Tom Clyde: For seasonal housing, start tiny
In the Kamas grocery store, they have a big bulletin board above the cart storage. It’s a pretty complete exchange for everything from hamsters to hay. Lost dogs are found, and errant bulls find their way home. Just about everything gets advertised there at some point. I always take a look. This week, there were three ads from people looking for winter housing. They wanted garage apartments, small houses, spare rooms, or basically any heated, horizontal space for the winter. There were no cards advertising houses for rent. Kamas has no vacancies.
It’s going to be a difficult winter for housing. The 30-year old condos that used to provide workforce housing have been buffed up and rented on Airbnb, or have become full time housing for people working at businesses unrelated to the ski industry. The end result is that the seasonal work force necessary to operate the ski resorts is largely left out in the cold.
It’s an unconventional housing problem because of the seasonality. So it probably calls for unconventional solutions. There is a national fixation with the “tiny house” movement. There are three or four TV shows about people building tiny houses. The audiences are probably people living in huge and heavily mortgaged houses, who watch on TV’s that are bigger than the tiny houses. The audience envies the free-spirited independence of the tiny house dwellers. There, but for a $500,000 debt and three kids, go I.
The line between a tiny house and a trailer house is not easily defined, but like pornography, you know it when you see it. In any TV shows about people living in trailers, the cops are involved. The artisanal quality of the tiny houses seems to fit with the delicate design sensibilities of ski resorts. They might work here.
You can stick an extension cord out the window and get lights and heat in a tiny house. The harder problem is plumbing. Even a tiny house needs a tiny bathroom, and that requires a connection to a tap someplace. And, unless they rely on holding tanks that have to be emptied frequently, or get up close and personal with the composting toilet, there needs to be a sewer connection. Both of those are tricky in freezing conditions.
There are about 100 RV campsites at Jordanelle State Park with either “standard” or “partial” hook-ups. I don’t speak RV, so I’m not sure what a partial hook-up is, but it sounds disappointing. The campground closes down for the winter months because the utility connections are above ground and would freeze. It would take some modifications to solve that, but if we could connect 100 tiny houses to the existing utility system at the State Park Campground, it would provide a lot of seasonal employees a place to live. They could do their standard or partial hooking up in relative comfort, and close enough to work that transportation is easy. The State Park could make some rental income, and the seasonal workers might bring their own houses.
Transportation companies have sort of figured this out. You see buses from the national parks doing shuttle service in here in the winter months. They move the buses to where there is a seasonal demand for buses. The housing needs of the national parks and their concessionaires are as seasonal as the ski resorts, and are almost exactly at opposite times of year. The idea of housing that migrates with the migrating workers makes sense.
Could we come up with a fleet of rolling housing stock — if not tiny houses, maybe tiny dormitories — that could migrate from Rockville to Richardson Flat each year? I stayed in a motel in Medora, North Dakota (Gateway to the Mah-da-hey Trail) that was a couple dozen man-camp trailers. They stuck a tree in front of them. It wasn’t the Montage, but it worked. Those things aren’t cheap to move, and maybe aren’t designed for frequent moves like a travel trailer.
It’s hard to imagine Park City embracing an actual trailer park on the edge of town. The aesthetic is all wrong, even if it had a lot of public art. But a seasonal tiny house village with frost proof hook-ups seems plausible, and suitably trendy. A trailer park is just depressing. But a village of architecturally interesting tiny houses, well, that’s entirely different. It could become a tourist attraction in its own right.
I guess the other alternative, if the resorts can’t house the people they need, is automation. Do we really need live pass checkers zapping us with those laser guns? They used to have turnstiles that read your pass automatically. The idea of giant Roomba snow groomers roaming the mountain at night, driven by GPS computer chips instead of people, is entirely possible. The technology is already there in farm machinery.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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As a skier, columnist Tom Kelly has long been aware of his sport’s lack of diversity. But until recently, he’d never realized how it affected him or what his role may be in it.