Livin' the Ski Life: Why the Death of the Ski Bum Will Ruin Ski Towns Everywhere

Curbed Ski

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There's something awesome about being a ski bum for one season or for twenty: your main goal in life is to chase the snow. Whether it's in Jackson Hole, Breckenridge, or Sun Valley, ski bums come for the skiing or snowboarding and stay as your waitress, your ski instructor, or if they are lucky, your bartender. But rising housing costs and a shortage of housing options are threatening the ski-bum way of life and ski towns should be worried.

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Information from BJ Adams and Co. via Aspen Journalism

Ski bums earn a bad rap. They can be criticized for being too young, too transient, too loud, or for partying too hard. And sometimes this is true. But this year's crop of ski bums evolve into the next decade's teachers, ski program directors, and even politicians. For every ten ski bums who come to a town in search of snow, a handful will never leave. They'll put down roots, become locals, and raise a family.

Rising housing costs and a shortage of options are making it harder for transient ski bums to settle down. While resort towns are in desperate need of reliable workers (just ask any restaurant owner or hotel manager) the hardest part of living in a ski town isn't finding a job, it's finding lodging. In Jackson Hole, some people who work in Teton Village hotels or for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort commute from Idaho over mountain passes. Just recently, the Jackson Hole News & Guide spent three weeks examining Jackson Hole's housing shortage. Housing in Teton County is exceptionally tight in the summer, when workers camp or live out of their cars. A recent lottery for affordable housing in Pine Glades shows how acute the problem is in Jackson: more than 100 people applied to purchase seven residences.

Other ski towns like Aspen and Telluride have housing funds that battle the chronic shortage of affordable places where workers can live. But even in areas that have affordable housing options, housing for ski bums can still be a problem. Despite the well-liked and incredibly successful affordable housing program in Aspen, huge numbers of workers live down valley in Basalt or Carbondale, where lodging is cheaper. And there's still an ongoing debate about whether Aspen needs more affordable housing or whether the demand has been met. In other parts of Colorado, like Summit County, there are more than 2,000 units lodging ski employees, but most are rentals. And while this is certainly a step in the right direction, ski towns need both affordable seasonal rentals and deed-restricted ownership homes that make it possible for locals to buy homes.

Why? Because a ski bum needs a place to rent while she teaches ski lessons for a few seasons. And when a few years pass and she realizes she wants to stay in the community, she deserves to buy a two-bedroom house that doesn't cost $4 million.

Sure, ski-town housing has been a problem for a long time. But as real estate markets rebound and some states see record-breaking numbers of skiers, we are reaching a crucial moment in ski towns everywhere. The key questions are: do we want ski towns to be communities of second-home owners and a transient, commuter working population? Or a place where a core group of powder-loving locals live and work towards a better community? Weigh-in, Curbediverse.

· Build and let live: 40 years of affordable housing in Aspen [Aspen Journalism]
· Wanted: housing, workers, money [Jackson Hole News & Guide]
· Ski bums prices out of resort towns [Marketplace]
· From Telluride to Winter Park: Average Rent in 17 Ski Towns [Curbed Ski]
· The Ski Bum's Guide to Renting in the High Country [Curbed Ski]

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