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Citizens of the Year

Congratulations to the 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year

Rosana and Johannes Faessler

  • Rosana and Johannes Faessler
    2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year

Quiet beginnings

In the Christmas season of 1979, a cozy, 37-room, European-style lodge near the Covered Bridge opened its doors for the first time. This may not have seemed like very big news in a 17-year-old ski town where new lodges often opened, closed, or traded hands.

However, the opening of the Sonnenalp hotel turned out to be a seminal moment in the Vail Valley story. It is a story that has its roots in Europe yet branches into nearly every aspect of life here. It is not only a tale of the growth of a family business, but also how a caring and dedicated family has given decades of their time, vision, and leadership to grow and sustain our vibrant community.

In 2022 the Vail Valley Foundation, and the entire community, celebrated Rosana and Johannes Faessler as the 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year. The couple, who are proprietors of the Sonnenalp and the Sonnenalp Foundation, were the guests of honor at the 2022 Black Diamond Ball at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa on February 18, 2022.

Since their very first days in the valley, Rosana and Johannes Faessler have been exceptionally active contributors to, and creators of, a wide array of nonprofits and institutions that are now pillars of the community.

They have provided lasting support to the Vail Valley Foundation, Vail Health, ECO Trails, Vail Valley Partnership, Vail Veterans Program, the Vail Religious Foundation, the VVF Community Fund, and the VVF Engagement Committee. They established the Sonnenalp Foundation and the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center, they host the annual Scramble Against Cancer and the Casual Bicycle Classic, they have been leaders in creating more sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices, and they are active in nearly all aspects of charitable giving, volunteering, and leadership in our valley.

“In Rosana and Johannes we have an example of what can be accomplished when caring, thoughtful people have the ability to understand the needs of their community and follow through on providing those needs with steadfast, long-lasting support, vision, and leadership,” said Ann Smead, former Chair of the Vail Valley Foundation, the organization that administers the award on behalf of the community. “Once they put their support behind a cause or a project, they follow through and find success.”

Smead has seen that impact first-hand working with the Faessler’s on the Vail Valley Foundation Board of Directors, where Johannes has been a board member since 2008. Johannes also chairs the VVF’s new Community Engagement Committee, which is actively seeking ways to alleviate and improve the valley’s need for additional childcare facilities: Eagle County currently estimates that more than 1,000 children may need or want licensed childcare in Eagle County but are not getting it.

“Rosana and Johannes are two of the most charismatic and considerate people in our community, and they have always selflessly dedicated themselves to doing whatever possible to improve the lives of the people around them,” said Mike Imhof, President of the Vail Valley Foundation. “They do this in a very understated way, and I believe many in our community may not be aware just what an incredible impact they have had on creating a better community for each and every one of us. They are very deserving of this award, and we are very pleased to help honor them.”

  • Rosana, Johannes, and family.

‘How do we truly make a difference?’

Johannes Faessler was newly graduated from the University of Denver when he first came to the Sonnenalp Hotel in 1983. His family had, for several generations, been successful hoteliers in Ofterschwang, Germany. His family’s choice to open a hotel in Vail was not whimsical, but rather stemmed from a belief that Vail was a special place on earth and worthy of a long-term investment.

“This was not about coming to Vail and making a quick buck,” Johannes said. “It takes an investment of yourself, and time, and money, but we knew that in 20, 30, or even 40 years that the Sonnenalp would be awesome when it all fell into place.”

It wasn’t long before Johannes met Rosana, who hails from Brazil, and the two were married in 1985. Among the many interests they share is a strong desire to give back to the community.

However, they did not want to simply, “give things away,” as Johannes said. “We were both fully invested in the community and committed to the long-term vision. We wanted to be able to really make a difference.”

In 1997 Rosana led the way to establish the Sonnenalp Foundation. The Foundation has contributed to a host of causes in the community but is best known for its “Casual Classic” cycling event, which raises money and awareness for ECO Trails (since 1996), and for its critical role in establishing (in 2002) and supporting the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards.

“At that time, in the 1990s, Johannes and I saw that we could truly have an impact in our community by trying to take care of what we saw as very important needs in our community,” Rosana said. “The way this community has embraced these initiatives is truly inspiring, and we are so grateful for the incredible support and cooperation we’ve received from this community in our work.”

“The Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center is a name that has become synonymous with excellence,” said Dr. Jan Ugale, who was Medical Director for the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Center from 2002-2020. “Rosana is the reason for that. She is a fireball, and she works extremely hard at the things she believes in.”

“They have a tenacity, an unwavering commitment to put their heads down and get the work done that’s needed,” said Ellie Caryl, who worked closely with the Faessler’s on the Casual Classic and ECO Trails support through her role as former Manager of ECO Trails for Eagle County. “They have continued to support ECO Trails, year after year, and it’s made an incredible impact on helping on the long-term vision of this project.”

