As summer was waning, Vail Town Councilmember Kim Langmaid was sitting on a bench near the Vail Public Library, Gore Creek tinkling musically a short distance away, when she was asked the inevitable question. As the primary advocate, quiet but passionate, behind the Town of Vail’s quest to be named the first certified sustainable destination in the United States, she’s countered naysayers before.
Vail uses electricity to make snow, it heats sidewalks to melt it, and courts customers to fly from across the continent, and around the world. Of all places, how can Vail, a town that embraces excess and shares a name with one of the world’s largest ski companies, tout itself as a place that epitomizes green? That’s a goal as seemingly quixotic (not to mention as counterintuitive) as championing Los Angeles as the most bike-friendly city in the nation.
“It’s a journey,” she sighs. “Nobody’s perfect. You have to start somewhere.”
Langmaid grew up in Vail, in her telling, rambling among the aspens and conversing with the whispering waters of Gore Creek. Now 51 and seated on the town council, as was her grandfather (Vail pioneer Joe Langmaid, who served on the first council) she left the valley once or twice but always came back.
“It really became part of who I am,” says Langmaid, who also serves on the Colorado Tourism Office’s Destination Development Committee and Energy Smart Colorado’s board of directors. “You become the place.”
An academic at heart (with a doctorate in environmental studies from Antioch University, she teaches sustainability at the local Colorado Mountain College and is an affiliate faculty member of Prescott College’s environmental studies master’s program), she started thinking about sustainably based tourism as a docent leading visitors on hikes through the Vail Nature Center. Later, in 1998, she founded a science-based nature school (Walking Mountains Science Center, in Avon), where she serves as vice president and director of sustainability and stewardship programs. Soft-spoken but regal in bearing, with the Vail twist of hiking boots in the back of her car, she treads lightly on the local landscape as she contemplates Vail’s place in the world, believing in the power of persuasion and example.
In July, a Canadian auditor with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council spent a week in Vail, interviewing local leaders and VR bigwigs and visiting all the major attractions, from the Sunday Farmers Market to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and Ford Amphitheater, judging our fair valley on a spreadsheet of 40 “performance indicators,” from light and noise pollution and solid-waste reduction to “visitor behavior” and support of local entrepreneurs.
As she awaits a decision (at press time, the expectation was a “thumbs up” by December), Langmaid has no illusions about the challenge. But she does believe Vail, the town, has a strong partner in Vail Resorts. After all, in September, chief executive Rob Katz announced the audacious goals of zero-net emissions, zero-net operating impact to forests, and zero waste for landfills, all by 2030, at Vail, Beaver Creek, and a dozen other ski resorts in Australia, Canada, and the United States.
“There is no silver bullet,” she stresses.
Especially for a resort and ski town seeking to blaze a trail in green.