Aspen trends toward second homes

ASPEN – No other ski town in the West has been as aggressive as Aspen in trying to deliver affordable housing in order to keep a critical percentage of the work force living in town. But census numbers from the last decade seem to confirm what Aspen’s city leaders have long said, namely that it’s an uphill battle.

The larger story is that as long-time residents of Aspen retire, they are cashing out, selling their free-market housing acquired decades ago, when housing costs were much less, and moving elsewhere. In most cases, the housing is being purchased for second homes.

That’s the theory of Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who points to new census data for support.

The U.S. Census found that the city grew 13 percent during the last decade and now has 6,658 residents. It gained these new residents by building a major new affordable housing project at Burlingame Ranch and by annexing areas with a high concentration of worker housing, such as at the base of Aspen Highlands.

However, the Census also found that 41 percent of housing was vacant, up from 33 percent the decade before. Ireland’s analysis showed individual neighborhoods, including Red Mountain and the West End, gaining houses but losing residents.

The trend of the last decade will continue, perhaps even accelerate, as 58 percent of Aspen residents are between the ages of 55 and 69.

As reported inThe Aspen Times, Ireland sees big implications from this baby-boomer bulge. If many sell their houses purchased at free-market prices decades ago and the houses are used for second homes, that will create more work for people who take care of the new second homes. But, at the same time, Aspen and Snowmass Village will have to import even more workers from down valley.

“I don’t expect the next decade will see a great deal of growth as the local population in the free-market housing continues to recede,” Ireland said. “About a quarter of the population in free-market housing is nearing retirement age. As they retire and leave for warmer places, their successors are much less likely to be part of the local work force.”

Vail Resorts boosts price of Epic Pass

BROOMFIELD – Perhaps the clearest evidence of an improving economy can be found in the price increases announced by Vail Resorts, which debuted a good-everywhere, all-the-time Epic Pass in 2008 for use at its four Colorado resorts. The cost was $479 last year, but a new price for next winter will push the total to $649. Before the Epic Pass, a similarly unlimited season pass cost $1,849, notes theVail Daily.

Vail Resorts chief executive Rob Katz clearly indicated the company has done well this winter, and it intends to continue to reinvest in its product while commanding higher prices.

Other resorts continue to struggle more. Ralf Garrison, of Mountain Travel Research Program, says that at resorts across the West, prices aren’t back to normal. While prices have stabilized, as have freebies incentives, the pendulum hasn’t started swinging the other way.

“While resorts haven’t had to increase their bargains, they haven’t been able to decrease them in any meaningful way,” he told theDaily.

However, he did note that the Mountain Travel Symposium, which he has conducted each April for several decades, is sold out this year – unlike last year.

Banff gives the nod to souvenir stores

BANFF, Alberta – Banff municipal officials have announced several proposals to the public that would more tightly regulate locations of rubber tomahawk and burger joints.

Town officials are framing the proposals as necessary to keep Banff competitive in the global tourism marketplace.

“When visitors are here, the municipality’s job is to make sure they have an experience that makes them want to come back,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen. “The Chinese market does not want

to buy things made in China. If they are coming, and we hope they are, they would like to buy something made in Canada.”

Banff has 27 souvenir and gift stores. A municipal review committee considered proposing a quota but instead suggests the Planning Commission approve new locations.

Similarly, the town had considered restricting fast-food restaurants to one area, kind of a municipal food court. However, the new proposal would more liberally restrict their locations to back alleys or lower and upper levels, but not allow them at regular street level.

In drawing up these proposals, the Banff team studied what is allowed in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, and Aspen. In the French Quarter, for example, new T-shirt and souvenir shops are prohibited entirely in some parts.

Meanwhile, the town has joined forces with Parks Canada, the agency that manages Banff National Park and a promotional group called Banff Lake Louise Tourism, to study the broad market forces affecting destination tourism. A panel of industry leaders chaired by Julie Canning, chief executive of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, will meet regularly during the next three months.

Aspen Skiing Co. replaces incandescents

ASPEN – With a few exceptions, the Aspen Skiing Co. is now replacing all of its incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact-fluorescent and LEDs.

The company estimates that lights account for about 15 percent of energy use at its hotels and office buildings. The replacement costs will run $100,000 to $150,000, although the new bulbs will save the company $24,000 to $35,000 in lower costs of electricity in just the first year, with similar or even greater dividends each year thereafter.

Auden Schendler, the vice president of sustainability for the company, had written in his book,Getting Green Done, of his first naïve attempt to get compact fluorescents installed in the Little Nell, Aspen’s five-star hotel. He had expected open arms, because the change would reduce energy costs, but was instead told by the hotel manager that such lights were unacceptable because they might dampen business.

That was revelatory in that, while he had the full support of the executive team, and Aspen was already picking up a reputation as a front-of-the-class innovator, it was still ruled by basic market forces that all other companies are subject to.

But part of the story, Schendler toldThe Aspen Times, is that compact fluorescents have improved considerably since he made that first effort. Now, there is little public objection to the light they produce.

Jackson Hole works on tourism strategy

JACKSON, Wyo. – Seven people have been selected in Jackson and Teton County to devise a strategy for use of $2.1 million annually in proceeds from a new lodging tax. The tax is to be used broadly for promotion of travel and tourism.

“I really felt, by and large, that most of the people got the big-picture idea that it’s not just about bringing people in on airlines. It’s about how we create an image of Jackson Hole,” said Andy Schwartz, a county commissioner. The tax, he said, is geared toward creating community revenue – not strictly a tax to benefit the hotels or the ski resorts.

AJackson Hole News&Guide account mentions eco- and geo-tourism, cultural tourism, plus the more predictable special events.

Vice president stops over in Snowmass

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The ski towns of the Rocky Mountains continue to get folks from the White House. Former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, vacationed in Park City shortly after President Barack Obama was elected, and then First Lady Michelle Obama vacationed this winter in Vail. Now, Vice President Joseph Biden took a short vacation at Snowmass Village. It was a working vacation, though, as he presided over a ceremony involving veterans.

– Allen Best



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows