Housing crunch squeezes Beaver Creek ski instructors
Vail, CO Colorado
AVON, Colorado ” Every day when the lifts stop running, ski instructor Ben Smith says good-bye to his students, heads off the mountain, and wonders where he will sleep that night.
Smith, who asked that his real name not be used, has been homeless for several weeks since arriving in the Vail Valley in December.
He has been an involuntary ski bum ” living in his makeshift camper van and moving to different parking lots around town. Sometimes he camps on Tennessee Pass, and every few days he goes down to the hot springs in Glenwood Springs to take a bath, he said.
Finding a place at the height of the ski season is nearly impossible, and he can’t afford the places that are available, Smith said.
Smith, 52, admitted he is no stranger to the “ski bum” lifestyle. He has skied around the country and camped in his van before, but this situation is not what he expected, he said.
Smith and a friend, Heather de Manigold, arrived in town two days after Christmas from North Carolina to be Beaver Creek ski instructors.
It was supposed to be a change of pace, said Smith, who left his job as an optician to come to the valley, but now he wonders if he should stay. “I’d love to hang out and make it till the end of April, but it gets pretty old being in the van all the time,” he said.
Smith and de Manigold said thought they would be provided with employee housing, but found out upon arriving that Vail Resorts’ employee housing was completely full.
“We were moving out here under the impression was that there would be housing available, and we found out when we arrived, there was not,” de Manigold said. “We were told, ‘It’s pretty bad everywhere.'”
Both ended up living in their cars. After a week and a half, de Manigold found a place to live through a friend, but Smith is still searching for a place.
While they knew that the area was more expensive, the lack of housing and cost of living in the valley surprised both of them, the ski instructors said.
“I like the job, and I like working with the kids, but it’s just frustrating how expensive it is to live here, especially starting out at $10 an hour. I had no idea (cost of living) was this high,” Smith said. “I don’t know how anyone can make it here on that wage.”
Smith said he is more than 60 people down on the waiting list for employee housing, and they do not allow dogs, so he would have to give up his dog Buster. He knows of other instructors looking for housing too, but many already knew people coming here and are “couch surfing.”
Having friends in town, or getting his first full paycheck, for that matter, would help him find a place, Smith said.
De Manigold said that a week before arriving, she looked in the newspaper and Craig’s List for rentals, but could not find anything. “I even talked to a real estate agent, and she told me that she has never seen the (housing situation) like this,” she said.
The resort does not have any employee showers or bathrooms, and there are no public facilities in the area, so keeping clean and put together was a hassle, de Manigold said.
“It was aggravating,” she said. ” And you still have to be at work at 8:30 a.m. clean and happy.”
Any employee that arrives after mid-December is told that the later they come, the less housing is available, said Kelly Ladyga, Vail Resorts director of communications.
“We told them that we would make every attempt to provide them housing. We said we could not guarantee them a space, but would try to find them something, even temporary,” Ladyga said.
When housing is filled, the resort will try to double the occupancy of employee apartments, she said.
Vail Resorts provides about 3,000 employee beds, mostly to seasonal workers in entry-level positions, such as ski instructors or lift operators. In the valley, Vail Resorts owns some units and also rents some from the towns. But this year there has been a shortage, Ladyga admitted.
“This is the first time in five or six years that we’ve rented from a third party because employee housing is full,” she said. “It’s an issue of great importance to us and we’ve worked really hard to provide these resources to employees. But right now there is a waiting list for every housing unit.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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