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Thread: ski (or resort) towns that work

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    ski (or resort) towns that work

    I've had this vague thread floating around in my head for a while... does anybody know of any ski towns (or other resort towns) that truly "work" as communities? I've been working in southwestern montana for about three months now and quite a few of my duties have dealt with Big Sky- little ski... town?...community?...resort? what do you call it? Anyway, its about 50 miles south of bozeman and I spend a lot of work-related time there.

    Calling Big Sky a TOWN is, in my opinion, stretching the definition. There is a definite town center, though I would never call it a downtown. Its more of a concentration of buildings in the center of the valley. 75% of what is located in the town center is realtor offices. There is, as far as I can tell, a single grocery store. There are several banks, primarily used by those in the development industry to cash the huge checks they are receving daily. As soon as you leave the valley center, the suburbs start. These suburbs run the gamut from 5 acres to 20 to 40 to 100. All of these suburbs are in wildfire-danger areas and are displacing a depressing amount of wildlife. There is no affordable housing. The people that live there fulltime are almost entirely related to the growth machine. The ski bum population in the winter is, to my understanding, much lower than other ski towns like jackson or steamboat springs, as there is little nothing for them to do as far as work and very few places to live. The entire place is automobile dependent and virtually the only place that one could walk to is the golf course.

    As I drive around Big Sky, I can't help but wonder about other ski towns. I've been to plenty, but haven't really looked at them with the "planner eye" as much as I wish I had. Where are the ski towns (or other resort-oriented towns) that truly function as communities? I think that both Jackson and Steamboat Springs qualify- they were both functioning agricultural communities before the resort boom hit them. Where else? What do these places do that makes them work as good places to live? Were they all started as ordinary little towns and only later converted to resort communities? Big Sky is built by and for developers, realtors, builders, and those with absurd amounts of money. How could this have been done differently? Any thoughts on the subject?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    IMO Stowe, Vermont is a good example of a ski town that works.

    In the early 1980's, the Town decided that they were not going to foresake the town center as growth spread out toward the mountain resort. They planned and regulated accordingly, and today the town center is thriving - as is the rest of the community.

    Yes, the local economy depends largely on the growth and success of the resort. But entrepreneurs who have moved there for the quality of life have created unique complimentary economic niches as well.

  3. #3

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    I agree with SGB about Stowe. I am not sure I agree with you about Jackson, but am forced to say that it works better than Pig Sty, er oops, Big Sky. In fact, I am not sure any of the Western resorts are worse. Almost all of them are too costly for regular folks to move into, but some sense of community lingers in some, including I think smaller resorts like Red Lodge and Crested Butte. Even some of the larger resorts like Park City retain some sense of community, as long as you are willing to allow the definition of that sense of community to keep evolving. It would be interesting to develop a survey instrument about sense of community and use it to compare resort communities.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Traverse City Michigan is not a ski town, but it is a resort town. It uses the bay and most there income comes from tourism.

    Also Cape May NJ.
    "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. Time makes more converts than reason." - Thomas Paine Common Sense.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I've only breezed through Stowe and, from what i recall, it was very nice. My Jackson comment comes from the fact that I've got several friends crammed into tiny apartments there (including a good friend who works in county planning) and I've had enough evenings riding around town on a bike, slightly tipsy on wine, heading to see some band or eat moderate food for a high price, that I feel like they're doing the best they can to not just be consumed by the tourists. What can you do, though, when 3 million people drive through the middle of your town every summer and you've got only 3 percent of your county that's private land to work with?

    Red Lodge is great. I interviewed several people there last summer and really came away feeling like it truly is a community that works. There's the ski resort and the gateway atmosphere, but the school, the post office, the grocery store, and the bakery are all within easy walking or biking distance.

    What's the history there, though? How did the people there keep community growth within that rubrik of "community" instead of letting the growth machine take total control (like Big Sky)?

    Michaelskis- I've never been to michigan at all- what's the story with the places that you mentioned?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    One I can suggest is Collingwood, Ontario It serves as the town for Blue Mountain. Having seen it grow and develop over the past 20 years, it appears to be more than just a place for tourists to drop money. Thanks to the tourists it does provide more services than comparably sized places in the area.

    A contributing factor is also that it is less than 2 hours to downtown Toronto, so it is also becoming a place where people live and telecommute from.

    They are currently hiring a new planning director.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  7. #7
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    One I can suggest is Collingwood, Ontario It serves as the town for Blue Mountain.
    Off-topic:
    This resort has been bombarding our office fax machine at least weekly over the past 6 month with low cost weekend packages. Seems like a "low-end" marketing approach for a resort community, IMO. They never say if their prices are in Canadian or U.S. dollars, either.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Look into Sandpoint ID. Both winter and summer recreation destination with a strong year-round population (Schweiter Ski Resort and on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille). Unfortunately, it's received lots of national publicity lately, so that all may change.

