Town Council considers balance of resort, community in Snowmass

Tourism board weighs in on housing, marketing strategy

Children play on the lawn in front of The Collective in Snowmass Base Village on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Snowmass Sun

Snowmass Village’s status as a resort and as a community isn’t an “either/or” debate, according to the town’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan. The question now is how the town can balance both, ensuring a sustainable resort economy that also supports the local community.

Snowmass Village Town Council and representatives from the town’s marketing and tourism board considered as much at a Sept. 13 regular meeting in a discussion prompted by council concerns about the burden on the local workforce in the village.

Councilman Bob Sirkus initially raised the issue in late July, expressing worries about the changing character of the village that other council members also shared. The conversation this week focused on the needs of the business community — workforce housing mostly, no surprise there — and the ways in which the town might shift its approach to tourism and marketing.

Though that resort-community dynamic has long been a topic of conversation in Snowmass, changes brought about alongside the COVID-19 pandemic have placed a new urgency on the issue as businesses face dire labor shortages and local workers find it ever more difficult to secure affordable housing.

“My concern in a nutshell is that I’m feeling that there have been significant changes in the last two years within the community, and a lot of these changes seem to have been created in a lot of ways in the real estate explosion, … in home and condo purchases and sales,” Sirkus said at the meeting this week.

Two things have played a factor in that boom of demand for services in Sirkus’s view.

For one, the flood of remote workers who came to the valley during the pandemic means there are more people here more frequently and for longer periods of time, creating a higher demand over the long term for services in Snowmass.

And for another, people have identified real estate as a viable investment when homes are purchased with the intent of renting them out; with the short-term rental market being more lucrative than the long-term one, properties that may have previously functioned as rentals for locals aren’t part of that housing stock any more.

Mary Blankenau, the general manager of the Timberline in Snowmass and a member of the town’s Marketing, Group Sales and Special Events board, added anecdotal support to the idea that workforce housing is the primary obstacle to meeting the demand for services.

She said that she’s had to cut back on housekeeping because staffers either can’t find affordable housing or are getting better offers working for second homeowners. The Timberline has raised pay, but there’s only a certain extent to which they can compete. It’s not a problem that’s exclusive to Snowmass, but it is one that will directly impact the visitor experience.

“We’re not alone in this dilemma by any means,” Blankenau said.

But John Kenny, a board member who works for the Romero group, didn’t necessarily see housing as something that’s under the tourism board’s purview.

“We’re all subject to that, but I think that we as a committee tend to focus more on how we approach the visitor marketplace. … I’m wondering if the debate is going further into, do we dial back our marketing engagement?” Kenny said.

He suggested that Snowmass should “play to our strengths” and take into account seasonal market forces that can determine the “appropriate level of service.”

Council and board members floated ideas about messaging that highlights the local workforce or marketing that resets expectations for what level of service visitors will see. Deric Gunshor, a tourism board member who works in events at Aspen Skiing Co., suggested that there could be a “more balanced” tourism strategy that has the added benefit of evening out the ebbs and flows of peak times and offseasons.

But town officials didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of what that would or even could look like at the meeting this week — it was just a preliminary discussion that may become more specific as winter approaches.

The reality is that addressing the housing situation is a long-term solution to a problem that needs more immediate answers. Snowmass Village is making good headway on a housing master plan that will add units of workforce housing to the town stock, but it doesn’t help much for those overworked employees who are feeling pushed out now.

Councilman Tom Fridstein said people have been understanding given the circumstances of the past year and a half, but the problem could go beyond the parameters of pandemic patience.

“If this situation continues with the absolute lack of employees to provide the level of service, … I think we have a serious problem, and I think we’re all putting our head in the sand, because there’s not going to be more housing for workforce for a long time,” Fridstein said.

He recognized that it’s hard to ask a tourism board to consider changing the way the town approaches its waves of people, but the status quo will only go so far.

“To just think that, ‘Oh, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve always done and July will be a great month every year and we’ll just keep going,’ I think isn’t addressing the problem,” he said.


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