A view of the future

When COVID-19 struck, the Faesslers were quick to adapt to the changing situation. Always known as a leader in the local business community, Johannes stepped into a key role on the COVID-19 Community Task Force to help navigate the difficulties posed by the pandemic and communicate with health officials about the intricacies of running a business in those swiftly-changing times.

The COVID-19 Community Task Force is only one example of how the Faessler’s have led the way when it comes to important community issues.

Much like their work on the ECO Trails project, which began in 1996 and is now near to completion, the Faessler’s have steadfastly taken on a variety of issues and held true to the vision of seeing them through to completion.

Environmental stewardship, said Vail Mayor Kim Langmaid, has been yet another example of how the two have provided essential leadership.

“They have been admirable leaders in the sustainable business and destination space,” Langmaid said. “They have also always been actively involved with the Town of Vail, with the community as a whole, and have been champions for local business.”

“Early on, we recognized that the true value of the Vail Valley is the beauty of its natural environment,” Johannes said. “This is something that we have to be highly aware of, and we have to do everything we can to keep it this way now and into the future, even if making some of these adjustments can be difficult at first.”

To make those first difficult adjustments – on any issue – and then to continue to work, to fine-tune, to never give up – these are the attributes that have helped the Faessler’s build what started as a small hotel in 1979 into what is now Sonnenalp Properties Inc., including the Sonnenalp Resort and Spa of Vail, Sonnenalp Property Management, the Bully Ranch restaurant, the Swiss Chalet restaurant, and the Sonnenalp Club in Singletree, all of which are consistently ranked as some of the top properties in the world. Also, the Sonnenalp Hotel in Ofterschwang is doing well and is still managed by Johannes’ brother Michael and his family.

Rosana and Johannes’ success in business is one of many signs of a consistent and lasting dedication to quality, and to the quality of life of those around them. In their receipt of the 2022 Vail Valley Citizens of the Year Award, the community is able to reflect those same ideals, and show them just how valued and remarkable their achievements have been for all.

Past Honorees

1981 Peter Abuisi

1982 E.B. Chester

1983 Jack Crosby

1984 President Gerald R. Ford

1985 Harry Frampton

1986 Helen Fritch

1987 George Gillett

1988 Merv Lapin

1989 Sheika & Pepi Gramshammer

1990 Paul Johnston
(Gerald R. Ford)

1991 Kent Rose
(Phil & Jane Smiley)

1992 Rod Slifer
(John Galvin)
Mike Kloser-Athletics***
Patricia Herrington-Arts & Culture***
Nick Seaver-Education***

1993 Dr. Richard Steadman
(Winton & Carolyn Blount)
Bib Isbell-Athletics***
Helen Fritch-Arts and Culture***
Jerry Santoro-Education***

1994 John Garnsey
(Bob Brotman)
Kara Heide-Athletics***
John Giovando-Arts & Culture***
Jim Himmes-Education***

1995 John Horan-Kates
(Brian Nolan)
John Rammuno-Athletics***
Marilyn McCray-Arts & Culture***
Susie Davis-Education***

1996 Vi & Byron Brown
(John Boll)

1997 Gil Giordano
(Alison Knapp)

1998 Barbara Treat
(Craig Tuber)

1999 Judy Alexander

2000 Pete Seibert
(Peter May)

2001 Mary Louise Shaw
(Vince Cook)

2002 Gerald Gallegos
(Michael Balk)

2003 Cathy & Howard Stone
(Suzy & Jim Donohue)

2004 Oscar Tang
(Susan & Harry Frampton)

2005 Diana Donovan

2006 Chupa Nelson

2007 Erik & Kathy Borgen

2008 Jack Eck

2009 Beth Slifer

2010 Martha Head

2013 Ann Smead

2014 Amy & Steve Coyer

2015 Pat & Pete Frechette

2016 Mary Sue & Mike Shannon

2017 Jay Precourt

2019 Betsy and George Wiegers

2020 Donna Giordano

2021 Sheika Gramshammer

*In 2018 the award dates shifted to reflect the new dates of the Black Diamond Ball, where the Award is presented each year.
** From 1990–2005 the Beaver Creek Citizen of the Year Award was awarded as an integrated aspect of the Vail Valley Citizen of the Year Award. Recipient indicated by parentheses.
*** Indicates the three annual recipients of the Hornblower Award, given from 1992-95.

In recognition of an exceptional level of leadership and contribution across a wide range of causes and initiatives in the community, the Vail Valley Foundation has announced that Amanda Precourt is the 2023 Vail Valley Citizen of the Year.

2023 Vail Valley Citizen of the Year Amanda Precourt will be
celebrated at the 2023 Black Diamond Ball Feb. 17, 2023, Park Hyatt Beaver Creek