Vail Symposium Celebrates 50 Years in the Vail Valley | By Katie Coakley

Last Updated: June 23, 2021By

There is no shortage of amazing nonprofit organizations in the Vail Valley, but few have the history of the Vail Symposium. In July 2021, Vail Symposium will begin celebrating its 50th anniversary, tracing its roots from a once-annual, weekend “think tank” to its current incarnation as an organization that produces more than 45 programs a year. The event has topics ranging from the future of food and Russian efforts to undermine democracy to the science behind dreams and forecasting the economic environment.

In its inception in 1971, the Vail Symposium was created to guide future change in the then nine-years-young Vail community. In the early years, the Symposium fostered the development of the Vail master plan, the formation of the Eagle Valley Forum and was the platform from which President Gerald Ford made a major energy policy speech in 1976. Notable participants included Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Rene Dubos, Robert Redford, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, Tom Brokaw, Sam Donaldson and sportscaster Bud Palmer.

By 1987, Vail was an established resort and other individuals and groups existed to define its future. The Symposium was cut loose from the town of Vail and was left to discover its new role in the community it helped to form.

Since then, the Vail Symposium has shifted to providing year-round programming. When the COVID-19 pandemic made gathering together for programs impossible, the Symposium made a quick pivot and began offering programs virtually. Since March 2020, Vail Symposium has presented 37 virtual programs to 6,183 people in the U.S., as well internationally; recordings of these programs are also available on the website, reaching many more after the event.

“The Vail Symposium has seen a lot of changes in 50 years, both in the world and in our organization,” explains Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “Though technology and various aspects of communication have evolved, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to deliver our mission: to provide educational programs for the Vail Valley community that are thought-provoking, diverse and affordable. We look forward to another 50 years and beyond.”

Photo courtesy of Vail Symposium.

Katie Coakley is a Vail Valley-based freelance writer covering travel, outdoor activities and the craft beer and spirits scene. Her work has appeared in local publications as well as regional and national outlets like, The National,, Elevation Outdoors and, soon, Hemispheres. You can find her work at or follow her on Instagram @katie_on_the_map.

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