Aspen Skiing Co. joins tiny-house nation with experimental housing project

Aspen Skiing Co. purchased six of these tiny houses, officially called trailer coaches, for use as affordable housing in the midvalley. Each of the residences is about 500 square feet.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Aspen Skiing Co. has joined the tiny-house movement.

Skico purchased six “trailer coaches” this fall for about $100,000 each and placed them this week at its Aspen Basalt Campground in the midvalley. Seasonal workers will move into the residences — each with around 500 square feet — by this weekend. If they prove to be suitable during the experiment this winter, Skico might buy more of them from a Colorado manufacturer.

The tiny houses are the first splash made by Philip Jeffreys, a project manager hired by Skico in July specifically to work on affordable-housing issues.

“They said, ‘Philip, get us some beds,’” Jeffreys said. Skico officials estimate they have a shortage of about 600 beds.

Jeffreys attended a Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs in August and was impressed by the trailer coaches built by Sprout Tiny Homes of La Junta, Colorado.

Skico ordered six of the residences after the company brass checked them out. The units took eight weeks to manufacture. They were delivered this week, then hooked into the existing sewer, water and electrical supplies at the campground.

“There’s not many ways we can act quickly and we wanted to act,” Jeffreys said.

Ready to occupy

The trailer coaches share many characteristics with RVs. They are built on a trailer chassis, have wheels and are mobile. They have lights and a license plate.

But they look considerably different from the typical RV. They come in interesting shapes and feature lots of windows. They appear more as a cross between RVs and modernistic mobile homes.

Inside is where they really shine. The trailer coaches come ready to occupy — complete with flat-screen Sharp TVs mounted to the wall of humble living rooms, couches, full bathrooms, compact but loaded kitchens and lofts.

Skico bought two models, three of each. Each model features a 300-square-foot ground floor. One model has two lofts of about 100 square feet on either end of the coach. The lofts have windows but are compact, with the ceiling roughly 4 feet from the floor.

One of the few features Skico custom ordered was walls on the interior of the lofts so roommates could have privacy.

The other model is designed for a couple, or even a couple with a child. They have a ground floor bedroom with a Murphy bed as well as one loft.

All of the units have attractive cabinetry, top-end flooring and nice finishes. And, like all residences in tiny-home nation, they take advantage of every square inch. There is storage under the stairs, within the couches and built into nearly every room.

The residences are highly efficient and the interiors won’t emit gas from chemicals in paint. The Mitsubishi heating and cooling systems are high efficiency and the homes have air-circulation units. The electric induction stove tops, Bosch microwave ovens and miniature dishwashers are the hallmarks of the kitchen.

The six units placed for the experiment are built on the side of the RV park closest to Highway 82. Even with a steady stream of vehicles whizzing by, there was no traffic noise inside.

“One of the things we’re happy about is the build quality,” Jeffreys said. “As you build smaller, you can build better.”

Final rents haven’t been set, he said, but they are targeting $600 per person per month, including utilities.

What’s next?

Jeffreys said Skico is taking an “all the above” approach to filling its housing needs. The company has 600 beds in various properties from Aspen to Carbondale that it either owns or leases. Nevertheless, it needs another 600 beds. It believes the demand will grow as established workers — who often own their homes — retire.

The Aspen Basalt Campground has been eyed, off and on, as a site where Skico could address affordable housing. Skico bought the 6.6 acres in 2008 when it operated as a KOA campground. It’s ideal because it is within about a block of a bus station.

There are between 20 and 25 year-round residents who pay $750 per month for a space as well as sewer, water and electrical hookups. Other spaces are occupied short-term, often by people in RVs who are passing through.

Skico informed the year-round residents in August 2015 that they would have to move out by the following May because the company was going to devote the space to short-term RV rentals. However, Skico reversed the decision within days, explaining that the concept hadn’t been fully vetted by its executive team.

Tenants were told that redevelopment would eventually occur, but they wouldn’t be evicted for the foreseeable future.

Jeffreys said if the trailer coaches are deemed a suitable approach for Skico to provide seasonal housing, the company would take a phased approach to expansion. However, Jeffreys said the situation has to be looked at holistically. He doesn’t want to “kick out” existing tenants and force them to compete with Skico employees and other workers out in the free market for what exists of affordable housing.

Meanwhile, Skico is sharing its idea with partners in the Roaring Fork Valley. Officials from the housing authorities and board of county commissioners in Eagle and Pitkin counties have been invited to check out the trailer coaches in an open house today along with government officials from Aspen and Basalt and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.


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