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Colorado’s uber-exclusive ‘Cowboy ski town’ of Steamboat Springs descends into chaos – as locals who support city are priced-out of multi-million dollar property market – and even doctors can’t afford to buy

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A Colorado ski resort billed as a playground for wealthy elites and Olympians-in-training has become so exclusive the locals who help run it are being priced out of the housing market. 

Steamboat Springs draws tens of thousands of visitors every year thanks to its trademarked Champagne Snow powder and quaint charm.

But despite a $200 million investment to make it the state’s second-largest ski resort after Vail, many locals are being left out in the cold.

And it’s all thanks to the red-hot Airbnb market catering to vacationers and influencers that has taken over the housing industry.  

The housing crisis is so serious in the 13,000-people city, that the local hospital is losing job candidates left and right due to the surging real estate market. 

The small mountain town, about a three-hour drive from Denver, cannot find a head of human resources for the city because the offered $167,000 salary will no longer put anyone in a position to buy a house in the area.

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The formerly quaint ‘cowboy ski town’ of Steamboat Springs has become a vacation rental hot-spot, where the average price of a single-family home has ballooned to $1.8million since 2020

The ski town has previously been known primarily as an area where aspiring winter Olympians come to train among the salt of the earth locals who are by-and-large middle-income professionals

The ski town has previously been known primarily as an area where aspiring winter Olympians come to train among the salt of the earth locals who are by-and-large middle-income professionals

The self-described cowboy ski resort has been known primarily as an area where aspiring winter Olympians come to train among the salt-of-the-Earth locals who are by-and-large middle-income professionals.

That reputation stood in semi-stark comparison to other, more glamorous ski towns like Vail, Aspen, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley.

But a cash injection from owners Alterra Mountain Company has now cemented it as a world-renowned destination. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are among the roughly 42 percent of out-of-towners who own property in the area.

In 2008, the resort trademarked Champagne Snow to describe its fluffy powder, a phrase likely coined by rancher Joe McElroy as a way to describe the way the snow would shoot up his nose while carving the slopes.

Visitors have reported paying as much as $280 for ski lift passes, making Steamboat Springs one of the most expensive resorts in the state.

But it appears to be locals who are paying the true cost. Doctors willing to put down more than $1million on a house are repeatedly outbid by out-of-town buyers putting down all-cash, over-asking price offers.

According to an NBC report, the city’s local ski resort has been leasing a hotel for its employees to live in because the homes they were once able to rent are now mostly on the market as expensive, short-term rentals for visitors. 

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Loryn Duke, the Steamboat ski resort’s director of communications, told the outlet: ‘Houses used to be for employees and hotels for guests. Now houses are for guests and hotels are for employee housing. We have a lot of great staff who are early in their careers or have young families, but they just aren’t able to put down those roots.’  

‘I know that it’s so hard for folks outside of mountain or resort communities to even wrap their heads around, but housing is just so through the roof that unless you’re extremely wealthy, it’s unattainable,’ said Margaret Bowes, the executive director of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

Steamboat, as well as other mountain towns and formerly quaint travel destinations across the American Southwest, have been smacked by the pandemic-fueled real estate explosion.

Remote workers, short-term rental investors, and second-home buyers have swept in and caused home prices to essentially double with no sign they will fall anytime soon.

In Steamboat, local officials are attempting to ease the strain by proposing building thousands of new housing units on a 534-acre ranch that the city’s housing authority purchased with an anonymous $24million donation.

In phases, the office wants to build more than 2,200 units. Sale and rentals of the properties would be restricted to those who live locally on a fulltime basis and meet certain income requirements.

Even residents who are opposed to the project, believing it to be too large-scale a project for a city with limited infrastructure, understand that the housing issue is a real one.

