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Peterson: Working harder than ever to make it

It’s the common refrain in every ski town: To live here, you either have three homes or three jobs.

For the latter, living the dream in the mountains has never been easy. What was true 60 years ago for Vail’s original pioneers remains true today.

Unless you come from money, making it work here requires a lot of sacrifices. How much are you willing to give up to be so rich in lifestyle? How hard are you willing to grind to live in one of the most expensive places on the planet?



Or, more to the point, for how long — before living with roommates, or farther and farther away from the lifts, or your job, will it take you to pick up and move somewhere more affordable to put down roots?

Also, is a community really a community if the workers who make the place run can’t afford to live there?

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Those are the questions at the center of our new investigative series launching in Monday’s print edition called “Making It Work.”

John LaConte, the reporter who had the idea for the series, was inspired by the Orlando Sentinel’s excellent investigative series, “LABORLAND,” which chronicles the life of low-paid resort workers in America’s most-visited city.

While it’s never been easy making it here, what’s also true is that it has never been harder to do so. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame for why the dream of living in the mountains has gotten more unattainable with each passing year, but the focus of our series isn’t on the larger economic forces squeezing workers out.



Those forces are certainly in the background here, but the challenge I put to the Vail Daily’s team of reporters was to find the workers who are dealing with those issues and tell their stories.

Too often, when it comes to housing or the ongoing employee shortage, the same elected officials or chamber leaders carry the conversation. While some of those folks certainly show up in our reporting, they are secondary characters to the local workers — teachers, entertainers, construction workers, ski club coaches, resort workers, and small business owners — who let us tell their truths.

Some of those truths are unsettling and discouraging.

In the series opener, written by Ali Longwell, a teacher who has been working in the valley for 19 years offers up this chilling comment.

“The thing that troubles me the most is I’ve seen quite a few teaching couples that have left in the last three or four years that you never thought would leave; that they were so invested, that were such pillars of the community, just fantastic teachers and administrators and support staff that you just thought this was going to be their forever home,” said Doug Little. ”And they ended up leaving because of the cost of living.”

Or, as LaConte writes in his closing piece of the series: “At the core of the problems is a theme — the fact that good help is hard to find in the ski town, and that’s because workers have a hard time making it.”

We hope you appreciate the series, and the work that went into it. We also hope that it sparks more community conversation about finding solutions — both conventional and outside the box — to our ongoing workforce issues.

As the series unfolds over this week, we want you to engage with us. You can send letters to the editor to letters@vaildaily.com or reach out to me directly at npeterson@vaildaily.com to join the conversation.

Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at npeterson@vaildaily.com.


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