Potential increase in year-round resort workforce may add to county’s housing woes
Back in January, Jennifer Kermode had a question for five of the top decision makers in Summit County’s ski industry.
Taking the mic at an open forum in Breckenridge, the executive director of the Summit Combined Housing Authority (SCHA) wanted to know what the top execs from Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland intended to do about employee housing given respective plans for summer expansion.
The SCHA is tasked with assisting residents of Summit County and the surrounding areas with their housing needs, and this necessity remains one of the more challenging dilemmas to solve within the community.
At the January forum, she was wanting to know what kind of thought had been put into fulfilling this basic need for the workforce as year-round and summer seasonal employment stands to increase with the additions of warm-weather attractions over the next few years.
With longtime locals and would-be residents already feeling the woes of a severe and ongoing housing crunch throughout the county, she wanted to know what plans were in store for sheltering a potentially larger year-round population. Winter demand for housing remains at an all-time high, but the summer requests have only ramped up, particularly in the last two years.
“We’re starting to see a lot of requests for housing … in the summer,” Kermode said present-day. “Not to the same degree as winter, but we’re starting to see it. Being strategic is in the back of our minds as we move forward in thinking about housing.”
Although the plans for summer expansion are still some years away from completion, each of the ski hills is trying to find new ways to attract business to the region and their individual resorts. And the approach of increasing summer capabilities is in vogue.
The U.S. Forest Service presented its preliminary environmental impact report for Arapahoe Basin’s requested terrain expansion on Feb. 5, which includes a zip line canopy tour. Copper Mountain unofficially announced its proposal for further summer developments consisting of an additional mountain bike trail as well as North America’s longest alpine coaster on Jan. 12. Breckenridge, owned by Vail Resorts, Inc., received final approval for its summer “Epic Discovery” project, which entails zip lines, an observation deck, climbing wall and new hiking and biking trails on Nov. 16 of this past year. Summer expansion for Keystone and Vail’s other resorts is seen as not a matter of if, but rather when.
These summer expansions are permitted under the Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act from 2011. The law was sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and signed by President Obama, giving the go-ahead to existing ski resorts nationwide already operating on federal lands to pursue summer recreation activities. The law updated the National Forest Ski Permit Act of 1986, which limited mountain recreation to only alpine and Nordic skiing.
Responding to Kermode’s question in January, Arapahoe Basin’s COO Alan Henceroth noted that his resort is already typically open for the ski season eight months out of the year, and that the addition of another two or so more months for summer events and expanded attractions could lead to more year-round employees.
Unlike Breckenridge or Copper Mountain, A-Basin is not required to provide housing for any portion of its workforce, which is made up of somewhere between 200 and 300 seasonal employees. The resort does, however, offer 27 beds November-to-May in the Tenderfoot Lodge in Dillon through an agreement with Vail Resorts. That’s on top of a number of long-term rentals A-Basin seeks out annually and leases to other employees at subsidized rates. Both of those options are really geared toward first-season employees, with no guarantees for second season and beyond.
“The overall picture of housing in the county is something that does concern us,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, A-Basin’s communications manger. “But the main source of our concern currently is the winter season, where we have a much bigger workforce. We don’t anticipate the scope of summer reaching the size of the winter operations. I anticipate that to be the driving force of our business.”
Breckenridge and Copper, on the other hand, both have a Planned Unit Development (PUD) — basically enforced zoning requirements — that obligates the two resorts to provide housing to a minimum of 40 percent of their full-time equivalent employees that is determined through a complex formula. Both do so through various properties and could conceivably put any of the summer labor force into these same spaces that are vacated by winter seasonal employees once the ski season comes to a close.
“There are fewer jobs in the summer, and finding labor is not an issue,” Gary Rodgers, Copper’s president and general manager answered Kermode. “As we round out our business model, there could be more year-round jobs, but there will always be a shoulder season.”
Copper currently uses its EDGE property for employee housing. After being vacated by the winter workforce, this space is rented out for groups and the resort’s Woodward Copper summer camps, but current summer employee housing needs are also satisfied there as well. The intent would be to merely meet growing needs at EDGE as well, explained Stephanie Sweeney, public relations for Copper.
Breckenridge COO John Buhler noted that the summer side of the business will become larger, but that the need for seasonal employee in the winter will trump it and isn’t going anywhere soon.
“The bigger picture in terms of what’s going on overall,” said Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, “that’s something that, collectively, the county, towns, ski areas — all employers — are going to have to get a lot more serious about. It’s hard to find housing whether it’s summer or winter. The type of employee staffing these operations in the summertime, that kind of housing I’m pretty sure right now sits empty. The proposed summer expansions should be able to address those housing needs.”
The county’s year-round population, much of it from winter seasonal workers bleeding into the summer months, continues to rise, still with limited housing options available.
“Housing needs are becoming more year-round for more employees,” noted Kermode. “And we need to be strategic in all areas in thinking about how we’re going to meet those needs year-round.”
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