sacrificed beloved traditions and gatherings for the greater good.

Nearly 350,000 Americans have died from the virus as of this writing. More than 3,400 Eagle County residents have gotten the virus, and 14 have died from it.

While the pandemic is far from over, the year 2020 finally is —and that’s reason to celebrate and reflect.

We asked community leaders throughout the valley for silver linings from a trying year and what they’re hopeful about in the year to come. Here’s what they said.

Sara Amberg, Executive Director, YouthPower365: YouthPower365 programs strive to increase the resiliency of all the children we serve. However, we could have never provided a better living example of resiliency than what the pandemic has provided us all. Our staff and community have demonstrated, with courage and vulnerability, what it looks like to recover, adapt, and change through adversity. But most importantly, we have reminded our youth and each other that the most important ingredient to resiliency are our relationships — how we compassionately and consistently listen, comfort, and positively lift each other up. In 2021, we know that we will remember what got us through 2020, and I most look forward to seeing how strong we all will be because of that in 2021 and for years to come.

Ellen Bodenhemier, Eagle Town Council: The chance to slow down and simplify, fast-paced innovation amongst the entire globe and the great display of resiliency across all generations were silver linings for 2020. My hopes for 2021 are unity, solidarity, an effective vaccine and the ability to gather with friends and extended family.

Tom Boyd, Director, VVF Public Relations and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater: The music we were able to bring was all that more colorful against the backdrop. We may not have had as many people in the facility, but the amount of joy was greater than ever before. The love this community has for The Amp … in a year like this we were able to really see just how much everybody cares. There is so much to look forward to in 2021 that I think we are bursting at the seams. We can’t wait to hear that first drumbeat, the roar of a real crowd, the crescendo of Beethoven at a Bravo! Performance, cracking a beer at a Hot Summer Nights, but most of all I just look forward to being together again with everybody.

Dave Chapin, Mayor, town of Vail: The biggest takeaway is the resolve and coming together of our community during this pandemic to ensure we have the best approach and commitment to provide a safe responsible environment for our residents and guests. I’m hopeful for a day that can’t come soon enough when we can responsibly take off our masks and see smiles on people’s faces in public areas again. I’m hopeful we can reach a safe level of herd immunity to get past the pandemic. I’m also hopeful that we can return to our council chambers for in-person meetings again soon. Zoom has been a great tool and allowed us to maintain municipal function, but it takes away the personal touch and emotion of in-person meetings. At the end of the day, we’re still a small passionate community and I believe in looking someone in the eye, instead of a webcam, when making decisions to maintain the quality of life that is so important to our residents. I’m hopeful, of course, that precipitation — whether snow or rain — comes our way and lots of it! Like the world, I’m looking forward to 2021!

Yazmin Almanza with Vail Health tests a patient for COVID-19 Friday at the Dotsero Mobile Home Park in Dotsero. Chris Dillmann/

Will Cook, President and CEO, Vail Health: While the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 one of the most challenging years in our lifetime, it also underscored things about this valley that make it one of the best places on earth to live including, but not limited to, our best-in-the state baseline health that helped fend off the lethal effects of the virus, the importance and timing of the significant behavioral health investments, our creativity and resiliency with navigating the direct threats of the virus and its ripple effect, and the collaborative spirit and teamwork exhibited by government, nonprofits, the business sector and our community at large. As we look toward 2021, the widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine brings a sense of hope for a return to a more normal way of life, and my hope is that we continue the collaboration and partnership that was revealed to be our community’s greatest strength during the pandemic.

Greg Daly, Chief of Police, town of Avon: My biggest takeaway has been the incredible collaboration and caring on so many levels in Eagle County through the last 11 months. We have had a weekly Monday morning public health meeting since the start and everyone has had a singular mission of working through this ongoing pandemic problem and constantly finding solutions. I know that we have a unique ability here in Eagle County to collaborate among law enforcement, first responders, county and municipal governments, emergency management, private sector, nonprofits and medical agencies. Additionally, I am proud of our kids who have had to adapt and overcome to ever-changing school and college environments to maintain advancing in their educational pursuits. 2020 has been the year where wearing face coverings/masks, Zoom and social distancing has become the new normal for our children. In 2021, I hope it will get better, though vaccinations and bolstering a herd immunity for our nation and being able to hug our loved ones who we have not seen in a long time again.

