History of the Vail Valley Foundation - Vail Valley Foundation

History of the Vail Valley Foundation

President Gerald R. Ford was among those who helped create the organization as a way to unify the volunteer spirit and ‘big-idea’ mentality that helped the area mark its place on the international map. The Vail Valley Foundation (VVF) has been an integral aspect of local life, culture, sport and education ever since.

Ford urged the organization to always fulfill its mission, but also to find areas of need in the community, and bring together individuals, businesses, and governments to meet those needs. In 2020, as the community faced challenges from COVID, the VVF led the creation of the $1.2 million VVF Community Fund, and also initiated the creation of the Private Sector Task Forces to help provide unity in the community as the organization navigated the pandemic and its effects.

This “problem solving” nature of the VVF, and its aspirations to bring international-scale events, performing arts, and exceptional education offerings dates back to its earliest days.

In 1982, the VVF’s offices moved from the lodge adjacent to the Beaver Creek Information Center to The Charter at Beaver Creek, before moving to Vail during the summer of 1986. The VVF then made the move to Avon, in December of 1995, headquartering in the WestStar Bank building before making the move across the street to the current location on the third floor of the White River Center. The VVF’s organizational leaders have also changed over the years, with original president John Horan-Kates being succeeded by Bob Knous, Peter O’Neil, John Garnsey, and Ceil Folz before the current President Mike Imhof took the helm in November of 2015.


Education for local families and students has always been a key component of the VVF mission. The organization’s educational efforts, operating under a separate 501c3, are known as “YouthPower365” and the organization serves more than 3,000 youth and their families each year by providing education enrichment during out-of-school time (afterschool and summer) throughout a young person’s life: from preschool on the mobile “Magic Bus”, into K-12 afterschool and summerschool programming, to college-and-career readiness. VVF’s extensive education arm merged with The Youth Foundation in January of 2011 to become YouthPower365.

The VVF also hosted the AEI World Forum, together with President and Ms. Ford, from 1982 – 2006. In 2019, YouthPower365 hosted the PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Education Conference, bringing more than 250 rural educators to Beaver Creek for a three-day conference in November.



Early in its history, the organization led the creation of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, raising the money to complete the structure and open in the summer of 1987. Gerald R. Ford, Bob Hope, their families, and the national Marine Corps Band performed at the Grand Opening Ceremony, and Willie Nelson was the venue’s first big act to play later that summer. Since its earliest days, the venue has served as the main home for Bravo! Vail Music Festival signature performances, VVF’s Vail Dance Festival, and free Hot Summer Nights concerts. Since 2018, the venue has hosted 12+ Amp Summer Concerts each season in partnership with AEG Presents, bringing some of the biggest names in live music, comedy, and more.

The VVF has led several subsequent capital campaigns for the venue, and leads the care, maintenance, and programming for the venue on behalf of the community.



In the mid-1980s, the VVF led the bid process to win the right to host the 1989 Alpine World Ski Championships, the first in Colorado since Aspen hosted in 1950. The VVF also led the way to host the 1999 and 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships. Beginning in 1997, the organization has served as the lead of the LOC (Local Organizing Committee) for the Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS Ski World Cup, which host the best men’s ski racers in the world each December in Beaver Creek on the world-famous Birds of Prey course. The event typically hosts Downhill, Super-G, and Giant Slalom races, and occasional other events as well including Slalom or Super Combined (Slalom and Downhill).

In 2008, the VVF purchased the GoPro Mountain Games to ensure the signature event remained headquartered in Vail. The event, which had grown quickly since its inception in 2002, flourished under VVF leadership. The event features whitewater kayaking, climbing, mountain biking, road biking, trail running, concerts, arts and many other mountain competitions to create the “best all-around mountain weekend available anywhere in the world” under tagline of “athletes, art, music, and mountains.” The Vail Valley Foundation purchased the event from Untraditional Marketing in 2008, and operated its first event in 2009. In 2013, GoPro became the title sponsor of the event, which has grown to host more than 30 different events in 9 categories, and welcomes more than 80,000 spectators and millions of global marketing impressions each year.

A winter version of the Mountain Games, known simply as the “Winter Mountain Games,” were hosted in 2012-13, and again in 2022.

Historically, the VVF has led other major sporting and celebrity events, including the American Ski Classic, the Honda Session snowboard competition, the 1994 and 2001 UCI World Mountain Biking Championships, and several pro cycling events.



The Vail Dance Festival began as an opportunity to host the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 1989, during a time when Russia/US relations were at an historical height of tension. The sharing of art and culture helped bridge the divide between the two nations, and the one-time visit quickly became an annual event.

Soon afterward, the event was named the “Vail International Dance Festival,” and it welcomed dance from cultures around the world, quickly rising to become one of the premiere events of its kind.

In 2006, former New York City Ballet principal dancer Damian Woetzel took the helm as Artistic Director. Woetzel led the Festival in new directions, helping it become the premiere Dance event in the world that it is know as today. In 2018 the event simplified its name to “Vail Dance Festival.”



The Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek Village opened to the public in 1998. The 530-seat theater was envisioned to create an influx of culture and community to Beaver Creek, and throughout its history has brought a wide array of music, dance, theater, youth programming, and community events to the Rocky Mountain Region.

The Vail Valley Foundation took over management of the VPAC in 2001. Together with strong support from the Beaver Creek community, the venue has flourished in the arts as well as financially, ever since.


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