Ski workers look for a home

  • Cartoon of workers leaving Adam's Rib

    Diane Sylvain

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Eagle County balks at fourth mega-resort.

Imagine Adam's Rib in operation. Now picture 4,300 new workers scrambling for housing in a county that boasted five vacant housing units last year.

"It's not clear where the new people would go," says Cathy Heicher, a member of Eagle County's planning commission.

One thing is certain: Even if the resort became an ace at providing affordable housing, Adam's Rib would cause further dislocation in Western Colorado, where ski industry workers are finding it increasingly difficult to find a place called home.

Some planners say Adam's Rib will send a wave of workers to the towns that line Interstate 70 west of Eagle. Nearby Gypsum, home to a new gypsum waferboard plant, is eager for more growth. And next door is little Dotsero, a trailer park built in the 1980s to house highway construction workers. But those towns alone can't accommodate the growth, says Heicher.

Farther west there's New Castle, Silt and Rifle - towns that already serve as remote bedroom communities for Aspen. If the wave crashes there, the area could become the next Lake County, which borders Eagle County to the north and exports half its workforce to ski areas in neighboring counties (HCN, 4/17/95).

Lake County's commuter population, mainly based in Leadville, leans hard on social services: Resort workers need day care for the kids and food stamps for the down times. Family stress also leads to increased substance abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy and youth crime, says Kathleen Forinesh, director of health and human services for Eagle County. "Rapid change means all those problems increase," she says.

Adam's Rib could also mean more traffic and a more dangerous commute. Although Department of Transportation officials say Interstate 70 between Rifle and Vail is safer than most roads, opponents of the ski area argue that interstate traffic is already jammed. They cite 35 road closures on I-70 last winter due to bottlenecks and bad weather and a 60 percent increase in traffic over the Continental Divide from 1981 to 1994.

Migratory ripples emanating from Adam's Rib could compound housing shortages in towns like Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, middle-class towns near Aspen now being targeted as hot second-home markets. A 300-home development outside of neighboring Carbondale offers homes priced as high as $300,000. Sniffs one official: "It's 40 miles from Aspen and they're still calling it Aspen Glen."

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