Pandemic Disrupts Ski Town Life in More Ways Than One

The working class that make ski towns run are getting squeezed out of work by public health restrictions while wealthy newcomers push real estate markets to crazy new heights.

December 30, 2020, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Ski Town

Telluride, Colorado in the before times. | Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

Monica Prelle writes on the struggles of ski towns, where the workers who help these winter destinations run were finding it harder and harder to make ends meet even before the pandemic.

Prelle's coverage centers on Mammoth Mountain in California, where hopes that the pandemic might restore skiing as a classless luxury seems like an impossible dream as unemployment insurance and other stimulus programs have expired while many of the local businesses that employ local ski bums are still closed.

"Some small businesses did not survive the spring shutdowns. At least five restaurants in Mammoth Lakes, including the one Rainey worked at, closed permanently. And with reduced capacities in lodging and restaurants, many residents who work in tourism-based economies are unemployed or working fewer hours," reports Prelle.

The story holds true in other parts of the country—even those less impacted by public health orders to shutdown businesses and non-essential travel.

"There are no reports specific to ski town workforce, but employment in the leisure and hospitality industry is down by 3.4 million jobs nationwide, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report. And the restaurant industry, which is a lucrative job for ski town workers, is down 2.1 million jobs since February," writes Prelle.

It's not just the lack of local employment changing the world of mountain towns, reports Prelle. Many mountain towns are becoming "Zoom Towns," with wealthy workers relocating to rural areas to take advantage of new work from home capabilities, driving up real estate prices in the process. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for example, set more than 40 real estate market records as of October of this year, according to an earlier article shared by Planetizen.

"Real estate has reached record highs in many places with ski resorts like Truckee, California; Bend, Oregon; and Missoula, Montana. In Mammoth Lakes, California, sales were so high this summer there’s little inventory left, Mammoth Sierra Properties relator Danica McCoy said," according to Prelle. "There are currently just a few condos for sale and no homes listed for less than $1 million. Every property that comes on the market is seeing bidding wars."

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