Sean Beckwith: Gauging your Aspen expiration date
You know what they say, “Come for the winter, stay for as long as the soul-sucking real estate prices will allow.” Wait, that’s not how the saying goes? Well maybe someone should update the clichéd unofficial official mantra of Aspen.
The affordable housing hamster wheel continues to spin in place as new units are scheduled to come online after ski season but expiring deed restrictions are taking old housing complexes off. However, affordable housing is not the ire-inducing subject today. It’s expiration dates, specifically as they apply to the younger lower/middle class’ timeline in Aspen.
When I moved to town about a decade ago, the prospects of establishing a home and a rewarding professional life were awful. Today, those chances are f—ing depressing. Aspen has become either a place to kill some time in your 20s or a spring board/training ground for people who can’t or don’t worship at the altar of capitalism.
If you work in hospitality or the restaurant business, you’ll likely need significant help/luck to comfortably live anywhere near the core. And considering the amount of retiring workforce, you might be waiting for people to literally die off because I know if I had a retirement home already paid for in Aspen, I wouldn’t be going anywhere.
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After a few seasons, the joy of recreating in the mountains can get outweighed by the area’s financial landscape. The life of a ski bum is great if you’re single and don’t have to worry about supporting a family. It’s amazing how easily stress fades with a few gondola laps and a playlist. That said, as late 20s turn into early 30s and more offseasons are spent figuring out which weddings you can attend than islands to visit, people want more than powder days and apres.
Whether it’s starting a family, buying property or just wanting one job instead of three, the options outside of Aspen begin to look a lot more appealing because they don’t involve winning the lottery — be it housing or Powerball. I personally know several people who moved away for those exact reasons. The more difficult it becomes to live a semi-normal life — living in a mountain town will never be 100% normal — the less likely it is people will stay, which sucks.
I left for grad school, hated it and moved back. Have you ever spent hours trying to beat a video game only to have the file get erased? That’s how it felt moving back. All progress is lost and now I have to start over at level 1 jumping over these damn Goombas.
Not everyone moves back, though. At this point I think I have more friends who have moved away than still live here. It’s like the closing scene from “Sandlot” where they go through a disappearing montage.
“Enzo moved back to the Northeast to work closer to family. Trevor does construction in Wisconsin. Arturo and Casey explored new paths in Denver. Big Dan, well he stopped off for barbecue in Kansas City and we never heard from him again. Nick went to Houston and went bankrupt building mini malls. Carlton headed West for the vineyards of Sonoma.”
Diversity doesn’t apply to just race and gender, it also applies to socio-economic classes. Community reflects population. If you have a town full of rich people, do you think they’re going to care about affordable housing or the size of their third home? Their viewplane or the trees impeding it? A bar and grill or another outlet that serve $30 crudo?
Aspen isn’t in jeopardy of losing its culture because it already has. The notion of keeping Aspen weird is as outdated as the saying “Come for the winter, stay for the summer.” Too bad the Historical Preservation Commission couldn’t slap a “Can not redevelop” designation on the town’s personality.
It’s easy to understand why a season turns into a decade and a decade turns into a lifetime in Aspen. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth and also has enough big city-related amenities to keep residents entertained and comfortable. But we’re approaching a point where there are more amenities than infrastructure.
With everyone holding onto affordable housing and/or desirable jobs like Aspen Skiing Co. grasping at the idea of inclusion, you have to wonder when people will swap their downvalley commutes for trips from the Front Range. Even if you score that well-paying executive chef job, you could end up washing dishes because staffing is as hard as trying to find a property manager who doesn’t view pets as the Antichrist.
Now, I’m not announcing my departure from the valley — that would be ungodly self-serving and I’m not that important — but what I am saying is it’s not a surprise when anyone of my ilk drops that sad Facebook post announcing a fire sale of their gear and a departure date.
Shout out to the friends I left off the “Sandlot” joke and best of luck, Will. Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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