Susie Davis, Director of Community Impact, Eagle Valley Community Foundation: We learned a lot about becoming courageous in 2020. The courage to trust one another, to trust the medical professionals, and to trust science. The courage to make use of what we have. The courage to see that inequities cause suffering. The courage to glimpse our implicit biases. The courage that comes through the pain of loss. In 2021, my hope is for courage to remember and to keep learning.

Dwight Henninger, Chief of Police, Vail Police Department: We are a resilient community that has pulled together in a difficult time! I’m very proud of the work that Eagle County government has done to lead the COVID-19 response. I am very appreciative of the flexible response from all first responders to all we have asked from them. Plus I learned how to use Zoom and Ring! As we are receiving the vaccine, I look forward to meeting in-person with people again to continue the work of building and rebuilding trust in policing in the valley and nationwide.

People walk through Vail Village during a Black Lives Matter protest in June. The demonstration lasted more than an hour. Chris Dillmann/

Nadia Guerriero, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Beaver Creek Resort: I’m proud of and inspired by our Beaver Creek team. We came together this season, more than ever before, to reopen our resorts safely for both summer and winter. Through all that this year has challenged us with, I have a renewed appreciation of the things that matter most: time spent with my family, meaningful relationships, and the value of courageous and daring leadership. In 2021, I am hopeful that we continue on this path of working together to get through the pandemic, and move toward recovery for our entire community.

Beth Howard, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Vail Mountain: This past year was challenging for everyone, and I am so grateful for this community and proud of how we all came together to focus on safety and move towards recovery. The Vail Valley is stronger and closer than ever before. I am also thankful for the entire Vail Mountain team who was able to safely return to work amidst the most challenging circumstances. This is the hardest working and most dedicated team I have ever been a part of, and I’m looking forward to us thriving and delivering an amazing mountain experience to our community and guests this winter. This will be a ski season I’ll never forget thanks to this team. I am hopeful for a healthy and happy New Year and I wish this entire community the best.

Duncan Horner, Executive Director, Vilar Performing Arts Center: This year is one we’ll reflect back on in years to come as a transformational time in history. Something this big doesn’t happen often within our lifetimes and when it does it exposes a lot about ourselves and those that surround us. This valley attracts people with a sense of adventure and, during times of crisis, it’s reassuring to know that the determined spirit of the Eagle County community will only serve to further strengthen us! Even though it’s now time for me to bow out and return back to my homeland, you have all inspired me to look at the world very differently and I remain eternally grateful for that. I raise a half-full glass to you all: Cheers!

Students make their way into Avon Elementary School for the first day of school in August. Chris Dillmann/

Mike Imhof, President, Vail Valley Foundation: A silver lining for me is the incredible generosity of spirit we have seen from so many individuals who stepped forward to do whatever they could to assist those who are suffering or have been hit hardest by the consequences of the pandemic. In 2021, we look forward to a year of vitality for everyone in our community, and a return to work and health for those hardest hit.

Sarah Johnson, Vail Valley Foundation Senior Vice President of Philanthropy & Vail Dance Festival: A silver lining for the Vail Dance Festival was sharing the artistry that we so enjoy in our special corner of the world with viewers from 22 countries — many of whom would never be able to attend in person. We heard countless stories from artists and supporters who were able to digitally share the festival with friends and family showcasing the very best of what the summer stage in Vail has to offer! We look forward to being on stage again in 2021 and seeing all our old friends and “family” of the Vail Dance Festival.

Amy Cramer Phillips, Mayor Pro-tem, town of Avon: Eagle County as a community has provided many resources to those in need. We have pulled together to creatively weather this storm in a caring and humane way. Many egos were put aside to insure the best possible outcomes for the vast majority of residents. I am proud to have been part of the solutions and I look forward to what we do in 2021 to catapult our community back into prosperity. Being a member of the Heart of the Valley has never been so rewarding.

Elbow bumps are given along with air high fives at the appreciation parade for Vail Health employees in Vail. The “parade” was made up of various first responders around Eagle County. Chris Dillmann/

Scott Prince, Avon Town Council: We are so fortunate to live in a community surrounded by the outdoors, and our community does not take this for granted. From the onset of the pandemic, it was remarkable to see hundreds of neighbors walking outside every day and everyone was so friendly and respectful of each other’s space. I have confidence our communities, residents, and businesses will continue to work together to get through the pandemic and as a result, we will be better in the long run.

