Village Voices: Meet Snowmass’ Nicholas Valentino
For this month’s Local Spotlight, the Snowmass Sun sat down with Nicholas Valentino, who founded and runs his own landscape architecture business, NAV design LLC, from the Snowmass Village Mall tower.
Recently, Valentino applied to be a part of four of the town’s advisory boards and commissions, and the Snowmass Sun thought it would be interesting to learn more about why he wants to be so involved and about his personal history with Snowmass. Here’s what we found out:
Snowmass Sun: Where are you from originally?
Nicholas Valentino: I grew up in Traverse City, Michigan, which is in northern lower Michigan.
SS: When did you first come to Snowmass?
NV: I started coming out to Colorado when I was younger on family vaca and to ski and recreate and do high school ski racing for JO’s (Junior Olympics) and stuff like that and then ended up in Snowmass in college in 2001. We (Valentino and his wife) ended up here, worked at TOV (Top of the Village) for a summer and had a group of friends that just continued to keep coming back and we sort of continued to keep coming back. We just kind of spent the next however many years spending our free time coming out in summer and winter to hike, bike and ski. We were just drawn to the culture and the lifestyle out here.
After finishing college and then a couple detour years working and what not, we just made a decision to migrate back out. We were in Winter Park for two years as a base and then we did some exploring.
SS: Tell me about that exploring; didn’t you say you tried to sail around the world?
That was one of the things. We decided to get on a boat and help crew with some friends we had made and they were sailing around the world. I really wanted to do the South Pacific section so we outfitted a boat in LA, went down through Mexico and long story short sank down in the Sea of Cortez so we didn’t get very far. … We came back, went back to our jobs in Winter Park for the rest of the summer and then we moved over here, we realized we wanted to be here (Snowmass).
We had a lot of friends here that kind of stayed from when we started coming here in college so we ended up having a big coalition of people we knew or indirectly knew. And then my wife got a teaching job over here so that was sort of the catalyst for making it realistic to move in. That was in August 2010.
NV: Can you tell me a little bit more about what drew you guys to Snowmass specifically and why you guys wanted to live here?
Snowmass particularly I’ve always been drawn to because as busy and notable as Aspen is, Snowmass is just kind of more under the radar, and I don’t say that in a bad way. Being that I grew up in the Midwest I’m not really into or here for the ritz and glamour, or the fanciness of Aspen and what that’s become. I love the geography here and the terrain and the recreational opportunities and the year-round population and sort of that lifestyle and just having recreation right out our door. Snowmass makes that super accessible and attainable daily.
As much as I fantasize about running off to Alaska and disappearing into the woods in the middle of nowhere, it’s not realistic. But I think that Snowmass and Aspen offer that sort of balance and opportunity. The worldly draw here and impression kind of helps support that, too, not just financially and economically but it also makes it more interesting socially and adds to the overall character of living here.
SS: Tell me a little bit more about your business, how you started it and how you’ve worked within the Snowmass Village community.
NV: I became a landscape architect and went to school in the early 2000s and then worked for a number of companies even after I moved out here. Like I said I was really drawn to the recreation component and geography and environment here and so I ended up working for the Forest Service for a bit as well as doing rec planning and being in charge of a lot of the non-motorized trail projects and things of that nature.
When we moved here, I ended up working for architecture planning firms and working on resort-based development and some environmental things, but it became more social developed spaces versus environmental, public lands.
With that, I always sort of spurred off on other interests and worked other jobs that were more just passions for me on the side. Through the Forest Service, I got into wildland firefighting and structural firefighting and EMT stuff while I was here.
It was a good way to meet people and give back to my community and get involved and it also provided a stepping stone for me to be able to create my own business. I’ve always had my business as a side thing, but it’s really been exclusively my income, my whole focus for almost five years.
SS: Through your work with your business and all of the other things you’ve done in the village, how have you seen the town change and evolve over the years?
NV: I would say just the scale, the scale of growth and development. When I first came here it was the summer they were building Snowmelt Road and we were working at TOV. None of Base Village was here, Owl Creek Road was still dirt and it was very much a quieter place and sort of on the sidelines. Then we saw the development of Base Village and the initiation of it and then everything kind of went on hold and we had this vacated space for a long time. Then there was super fast growth again, infill of that area, and so I think that’s been the biggest thing. That’s definitely been the most impact. The mall really was Base Village for a long time and that was just space down there. It was a very different approach into Snowmass. Everything else is still kind of the same.
SS: When did you decide you wanted to be a part of some of the town’s advisory boards and commissions, did it have anything to do with the evolution you’ve seen?
It did. The other part was part of the reason I went into landscape architecture and planning is because growing up in a resort town, which was very different than this and a whole different scale but it was a waterfront sort of seasonal community, I saw a lot of growth and development there that I wasn’t really happy with or that I saw changing in some of the directions I didn’t want to see happen. It has since happened. So that’s kind of why I got into the field to begin with and I’ve always wanted to kind of participate in whatever community I’m in. Snowmass is our home and I feel very strongly about being involved. It’s taken awhile I guess because I’ve just been busy, it just wasn’t something I could add to the plate with working so many jobs and our daughter being young and housing and daycare, but really it’s always been an interest.
We were drawn here because it was undeveloped and a little bit more sleepy and I like that and it’s inevitable that it’s going to grow and change but I feel compelled or that it’s sort of my civic and/or professional duty to be involved as much as I can because otherwise it’s not fair to talk about things in hindsight if you weren’t involved in it. In Snowmass in particular I don’t think there’s a lot of involvement, we have a growing population of younger people and families but I think it’s been stagnant for a while and so I think we need to encourage this new generation that’s going to be here for the next 30 years and see all of this and utilize it to get involved so it doesn’t become a place we don’t want to be. We don’t want to lose our identity and the things that make us special because that’s in fact why people are coming here. SS: What do you hope to see for Snowmass in the years to come?
NV: I have a lot of interests like we’ve talked about and I have a real passion for recreation, public lands, open space and trail systems. Professionally and through my experiences, I think that’s what makes us really unique is that accessibility right out our doorstep and I think that’s one of the biggest impressions we can leave on people and ways we can help create an impact. In consequence, I think people will take that home with them and it provides them a background and reason for our public lands and also for preserving our resources and why we need to do that.
We continue to expand this public interface and we continue to sprawl, things are more accessible and the world is a smaller place, but at the same time we need to preserve some of these areas and so I think that’s tough but I think the more people use our open space and trail systems in responsible ways and it’s programmed, then I think they start to understand that and will respect those boundaries even more.
Storytellers sought for ‘Voices of the Collective’
Storytellers are invited to be part of a Live Storytelling event taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 23 at The Collective in Snowmass.