The ski town housing crisis is a problem that simply won’t go away. Sam Pullos ponders the why and how to finding a viable solution.

Every year seasonal workers descend upon ski towns around the globe and every year they struggle to find a roof over their heads. With increased rent and many landlords choosing Air BnB for short term rental over longer term options, the winter worker is often told “you can have the job if you can find a place to live”, and many end up returning home.

The crisis

World class ski towns like Aspen are battling an invasion of million dollar ‘second or third’ homes that render entire pockets of the city ghostly quiet. Aspen is not alone, a quick look at Breckenridge, Mammoth, Tahoe and many more reveal a similar out of reach real estate story. In 2016 Jackson Hole’s median single-family home house price rose 24% from the year before. 24%, in one year! It now sits at a casual $1.2 million.

Ski towns around the world are being transformed from communities to destination locations and room for locals is running out. Teachers, chefs, police persons and hospitality staff, the people that make a town what it is, are not just being priced out of town centres, but out of towns entirely.

Queenstown, New Zealand is also feeling the same squeeze. I don’t want to point the finger at AirBnB, they provide a fantastic service that addresses limited hotel space. The highly profitable short term market is just meeting demand, but it is also removing stock from the longer term leasing market; a fundamental necessity for those actually living in the area.

There is an inverse relationship between population and wealth in Queenstown. New Zealand’s GDP per capita is 15% percent below the OECD average, and Queenstown is below the New Zealand average despite recent employment growth of 10.3%. In other words, productivity and pay are not at a level that allows workers in Queenstown to reasonably live there.

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The result of all of these factors has been seasonal workers silently crammed in to basements, divided rooms, cars and caravans all across Queenstown.

Horror stories range from houses jam packed with 50 seasonal renters to landlords confiscating passports and turning off heating.

There are instances of houses so full they have spilled renters in to caravans parked on the driveway.


Where to from here for ski towns around the world?

New Zealand

The Queenstown Lakes District Council approved a crackdown on short term rentals with a 28 day cap. This means you can only rent your room, granny flat, condo or house on the short term rental market, aka Air BnB, for a maximum of 4 weeks a year before it is deemed commercial and charges commercial rates and tax.

Queenstown’s mayor, Jim Boult is also developing a multifaceted approach to addressing the city’s crumbling housing market, the likes of which have been unseen by many big North American resorts.

Boult is looking to separate the traditional connection between land and house. Allowing low to middle income earners to buy or build a house on leased land, keeping any increase in house value but never owning the land.

Secondly, he is attempting to change the way mortgages are put together. He wants third party investors to be able to front money for property in return for security linked to the land or house via a trust. According to Boult, restructuring the housing sector like this could take the current price of an “affordable” house from $700,000 to $350,000.

Alongside financial restructuring plans, Boult has created standardised affordable public transport at $2 a trip. More ambitious still is the plan to connect Queenstown and Wanaka, thereby allowing workers to travel between the two more conveniently and diversifying housing resources. In order to achieve this, there is talk of a Tesla-esk hyper train that would cut the commute from from over an hour to a matter of minutes.

Ultimately though, Queenstown’s housing crisis is being fueled by exponential growth in population and popularity. The current population of 28,224 people has risen by 22.9% since 2006 and swells to a day population of 57,000 during winter. Without investing in housing infrastructure from the start to support the growing numbers of people servicing the city, the population boom was inevitably going to eventuate in a housing crisis.

The Queenstown Housing Task Force, set up by Boult, recently also announced plans for 1000 affordable homes by 2028.


Whether it be foresight, land availability, a lower population or a combination of all three, Australian ski resorts have by and large escaped the same debilitating housing crises faced by our neighbours across the ditch and in North America. Whatever facilitating factors their might be, it is undeniable that many Australian resorts proactively avoid similar situations by investing in housing options for their staff.

Perisher employs around 1200 staff, half of which are housed by the resort in Perisher owned accommodation, both on mountain and in Jindabyne. The other half source their own housing in surrounding towns; Jindabyne, Berridale and Cooma. Whilst only half of the staff are accommodated by Perisher, the Resort says it is able to fulfill all staff requests when they are made.

Mt Buller has around 680 staff, 425 of which are in resort owned accom. The remainder of which seek out their own arrangements on the mountain or in nearby Mansfield or Sawmill Settlement. The fact that these towns haven’t seen the massive population or market boom of a Queenstown Aspen, Tahoe or others doesn’t take away from that fact that medium term rental is consistently available to local staff as a direct result of their employer.

USA and Canada

North American ski towns are trying. Breckenridge is building 45 studio and one-bedroom apartments for workers, and apparently have plans for hundreds more. There is even an employee with the sole responsibility of trolling vacation rental sites to make sure that these places aren’t being rented to vacationers. Still, demand outweighs supply.

Resorts like Aspen have attempted to resolve housing shortages by contractually preventing short term leasing of new homes, supporting affordable housing projects and considering the integration of tiny house areas.

These approaches don’t really get to the core of the issue though, they just temporarily treat the symptoms. Preventing short term leases promotes ghost neighbourhoods of holiday homes, affordable housing projects get bought by vacationers and high demand increases price above affordable levels.

In Canada, Sun Peaks are looking to set up a housing authority to address their housing crisis for seasonal workers.

But I wonder if the onus is being put in the wrong place. Instead of requiring people to have a job in the area before being able to rent, perhaps housing options should be directly linked with work at particular companies. This way, local companies have a responsibility to provide housing for their staff and job opportunity doesn’t heavily outweigh living opportunity.

Having university-style housing buildings co-owned by in-town businesses and offering a variety of duration and density living options might provide a platform for businesses to accommodate staff. The percentage of investment in these spaces would have to reflect companies accommodation needs, with larger companies being more invested and having more space and smaller ones either owning or leasing  rooms or floors.

Whatever solutions ski towns come up with, it’s clear that they need to be multifaceted and inventive. Ski towns have always had a strong sense of identity, a personality, and that has been in part, what draws us to them.

It is the community, the people that give these places such a special feel. Realising this, towns are beginning to fight to prevent its people from being priced out. The solution won’t be simple or singular, but with creative, ambitious leaders and a healthy respect for the places we love, we should be able to keep skiing and working in some of the most beautiful places on earth without reducing them to museum towns of what once was.

The housing crisis threatening to kill ski towns in Australia


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