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Pros and Cons of Living in a Ski Resort Town

View from downtown Telluride

View from downtown Telluride

One of the wonderful things about living on the west slope of Colorado is how close we are to several world class ski resorts. If you’ve even been to a ski town, you know how quaint and idyllic they seem. I’ve had the pleasure of working in Telluride for the past 13 years. While I’ve never lived there, I think I have a pretty good idea about what it takes to be a permanent resident in a ski resort town. It’s always fun to visit, but do you really want to live there?

Pros of Living in a Ski Town

Outdoor Recreation– Obviously, if you are living in a ski town, you probably ski or like outdoor activities. Even in summer, the mountains are your playground. It’s perfect for people who like to run 365 days in a row. People in ski towns are usually way more active than in most places, so health and longevity are better.

Scenery– You can wake up to amazing views every day. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when elk live in your back yard and you’re able to watch  Alpenglow every evening.

Higher Wages– Entry level and laborer type jobs generally start at a higher pay scale. Where I live, someone who mows yards or babysits might make $8-$10 per hour, while that wage would likely be $15-$20/hour in Telluride.

Good Schools-Ski towns generally have great schools. A big reason is higher property taxes and the ability to fundraise for high dollar amounts. Teacher wages tend to be higher, so there are more applicants for positions and less turnover, which usually results in some pretty outstanding educators. Kids also have the opportunity to go ice skating or skiing for PE, which keeps them active and enthusiastic.

Locals’ Mentality– In small ski towns, there are two groups of people. You have the second homeowners and tourists who are not terribly invested in the community. Then, you have the locals. Locals tend to look out for each other, and you get a sense of community that is missing in larger places.

Anything Goes– During a regular work day, I might see a multi-millionaire followed by a ski bum. Telluride is very accepting of just about any lifestyle choice imaginable. If you want to be 45 years old and get drunk every night without anyone having a second thought, this is your place. If you are a man who likes to wear skirts, you’ll barely get a second glance. If you think it’s cool to ride your bike down the street naked, you’ve found paradise.

 Cons of Living in a Ski Town

It’s Expensive– Everything costs more in a ski town. You might be able to find a one bedroom condo with popcorn ceilings in the $300,000’s, but any single family home in town is over $1million.  A bonus would be having the ability to rent out your home during peak tourist times, but you’d have to be ready to crash somewhere else.

There are no chain stores in Telluride, which adds to the quaint feel, but groceries prices are like you would find at a convenience store. Transportation is more expensive as far as gas prices or flying out of a regional airport. Wages are higher than in many places, but they are not enough to compensate for the high cost of living in many instances.

Lack of Really High Paying Jobs– While minimum wage might be higher, pay for professional jobs like doctors, dentists, or lawyers is not really much better than you would find in less expensive areas. I’ve seen civil engineers working the counter in retail shops. It isn’t odd for people with master’s degrees in biochemistry or physics to apply as receptionists. If you are a global millionaire, you can work from anywhere, but recent graduates might have a hard time in a resort town.

 Economy is Tourist Driven– Most of the jobs rely on tourists. If you don’t have good snow, everyone suffers. I’ve heard from more than one source how bookings go way up if there is snow during a Monday Night Football game featuring the Broncos. Imagine your livelihood depending on something as variable as the weather.

It’s Cold– It usually starts snowing in October and often isn’t really warm until late June. Forget sexy high heels unless you want to end up sprawled on an icy sidewalk. If you don’t like shovels, down parkas and snow boots, you would hate living in a ski town.

Keeping Up With the Joneses– Most people I know have season ski passes, the latest winter coat, and go out to fundraisers and other events that can cost lots of money. Almost everyone takes exotic trips as well. I know not everyone can afford it, but it’s just kind of expected.

Anything Goes– If you like more structure and are pretty conservative, you’d hate Telluride.

With any vacation destination, many people visit and think they want to live there. Few actually do, but if you think you might want to live in a resort ski town, these are the pros and cons from what I’ve seen over the years.

 Do you wish you could live in a resort town? Where would you go?


