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Amid a ‘crushing housing problem,’ one program sweetens the deal for landlords and helps employees

A snowboarder carves a turn on Aspen Mountain on a clear winter day. In a “Tenants for Turns” program offered by Aspen Skiing Co., landlords can earn a free ski pass or other incentives by renting to a SkiCo employee.
Jordan Curet
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
A snowboarder carves a turn on Aspen Mountain on a clear winter day. In a “Tenants for Turns” program offered by Aspen Skiing Co., landlords can earn a free ski pass or other incentives by renting to a SkiCo employee.

The Aspen Skiing Company has about 900 beds in their own employee housing inventory, mostly for seasonal workers. But in the peak season, SkiCo has thousands of employees.

They can’t all fit in the housing Skico owns, and a lot of them struggle to find affordable housing on the free market. So a couple years ago, the company started something new, called “Tenants for Turns.”

Landlords who rent to a SkiCo employee — within certain parameters — can get big incentives, like a free season pass, a bundle of 10 single-day lift tickets, or a gift certificate worth $1,500.

There were 100 participating landlords last year, housing 150 employees, according to SkiCo’s Director of Talent Acquisition Mikala Ford. And this year, there are already 137 landlords signed up, with the potential to house more than 200 SkiCo employees.

Kaya Williams spoke with one landlord, Sarah Cole, and her tenant, ski instructor Dylan Atencio, about their experience with the program for this audio postcard. You can hear their conversation using the “Listen” button above, or read a transcript below. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Sarah Cole: My name’s Sarah and I am the landlord. I have a house in Basalt.

Dylan Atencio: My name is Dylan. I do have my own unit. But I'm living in Sarah's house.

Cole: It’s been almost a year since he moved in. He’s extended through the whole — this next winter season. You know, it’s just like a familiar face. We don't interact a ton. He has his own entrance, I have my own entrance. But especially in the summer coming and going, we can chat a little bit in the yard, or there's been times where he's helped watch my boyfriend's dog when we're out of town, or like, it's become like a really nice relationship beyond just like, you know, tenant-landlord.

Atencio: Also, sometimes it is a little bit more like domestic life because she has two young daughters. And actually, when I first met them, her youngest, like, she wouldn't even look at me. I think she was like, hiding, she wouldn't even say hi.

Cole: She was shy, yeah.

Atencio: And now, like, every time I walk past the window toward my entrance, and she's there, she'll just run over to the window and just slam herself against the glass.

Cole: Yeah, they get excited to see your car pull up, They're like, “Dylan’s here!” I’m like, “cool.”

Atencio: No, it’s nice, it feels a little more, I guess, immersive than just finding some bedrooms somewhere in a random apartment complex somewhere.

Cole: For me, it's been really cool to see because I think a lot of people come to the valley for the winter. But I remember telling Dylan, too, “I'm like, oh, no, the winter is great. But trust me, you're gonna love this summer. And actually, also, spring and fall are great.” And, you know, it's like, really fun to see when people see the full scope of things that the valley has to offer. Not only different jobs, but just the changing seasons.

So it was fun to have Dylan extend his lease. And you know, now he works for like a local gym that opened, Ajax Fitness, and he's training and he's like, becoming a more — I mean, it's almost like I'm proud. I'm like, “Oh, Dylan, he's like, growing into a full valley, full Aspenite. He’s not just the one-season ski instructor.” It's cool to see you actually like integrating into just like a member of the valley.

Atencio: Well thanks, I appreciate that. Well also, I didn't find the gym that I work at now, if it wasn't for living in Sarah's house because I found it through her boyfriend.

I mean, I would say, if you're looking into this program, you know, there's no harm in at least reaching out to have a conversation at minimum, and seeing if it's a good fit. But also like, the opportunities that come with it are pretty great. And it's a very good way to get your foot in the door, in probably a little more of a meaningful way than just living with other seasonal employees surrounding you, and [you're] actually being much more immersed in the community.

The hardest thing of moving here is to find the housing in the first place.

Cole: I know for me, like, it feels good to help out with this sort of crushing housing problem that we have in this valley. And as someone who also works in the outdoor and ski industry, like, I know that that's definitely something that we have to be aware of in any ski town, like, we have to have people that can work here and live here to keep it all moving.

And then the unexpected benefits of, yeah, you might meet a friend or, you know, just help out young people coming in, breaking into the valley and then get to see them, you know, maybe they do only stay for a season or maybe they continue and they find another job and they kind of integrate into the valley. So there's kind of an altruistic feeling, it feels good to help people. And it also feels great to get your Premier Pass paid for.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Dylan Atencio’s name.

Kaya Williams