Ski town living—it’s hard to find but it’s good once found. PHOTO: Adam Clark/Flylow
Landing a job in a ski town isn't that hard, but finding a roof over your head? Darn near impossible. With sky-high real real estate prices, buying a home is out of the question for a good chunk of the regular-wage-earning workforce in a mountain town. And with the boom in vacation rentals like AirBnb and VRBO, more and more rental homes in places like Tahoe, Frisco, and Park City that could go to full-time, year-round residents are now being rented for big bucks to weekenders, vacationers, or as season-long ski leases. So how exactly do you find a place to live in a ski town? If the traditional methods of finding a place to live aren't working, we have some more creative solutions.
Find a spot to park your van
Buy a van you can sleep comfortably in, then go on Craig's List or your town's Facebook page and post that you're looking for a spot to park for the winter in someone else's driveway. You can offer to pay for the parking spot and chip in on utilities so you can plug your rig in for heat and power (and maybe use the house's kitchen, bathroom, and laundry machine, too). You shouldn't have to shell out more than a couple hundred bucks a month for this, ideally, and whoever lives in the house should appreciate the extra income from a low-impact, driveway-dwelling roommate.
Live full time in a ski lease
Don't overlook ski leases—which often involved a large house that's rented out just for the winter season by a group of people, most of whom just use the house on weekends. Try to get in as the house's lone full-time resident. "You'll be the one who makes sure the house is not broken into and the one who keeps the pipes from freezing and the hot tub warm," says Bevan Waite, an editor at SnowBrains.com who lives in Tahoe City, California. "Maybe you'll even volunteer some cleaning time mid-week to prepare for the imminent party on the weekends. Depending on how many people are in the lease, you could be paying dirt-cheap for living full time in a fancy vacation house all winter long." And when the winter lease ends, you'll be in a good position to talk to your landlord or property manager about staying on for longer term.
Get a communal place
It can be tough finding a house in a ski town that's affordable for just one or two people. So try going in with a group and turning a large home into a communal living space. "Five years ago, a couple of friends and I started living together in a beat-up A-frame. Friends of ours needed housing, so we slowly built onto the group, but then we quickly outgrew the house," says Maggie Hargrave, 31, a small business owner in Truckee, California, who lives in a house with seven other people. "With more people, we could afford a nicer house. That's when we found our current home, where we have been living for three years. We split utilities and rent, we share meals, ski days, chores, stories, share and recycle equipment. We save each other time and money by sharing tasks—shoveling, cleaning, and building projects."
Score a Caretaking Gig
A lot of homes in ski towns come with mother-in-law units and are used only a handful of times each year as vacation homes. These homeowners are often looking to hire a property manager or caretaker to shovel the decks, winterize the house, and keep things running smoothly. Ideally, you trade your work for a spot to live: Spend a few hours a week tending to the house and score the guest apartment above the garage for free. Finding these jobs can be tough, but you can search or post online or ask around amongst property managers, real estate agents, and folks like plumbers and electricians who work on vacation homes in the area.
Live in a Tiny Home
More and more mountain towns are getting on the tiny home bandwagon: These micro-homes, usually smaller than 500 square feet and often on wheels for easy transport, take up less room and are more affordable to build. Aspen Ski Company, for example, recently purchased six tiny homes for around $100,000 each and moved them into a local campground as housing for seasonal workers. Salida, Colorado, has approved an entire tiny home community—with some 200 mini houses, ranging from 200 to 800 square feet, that will be available to rent for between $750 and $1,400 a month.
Barter for a Room
Bartering is alive and well in ski towns. If you've got a specialty trade to offer—say, you're a skilled carpenter, you drive a snow removal rig, or you're a massage therapist, don't be afraid to offer your skill in trade for a roof over your heads. If someone is looking to rent a room in their house, and you come with skills to help improve their home or make their life easier, you'll be a more attractive tenant, too.