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

36 comments

  1. I wouldn’t like living in a town that is invaded by tourists every season, for a number of reasons. They don’t care much about your town, and won’t always leave things in good shape or respect the local culture, and also if you socialize with them you would have to make new friends every season. They do bring economic dynamism and a welcome money influx though. But I’d rather be in the small village nearby. What is surprising from what you say is that locals don’t get better prices? My friends living in the Alps have ski passes for the resort where they live about half price off, and when they go to the grocery store since they shop all year they also get discounts. They still do the bulk of shopping at the supermarket but at least that is an option. I wouldn’t like to be charged like a tourist in my own town. Thanks for the mention!
    Pauline recently posted..Is It Nearly Christmas Already? The Smart Guide to Buying GiftsMy Profile

    • There are lots of service jobs, like waiting tables or working at the ski area that give you discounted ski passes, but for the most part locals pay up. I think the exception is for kids’ activities. There are many second homeowners with lots of money that come in the summer and ship their kids off to fancy day camps that can cost $100 per day, or in the winter they pay for private ski lessons. Locals get a huge break on those type activities if they can join in a class funded mostly by the wealthy ones.

  2. I don’t think I’d want to live in a ski resort town, but I agree with Pauline, nearby would be nice. I love the thought of waking up to that kind of epic mountain scenery every day.
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..September In Review – Income/Expense and Net WorthMy Profile

    • That’s why I like where we live. We have mountain view from my bedroom window and can be in the mountains or deserts within a 2 hour drive either way. It’s very cheap to live where we do. We aren’t in the “prime” locations, but get to take advantage of the surroundings without all the tourists coming through.

  3. As you pointed out, this is probably a decent place to live if you are established in your career or are lucky enough to get going in your field right away, but for young professionals it might be a tough place to get started. If you love skiing and the outdoors, though, it probably is worth the lack of corporate jobs!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..My Plan for Tackling 300k of Student Loan DebtMy Profile

    • I see lots of young people who graduate and come live there for a few years, working whatever job they can find. Bartending, selling coffee, etc. Then when they are ready to be real adults, they move on to somewhere more stable. There is a constant turnover in population, which I guess could be a pro or con.

  4. I don’t think I’d want to live in a tourist attraction area. I prefer to live out in the country with no neighbors 🙂 I like my privacy. While I do think visiting a ski resort would be fun I wouldn’t want to live there full time. I have never tried skiing but I am about as far from as athletic as they come. My guess is I might kills myself trying to ski.
    Alexa recently posted..Gettin’ Busy: September Recap and October GoalsMy Profile

    • Oh, if I can do it, anyone can. On my first ski trip, my friends strapped some skis on me and put me on the lift. I had no idea how to get down and it was very painful! I’m surprised I came back for another day.

  5. I don’t mind visiting but I don’t think I’d want to live in a tourist town. I have in the past in the UK and it can get pretty busy. My parents owned a business in a tourist district and it was nice to go home at night to peace and quiet because it was chaos most of the day. I didn’t mind it so much when I was younger but now that I’m older I like to keep quiet and relaxed. The costs are much higher, yep.
    canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Grocery budget: Our kids are eating us out of house and homeMy Profile

  6. My Dad essentially lives right by one being in Bozeman, MT. He has said a number of these same things and have seen them myself when we’ve visited. It drives him nuts, but he loves the scenery so he stays there. His beef is that it’s primarily people from California that come to visit…of course it was fun telling him that I was marrying a California girl. 😉

    • That’s funny. Here it’s more Texans who visit. You can always tell when you get behind one in your car. They drive huge vehicles and go really slow and over the middle of the road on curves.

  7. Love the recap. I’ve thought about doing this for several years now because I have a place at a resort in Lake Tahoe. But I came to the conclusion that I could only live there for two months a year before is get bored.

    Colorado must be pretty great though. Thoughts about Aspen?

    • I’ve never lived in a city other than to go to school, so rural does not bother me at all.

      I’ve only been to Aspen a couple of times. It’s beautiful, but seems like a larger, very commercialized version of Telluride. They have built houses in almost every place to put a house. I’d pick somewhere like Telluride or Steamboat Springs any day over Aspen, but I’m very partial to the Western Slope. There are also never any lift lines in Telluride, even on busy holiday weekends, so that’s another huge bonus.

  8. We live in an area that’s VERY seasonal – it’s a place where many people have second (or third!) homes and they tend to come and live here for a few months every winter. Overall, we love it. Those people subsidize our property taxes to a huge extent and we end up getting a great value living here year round. For the most part the seasonal residents are pleasant, and they provide a lot of employment and overtime for many residents that help a lot of people make ends meet around the holidays.

