Back in the day, resort workers lived in town, maybe four to an apartment or in an odd room here or there.
These days, many people who serve tables and wax skis end up living two or three towns down the mountain, and even then have trouble finding housing.
Brundage Mountain Resort even pre-leased apartments for 20 seasonal employees in New Meadows in the fall to have some housing available for workers in the ski season. The resort made this move after leaders realized it was hard for workers to find housing even in the summer, said April Whitney, communication director at Brundage.
Aspen Ski Co. in Colorado has 600 beds for employees but wants to add 600 more in the next five years. Aspen Ski is taking a novel approach in this first phase by installing 40 tiny houses for 120 employees on a campground the resort bought in Basalt, about 17 miles from Aspen, said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations.
Similarly, Brundage this year bought an RV Park in New Meadows to build workforce housing on 40 acres.
Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC in McCall has found a way to house 112 employees on its McCall property, much of it within sight of the Shore Lodge hotel and restaurant.
“Not having (workforce housing) is not an option,” said Dan Scott, president and general manager at Shore Lodge Whitetail. “We have to have it. You have to figure it into your business model.”
Shore Lodge Whitetail has 44 beds in 24 condo units, 36 beds in a 17-room bunkhouse and 28 beds in a 13-unit dormitory in the former U.S. Forest Service office in McCall, adjacent to the Whitetail property and now owned by Shore Lodge Whitetail.
“I’d like to have more housing by next summer,” Scott said.
Northwest Real Estate Capital Corp., a Boise nonprofit developer and property manager of affordable housing, started moving tenants into the new, 36-unit Northwest Passage affordable apartments in Donnelly in late October. The apartments are designed for people with incomes between 40 and 55 percent of the area median wage, Jess Giuffré, senior property developer at Northwest Real Estate.
Northwest Passage technically is not workforce housing, which Giuffré and others define as 60 to 120 percent of area median income. But it essentially serves as workforce housing.
Technically, workforce housing and affordable housing are two distinct categories, but the lines have blurred. Building such housing in McCall or Aspen or any number of resort towns is a financial conundrum.
“It’s the price of the ground in McCall,” Giuffré said. ”It’s almost necessary to have private landowners or the city contribute the land or do a 99-year lease and put a deed restriction on it for affordable housing.”
Resorts across the West and the country in recent decades have started bedroom communities and feeder communities away from the resort towns, Hanle said.
“Real estate values went up,” Hanle said. “People took old condos with six ski bums, made some improvements and make more money. All these places that were seasonal housing are now short-term rentals. Real estate went up, second home ownership went up. They can get $600, $800 a night instead of getting $2,000 a month from four ski bums.”
The workforce housing crunch at resorts was already underway when VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and Airbnb changed the dynamic.
“What’s happened in McCall in the last five or 10 years is lakefront and riverfront property has gotten so expensive,” Scott said. “These are now second homes where locals used to live 10 years ago.”
Workforce housing is a top priority for the West Central Mountains Economic Development Council in McCall, said Andrew Mentzer, the group’s executive director.
Shore Lodge has an elaborate setup for workforce housing
Shore Lodge Whitetail LLC provides 112 beds for 350 employees, all on what is now part of the company’s 1,300 acres at the west end of McCall.
Much of the housing the company provides is required for the J-1 visa workers it employs, about 50 to 60 in summer and 40 in winter, and 10 to 20 H-2B visa workers employed from April to October, said Dan Scott, Shore Lodge president and general manager.
The foreign worker count has doubled from 40 in the past three years, he said.
Others had built 24 condos across the street from Shore Lodge in the 1980s. Since the late 1990s, Shore Lodge has individually bought condos as they became available and Scott bought the 24th condo about five years ago to give Shore Lodge ownership of the whole property.
Shore Lodge and Whitetail employees rent the one-bedroom condos for $575 per person per month and the two- and three-bedroom condos for $375 per person per month.
The 36-bed bunkhouse mostly houses golf course workers at the 18-hole Whitetail Club and was built by Shore Lodge Whitetail in the early 2000s at the same time as the golf course. Bunkhouse rents range from $175 to $275 per person per month.
“There is not a shortage in spring and late fall,” Scott said. “What we’re building for is summer demand. I need 150 beds in summer. I don’t need 150 beds in winter.”
Scott said the company in October closed on the purchase of a seven-unit apartment building directly across the street from the employee entrance to Whitetail Club. Two company employees already live there and, as existing tenant leases expire, all units will be for Shore Lodge Whitetail employees.
In 2015, Shore Lodge bought the former U.S. Forest Service headquarters within a few hundred yards of the restaurant, condos and bunkhouse. Shore Lodge converted part of the building into its corporate headquarters and much of it became a 13-unit dormitory with 28 beds, dining and recreation facilities.
Scott expects to start construction in spring on a 32-unit dorm complex adjacent to the former Forest Service building. The McCall Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plan in early November.
Brundage bought 40 acres for employee housing
Unlike Shore Lodge, which is close to shopping and living needs, Brundage Mountain Resort is isolated on the mountain with no grocer nearby.
Brundage has pre-leased apartments for 20 employees in New Meadows, 11 miles from the resort.
“We are looking for some bigger things in the future,” said April Whitney, Brundage’s communications director. The resort bought 40 acres in New Meadows to build employee housing.
Brundage adds 150 to 200 employees for ski season and has a shuttle to get workers from housing to the ski area.
Aspen goes tiny
Aspen Ski Co. in 2016 brought on a project manager specifically to deal with doubling the resort’s 600 beds of employee housing to 1,200 beds.
The project manager suggested filling a campground that Aspen Ski owned with tiny houses. Sprout Tiny Homes of Pueblo, Colo., supplied the first four tiny homes a year ago with another 36 being added this fall.
The homes are 40 by 10 feet and designed to house three people each, said Jeff Hanle, director of public relations at Aspen Ski Co., which also developed and owns the year-old Limelight Hotel Ketchum.
“They stay on wheels,” Hanle said. “We didn’t have to change the zoning. The finishes are better than any of our other employee housing.”
The tiny homes are in Basalt, about 17 miles from Aspen. The ski resort has employee housing as far away as Carbondale, 31 miles from the slopes.