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Steamboat, as well as other mountain towns and formerly quaint travel destinations across the American Southwest, have been smacked by the pandemic-fueled real estate explosion

Steamboat, as well as other mountain towns and formerly quaint travel destinations across the American Southwest, have been smacked by the pandemic-fueled real estate explosion

Remote workers, short-term rental investors, and second-home buyers have swept in and caused home prices to essentially double with no sign that they will fall anytime soon

Remote workers, short-term rental investors, and second-home buyers have swept in and caused home prices to essentially double with no sign that they will fall anytime soon

Since 2020, single-family home prices in Steamboat have increased by 80 percent to, on average, $1.8million. For already existing homeowners, their property taxes have shot up, on average, by 86 percent.

Those numbers put even starter-home ownership out of reach for anyone making less than $200,000 annually, and even for that tier of income earner, the home prices make taking high-paying jobs in the area unattractive.

A local realtor for the past two decades told NBC: ‘We are seeing across all segments of the market even high-paid professionals, they’re turning down jobs because they spend a little time looking at housing costs and they can’t do it.

‘The people who are coming here are paying a million dollars for an entry-level house – a totally entry-level, 50-year-old house.’

Leah Wood, president of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, told the Steamboat Pilot the town had affordable housing units at the end of last year all with 100 percent occupancy. 

She added the combined waiting list for the properties is around 800 people. 

The president of the local hospital, Soniya Fidler said that ‘no income earner is immune’ from the insane housing prices.

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‘I think that probably every week there’s someone who comes back and tells me we lost someone because of housing,’ she said.

A nearly 3-hour drive from Denver, Steamboat is a small mountain town known for its authentic feel and stunning natural beauty

A nearly 3-hour drive from Denver, Steamboat is a small mountain town known for its authentic feel and stunning natural beauty

The city's local ski resort has been leasing a hotel for its employees to live in because the homes they were once able to rent are now mostly on the market as expensive, short-term rentals for visitors

The city’s local ski resort has been leasing a hotel for its employees to live in because the homes they were once able to rent are now mostly on the market as expensive, short-term rentals for visitors

Since 2020, single-family home prices in Steamboat have increased by 80 percent to, on average, $1.8million

Since 2020, single-family home prices in Steamboat have increased by 80 percent to, on average, $1.8million

The local hospital, in order to stop bleeding staff and potentially beckon professionals to fill positions, some of which have been open for two-years, has gone into the residential real estate field

The local hospital, in order to stop bleeding staff and potentially beckon professionals to fill positions, some of which have been open for two-years, has gone into the residential real estate field

The medical facility is currently building 42 apartments that will rent at rates no higher than about 30 percent of the given hospital employee's income

The medical facility is currently building 42 apartments that will rent at rates no higher than about 30 percent of the given hospital employee’s income

The hospital, in order to stop bleeding staff and potentially beckon professionals to fill positions, some of which have been open for two years, has gone into the residential real estate field.

The institution is currently building 42 apartments that will rent at rates no higher than about 30 percent of the given hospital employee’s income.

‘It is hard because we are here to deliver health care, we’re not here to deliver houses. Usually, if we have the dollars to spend, it is on state-of-the-art equipment and upgrading our facilities,’ said Fidler.

‘But we don’t want to have to close services, especially because we can’t staff for it.’ 

Wood estimates that Steamboat Springs would need around 1,400 more units to house the local workforce. 

On Facebook, a housing group for the town is inundated with tenants seeking a place to live often up to three or four months in advance of their move-in date.

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Professional golf teacher Luis Gaspar lived in the city for six years before deciding to relocate. 

He said when he first moved he found a one-bedroom apartment at Torian Plum Condominiums for $1,100 a month.

‘Two years after that, it was $2,300 for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment,’ Gaspar told the Steamboat Pilot. ‘That is a more than 100 percent increase in two years.

‘Unless you have a really good salary in Steamboat, which is really hard to find because everything is a service job, it’s impossible. ‘That is why I had to leave. The community is great and everything, but I am working two, three jobs, 12 hours a day, just to make it by.’

In 2022, Steamboat Springs followed in the footsteps of many other tourist hotspots including New York and Lake Tahoe to bring in restrictions on short term lets in a bid to ease the housing crunch.

However opponents to bans have pointed out they just give rise to a black market for short term rentals and do little to stop wealthier individuals from purchasing second homes that remain vacant. 

Source: Daily Mail

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