A man’s home may be his castle, but for a ski bum, a couch will do.
Or a one-bedroom condo shared with two others.
Or maybe even just a driveway on which to park a van, at $200 a month.
As ski season ramps up, the annual scramble for housing in the resort areas seems to have reached all-time desperation, judging by the Craiglist ads and Facebook pleas for space — any space — no matter how far the drive, no matter how Spartan the accommodations.
This has been an age-old dilemma: I remember when I interviewed for a job as a ski-lift operator at Winter Park in 1989, the first question I was asked (and the only one that mattered) was: “Do you have a place to live?”
But the situation isn’t getting any better, and increasingly would-be resort-town workers are turning to creative solutions when faced with skyrocketing rents, limited space available and winter setting in.
“Motel life is getting very old,” wrote one woman who said she had a year-round full-time job and a great rental history. “We need a place desperately.”
Another man seeking a place to stay recently offered $400-$700 –- just for a couch (including utilities).
When someone recently advertised a free dog house to anyone who would haul it away -– presumably to be used by a dog –- one respondent inquired if it was big enough for an adult to sleep in.
At any point in time, a growing fleet of small RVs and camper vans are parked in roadside pullouts, town parking lots and off side roads, moving regularly to circumvent local ordinances and prohibitions against living in the national forests.
Other, hardier types, have tried camping in tents hidden just off roads or near trailheads, only to be forced inside by the arrival of sub-freezing weather or -– as in the case when an unattended campfire spread into the nearby grasses outside Frisco –- by attracting the attention of authorities, who discovered a completely trashed campsite.
Prospects are even worse for those with pets, which invariably are described as “well behaved” dogs and “friendly” cats -– and which automatically disqualify potential renters.
Landlords in towns even as far away from resorts as Basalt, Montrose, Eagle, Buena Vista and Hot Sulphur Springs now are finding a scorching seller’s market, and those actually near ski areas are seeking rents so high as to discourage all but the wealthiest trust-funders.
“Willing to pay up to $500 a month for a small spot near the resort,” one person wrote, attracting widespread derision and the suggestion that, at that price, “near the resort” would mean 75 miles away.
An unfurnished three-bedroom condo in Breckenridge is commanding $2,800 monthly, plus first, last and a security deposit –- or $8,400 just to move in.
One middle-aged man in Breckenridge recently advertised that he would rent a room in his “private, upscale home” to a girl in her 20s for the bargain price of $500, so long as she also was willing to do some light housework and provide him companionship for some meals and out on the ski slopes.
Too often, it is up to the towns and counties to make up for worker-housing shortages, by collecting deed-restricted housing and cutting deals with developers to construct affordable units in exchange for permission to build upscale homes.
(Of course, that can lead to some “ghetto-ization” of dense, low-rent housing in undesirable parts of the community, or, in the case of my hometown, Silverthorne, the impending loss of one of the truly signature pieces of open landscape left in town, the Smith Ranch, where a beautiful hay meadow is slated for 200 units.)
Ski-resort operators, particularly Vail Resorts, have collected hundreds of housing units throughout the high country for their employees, which certainly helps, but they always fill up quickly, and they could do more -– although attempts to cram more workers into existing units has met strong resistance.
At least “hot racking” -– the military practice of having troops sharing bunks –- so far is not in the plans.
Steve Lipsher ([email protected]) of Silverthorne writes a monthly column for The Denver Post.