    As for the expenses, we live a bit outside the more “name brand” destinations, so COL is very affordable, but the name brand destinations are still very easy to get to, and we get to enjoy them year round. =)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..PoP Income Statement – September 2013My Profile

    • It’s funny how people in Telluride bemoan the tourists and second home owners lots of the time, yet depend on their dollars for their income. Tourists are annoying, and I try really hard not to act like one when I’m on vacation!

  9. As with almost anything else, there are definitely trade-offs. On a side note, I’ve never been skiing out west and it’s definitely on my bucket list. Skiing up in the northeast is a lot of fun, but it’s just not the same.
    Matt Becker recently posted..How to Do an Oil Change for Your Car (Part 2)My Profile

    • I actually never skiied until my mid 20’s when I moved here. I can’t imagine I’d like the eastern resorts after being spoiled in the Rockies.

  10. My sister-in-law lives in Vermont near a ski resort town, but outside of it. The cost of living doesn’t seem too high…but there are probably lower cost areas. She works at the hospital so she has a pretty good paying job. We visited her in the winter time and it was too cold that we couldn’t ski (too icy). We went in the summer and I loved the scenery and outdoor activities.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted..Broke? It Might Not Be Your FaultMy Profile

    • I think people who live in New England must be pretty hearty. It gets cold here, but not the damp cold like on the east coast.

  11. I always wondered what it would be like to live in a place like that, or park city…the area where i live is similar in nature in that you have multimillionaires mingling with beach bums and anything goes. It’s very causal and laid back. And in some ways we depend on the weather for tourists but nice weather, however there is a lot of other industry here and in this areas engineering is huge because it’s big on aerospace. I think though, everything looks better on paper then in reality, especially when it comes to the cost of living. I know too well how painful that can be.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..My Own “Government Shutdown” & October GoalsMy Profile

    • We considered the possibility of living in Telluride early in our careers, but decided no, mainly because of housing costs and the cold weather. We have nice house with a big yard that costs a very small percentage of our income. For that benefit, we can drive the hour and 15 minutes to visit Telluride if we want.

  12. I’m not sure that I would like living in one…but it would be fun to visit!
    I don’t really like the cold =/
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Club Thrifty Confessional: I Have First World ProblemsMy Profile

  13. I think I cannot live in the ski town due to cold temperature. I still love the tropical atmosphere. However, to visit or to tour is one of my dream vacation. I like the view and the relax place.
    My Wealth Desire recently posted..BLOG | My Wealth DesireMy Profile

  14. I’d love to visit Telluride but don’t think I’d like to live there. Reminds me of Lake Tahoe without the gambling. Fun to stay and play, but long-term, it is just too expensive for me.
    Kyle | Rather-Be-Shopping.com recently posted..Printable Cheat Sheet: Crack the “Price Tag” CodeMy Profile

  15. I would love to vacation in a ski resort town, but I don’t know if I would want to live there. I’m not a fan of tourists haha!
    Michelle recently posted..$12,334 in September Side Income – Time for Self-EmploymentMy Profile

  16. We love to ski and definitely try to make it to BIg Bear a couple times a year, but we’re beach bums. I don’t think we could happily live at a ski resort town long-term. Visit – you bet. But then we need to get back to the beach and warm weather. My husband is a surfer so he would really miss the ocean. I would too. 🙂
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..Phrases to Avoid When Talking about Money with KidsMy Profile

  17. I don’t think I would be able to live in a resort town. When I went to college in one, I always hated the tourists that would take over the town in the fall. It was terrible and I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. Much harder when people from out of town take over.
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  18. I think I’d like to live in a neighboring town. Cash in on the appeal of the ski town, but avoid some of the costs.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..Government Shutdown: Where’s Your Emergency Fund?My Profile

  19. Very interesting write-up. Having never lived in a truly rural area, I’ve occasionally given thought to what that might be like. I think if this would ever be a part of my future, a place such as what you’ve experienced would be a potential fit. I say this due to the variety of people (not just locals, but interesting tourists), people who might have second homes there, underlying strength of the strong schools, and the great outdoor scenery. This would be for later in life, in my case.
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted..What Should You Do If Your Family Wants a Big Wedding But You Don’t?My Profile

  20. Ultimately it’s all about your spirit of adventure and how open you are to trying something new. And as Matt Becker says, it’s certainly about trade offs, but I think at least giving a resort town a go for a while sounds fun!
    Ed Telling Photography recently posted..ITU TriathlonMy Profile

  21. I hope more conservatives come in and bring in some light. telluride needs them also.

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