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Skico lagging in providing housing units

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series looking at how the Aspen Skiing Co. stacks up with other ski area operators in Colorado in providing employee housing. Tomorrow, the Skico says there are good reasons why it hasn’t provided more affordable units.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is trailing many of its major competitors in Colorado when it comes to providing affordable housing for its workers, according to an Aspen Times survey.

Going into the 1999-2000 winter, the Skico will house fewer workers than five of seven other operators of major ski areas in Colorado, the Times found.

However, if all the housing projects proposed by the Skico earn approvals from local governments, the company would vault into a leadership position within the industry.

“The first thing we want is to solve the problem,” said Bill Kane, Skico vice president of planning and development. “If we become a leader in that process, that’s even better. But that’s not what’s motivating us.”

The Skico currently owns 67 units that house 108 employees, according to statistics supplied by the company.

The inventory includes the Snow Eagle, which houses 17 people; the Holiday House and its annex, which house 63 people; and the Heatherbed Lodge, a new acquisition which will house 28 by November.

In addition, the first of 39 units that will house 83 people will come on line this winter at Aspen Highlands Village. The village is being developed by Gerald Hines, who owns a minor interest in the Skico.

With the seasonal dorm units at Highlands thrown into the mix, the Skico will have 106 units available for 142 employees.

In the Aspen Times survey, only Copper Mountain and Crested Butte will offer less housing dedicated exclusively to their employees next winter. Vail leads charge Breckenridge also lags behind the Skico, but not for long. Its parent company, Vail Resorts Inc., broke ground earlier this month on the first employee housing project tied to the ski area.

Vail Resorts – which operates Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone in addition to Breckenridge – supplies vastly greater amounts of housing than the Skico, although it also employs a vastly greater number of workers.

It provides housing for 1,500 employees at Vail and Beaver Creek. Another 1,160 employees receive housing at Keystone, according to Jack Lewis, director of employee housing development.

The Breckenridge apartments will house 350 employees. The first of the workers will move in this November.

Once the Breckenridge project is completed, Vail Resorts will have a total of 3,010 units in its inventory at the four resorts. That’s enough housing for about 40 percent of the ski areas’ peak-season employees, according to Lewis.

“We’re feeling comfortable, but our job isn’t done yet,” said Lewis. “We feel we are getting closer, given the number of employees we have.”

Most of Vail Resort’s housing is for seasonal workers. Programs are being considered for long-term rental and in the entry-level sale categories. Activity at other resorts The performance of other ski area operators in providing employee housing is mixed. Steamboat leads the rest of the pack but many, like the Aspen Skiing Co., are just beginning to whittle away at the affordable housing problem.

Steamboat owns 24 one-bedroom units, 71 two-bedroom units and is building another 24 apartments, according to public relations director Mike Lane. Last year the resort operator built 24 units one-half mile from the ski area base.

For the coming season, the ski area operator will have 236 residences in its inventory either through ownership or lease, according to Lane. That’s enough for about 60 percent of its first-year workers, who are the priority for occupancy.

Steamboat employs about 1,375 workers at peak season.

Winter Park Resort owns or leases housing for 180 employees, including 10 homes, a small former hotel and a handful of condominiums in nearby towns, according to a resort spokeswoman. Peak employment there falls between 1,100 and 1,200 people.

The resort is teaming with Gerald Hines’ company to develop a village at the ski area’s base. Unlike the Highlands project, employee housing isn’t part of Hines’ mix at the base of Winter Park.

In addition to the units it owns and leases, Winter Park relies on some innovative programs to try to house workers. For example, workers receive a $100 monthly bonus during the winter if they provide housing for a new hire who isn’t related to them. Starting to respond Copper Mountain Resort and Crested Butte Mountain Resort are just starting to respond to their employee housing needs.

Copper spokesman Ben Friedland said the resort operator owns “a little more than 60 units” ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. He was unsure of how many workers that housing holds.

Assuming equal numbers of each unit type were built, the project would house about 105 people.

Friedland said Copper is planning a project that would house another 90 people for the 2000-01 ski season. That means the resort will provide housing for about 200 of its 1,400 peak-season employees.

Crested Butte’s ski area operator is building an apartment complex, even though it’s not guaranteed its employees will receive priority.

Spokeswoman Gina Kroft said the company is building the 44-unit Marcellina Apartments in the mountain village across from the ski area base. All units will be three bedrooms, supplying housing for 122 people.

However, because federal dollars from Housing and Urban Development are being used for the project, occupancy cannot be restricted to CBMR employees, Kroft explained.

The firm hopes that some of its employees are selected for occupancy and that by answering employee housing needs in general, its workers will benefit.

In addition to the new apartment building, Kroft estimated that CBMR has about 50 beds available for employees. The resort operator has another program where students are recruited to work for the season. Lodging comes in that package, she said.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s numbers could soon soar past all those but Vail Resorts’. The Skico has proposals for three major employee housing projects, one at Buttermilk and two at Snowmass Village.

If approved, they would add 183 units – housing for an additional 495 employees.


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