Roger Marolt: The Genteel Years of Aspen |

Roger Marolt: The Genteel Years of Aspen

Roger Marolt
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Roger Marolt

Some feel recent changes to Aspen’s community substance are merely a continuation of resort town business as usual that began with the 1950 F.I.S. ski championships, which was actually more important to this town than the invention of skiing itself. “We’ll adjust to this,” seems to be what some locals are saying.

I will make a case for why this time really and truly is different from what transpired in other decades of Aspen’s existence. My gut tells me we are on the brink of a change in Aspen more profound than any since what happened after the silver crash of 1893, an event sufficiently cataclysmic to convince everyone that that time was undoubtedly different.

For the record, Aspen never recovered from that economic catastrophe of the late 19th century. It became something entirely different to thrive again, purging itself of most of the citizenry and ideology that lived here in the previous boom time.

What Aspen is going through socioeconomically now may even have a bigger impact on the makeup of the town than global warming. Contrary to the micro fear expressed in Protect Our Winters bumper stickers, Aspen will likely thrive in accelerating global warming. It’s not hard to picture it becoming an atmospheric island paradise poking up from a sea of heat flooding the planet. We may be seeing this already.

I’ll guess a “typical” town’s population probably consists of around 75% households whose adults work in the town, maybe 15% people who used to work in the town who are now retired, and 10% idlers who are there for other reasons. Aspen seemed to fit fairly closely with this rough model through the 1980s. It’s not even close today. A fraction of our workforce lives in town, while much of our resident population makes a living somewhere else. This means everyone is only investing half of their lives in town. This is not a continuum of expected progress. It is the culmination of unanticipated complete transformation.

With this comes two circumstances making change permanently severe. First, most of our children will not be able to afford living in Aspen. Second, almost nobody making their living in Aspen will be able to afford living in Aspen without subsidized housing — including doctors, lawyers, real estate brokers, and other highly paid professionals. The reality is becoming that Aspen is unaffordable to even lower echelon wealth.

While available data is obviously self-selective, the recently reported average price of a home in Aspen is $12.6 million. Anecdotally, a tiny, fixer-upper needing a lot of work is around $5 million.

Addressing the first point about our kids not being able to come back to live, l ask: “Is this the mark of a great place to raise a family?”

Undoubtedly there are kids growing up here whose parents can front the kind of loot for them to come back. But, if they can afford that, chances are they can provide fortunes enough to buy additional houses in equally desirable locations and, in some cases, maybe even a private jet to travel between them. You see where I am going — these kids will likely become second-home owners rather than devoted lifelong residents of Aspen. For the rest, slim pickings for the luckiest.

To the second point we must dive into irksome financial and economic matters, because working people have to consider such things. Hypothetically, let’s suppose a working person could find a livable house in Aspen for $5 million. To start with, they will need to scrape up a million dollars for a down payment. After that, the monthly nut on the remaining mortgage at 4.5% will be roughly $20,267.41. Tack on the property taxes and insurance and you are looking at around $276,000 per year for housing, not including utilities and maintenance. A person would have to earn about $400K per year before income taxes to net that amount.

After adding all the other regular living expenses into the formula, it is hard to imagine living in this Aspen starter home on an annual salary of less than half a million dollars. If you aspire to fix up the fixer-upper, send your kids to college, buy a mountain bike, or merely retire someday, you probably need a salary more like a million per year.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Kids growing up here will suffer no fear of missing out. They won’t have to wonder how great life must be for all of their friends and family still living in Aspen. The honest truth is that there won’t be many like that here anymore.

Roger Marolt knows that only the poor stayed in Aspen during the Quiet Years. For the Genteel Years it will be only the billionaires hanging around. Email at