Scott Robson, Town Manager, town of Vail: From my perspective, 2020 has highlighted what a supportive and giving community the Vail Valley is, from the basic life support that continues to be provided to those individuals in the most need, to multi-layered efforts meant to sustain the restaurant and retail community. My family and I moved to Vail just four months before the public health crisis and we couldn’t feel more fortunate to live in such a supportive and progressive community. I believe a silver lining for Vail is that the multitude of business and governmental innovations implemented to ensure we remain a leader amongst international mountain destinations will now likely continue on long beyond COVID-19, putting us in a great position in the future.

Dylan Roberts, Representative for Colorado House District 26: I feel more connected and reconnected to both constituents and friends and family than ever before. With Zoom and FaceTime becoming a part of our daily lives, I have been able to see and talk to so many people that before COVID, I would only get to talk to if we met in person. Of course, I’m looking forward to the days of less Zoom but trying to find the silver lining in our new virtually-based lives. In 2021, I’m hopeful for the vaccine allowing our community, state, and country to reopen safely and finally passing meaningful health care reform at the State Capitol. Oh, and of course I’m also looking forward to marrying my fiancé (delayed from 2020) and the Rockies winning the World Series — I’m confident at least one of those will happen.

Matt Scherr, Eagle County Commissioner: I have been utterly floored this year by the collaboration our community demonstrated during COVID. We have been watching other communities in our region and around the nation, and Eagle County’s response as one community is unparalleled. It is that same spirit that I am excited to see tackle more hopeful and exciting things in 2021. Climate action, transit, housing, health care … the usual list, I suppose, but the difference now is knowing what our community can truly accomplish when we are all rowing in the same direction.

The Pride parade makes its way around Nottingham Lake in Avon in June. The event celebrated Pride in the Vail Valley. Chris Dillmann/

Sarah Smith Hymes, Mayor, town of Avon: Despite the physical distance, making deeper, more personal connections with colleagues, friends, and students as we lean on each other to cope with loss and uncertainty was a silver lining. Of course, my first hope for 2021 is for a rapid recovery of our health and economy. But I hope that this past year will spur individual action to repair the damage done to the planet, our democratic institutions, and the promise of an inclusive society.

Brian Stockmar, Vail Town Council: The year 2020 has become a cliche for the most horrible year in modern history. Personally, I have lost 11 friends around the world to the COVID-19 virus and I do not want to see it become an even dozen. My primary hope is that 2020 will fade from our collective memories as soon as possible. For 2021, I am hopeful that the currently slow dissemination of safe and effective vaccines will accelerate, that everyone who can be vaccinated will be vaccinated, and that 2021 will end with the virus under control. As an economist, I am hopeful that we climb out of the depths of the current recession quickly. Perhaps most importantly, I hope that people will once again be civil and kind to each other, something that has faded dramatically over the last four years.

Chico Thuon, Avon Town Council: I hope for a healthy and Happy New Year. A year that brings us out of this funk we’re in now. Putting COVID in the rear-view mirror. Getting our children, families, and businesses back on track. It will be very important to help the less fortunate and practice compassion with all of our families in the valley. Be well, care for each other, and keep family close.

James van Beek, Sheriff, Eagle County: 2020 has been a year like we have never experienced before; it was a year of challenges and unknowns, a year of a virus, of protests, riots, and political turmoil, and a year of change; yet it’s was a good year … Not everyone will understand or agree with the manner in which we have responded during these trying times to issues we have had to face, yet we accomplished our mission and moved forward meeting all challenges and much more all while taking care of ourselves and our community. We have grown, we have learned, and we are here together as a team and as a family. So yes, it has been a good year that we can be proud of and celebrate this holiday season, and look at 2021 with confidence and optimism.

The Gore Range seen from Vail. Chris Dillmann/

Mark Wurzer, Publisher, Vail Daily: The unexpected does happen. One has a choice how they respond to the unexpected. Many choose wisely. Connect with those people. For 2021, I’m hopeful that we learn from tough times and apply those lessons to the present and future.

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