  9. #9

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    The experience of Sandpoint has always been colored for me by the presence of so many right wing extremists in Bonner County, including many members of the Nazi party, but it has been (so far) a real community, as well as a resort.

    Traverse City is a resort community that hardly feels like one (although I have only been there in the off season) and definitely has a strong sense of community. I'd say it is the Bozeman of the Midwest, but the quality of development is quite a bit higher.

    I don't much about Cape May, but my experience of the Jersey shore, which is mostly at Sea Isle City, suggests that one important difference is cultural: the folks who come to the beach at Sea Isle have been coming for generations, and it is not at all unusual to see three generations sitting on the beach together. While I know many folks in the West return to favorite places, as I do, Western resorts just do not seem to have the same family allegiances and character. I suppose the other difference is that skiing is way less affordable than sitting on the beach.

    Not to be cynical, because I have many friends there, and have myself worked very hard to help keep Red Lodge, Red Lodge, but their ability to keep things under a loose sort of control is based in the reality of unreliable snow. There was never a financial incentive for a large, well-capitalized corporation to show in the '60's or early '70's and overwhelm the place. RL Mountain has had multiple owners, none of whom lasted very long, and some of whom stuck the unsuspecting county and, eventually, city with big bills for abortive attempts at development. So, the people of the community have had time to get their act together, to the extent it is, without the pressure that would have utterly changed the place.

    Moving to New England has made it clear to me that there are substantial qualitative differences between gradual organic growth and rapid large-scale growth. You can make the rapid growth a little better or a little worse with planning, but the reason people like Stowe and Red Lodge and Traverse City is because they don't look like they were dropped from the sky all in one day.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    The experience of Sandpoint has always been colored for me by the presence of so many right wing extremists in Bonner County, including many members of the Nazi party, but it has been (so far) a real community, as well as a resort. ....
    I think you'd be suprised how much the area has recently changed (that is, if you haven't been there lately). When I left there this year, I didn't get a strong sense of that many extremists. The word was, they'd relocated south to Kootanei County in the Hayden Lake area and north to Boundary County. Just my observations.

  11. #11
    spokanite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake
    I think you'd be suprised how much the area has recently changed (that is, if you haven't been there lately).
    IMO, I think the stain which that small group placed on the Northern Idaho/Sandpoint area and perhaps the over-representation by the media is beginning to fade. I've always felt that it played up into a great media story without reflecting the fact that very few up there share those values.

    Two years ago I spent a week up on Big Mountain in the middle of summer. A friend's parents live there year round...It was really creepy. Here they were living on the mountain, in this development and we were the only ones there. Surrounded by these empty million-dollar homes and there were only 2 couples living there year round. It was literally a million dollar ghost town for 95% of the year.

    You may want to look outside the US...Torino, Italy (2006 Olympics), Shiga Kogen, Japan ...as a contrast. I've been to Shiga Kogen, and I'm pretty sure it was a functioning village prior to the ski industry. The big attraction there, historically, was the natural hot springs...Niiiiice!
    Last edited by spokanite; 03 Sep 2004 at 10:04 AM.

  12. #12

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    Kootenai County has always been the center of activity for the hate groups, in part because local business leaders were able to use those folks to achieve their own goal of avoiding any relevant regulation. Idaho's failure to police home schooling also has a lot to do with the presence of those groups.

    Having spent a lot of time in planning meetings in N Idaho and E Washington in the '80's, I do not think the media over-represented the impact of the Nazis, Klan, etc. I don't think the majority of folks shared the more radical views, but they did more then tolerate them, they acceded to them in community after community, and in the case of some individuals directly benefitted from them.

    I haven't spent enough time up there during the last 10 years to know whether the influence of those groups has faded, so I'm happy to hear that it has. I still wouldn't want to spend much time out on the back roads there if certain folks knew I was a planner.

  13. #13
    spokanite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    I haven't spent enough time up there during the last 10 years to know whether the influence of those groups has faded, so I'm happy to hear that it has. I still wouldn't want to spend much time out on the back roads there if certain folks knew I was a planner.
    I was a kid in the 80's so my recollection of it has mostly been in the past 10 years. It is improving, and is becoming a popular destination/living area with a high quality of life.

    I've heard similar comments to yours about not wanting to elaborate on the fact that you're a planner. A professor of mine had a booth at a county fair to talk about emergency planning. A woman walked over to him and wanted to understand why, "All you planners want to cram us into small lots one on top of the other?"

    Where were you living?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Bullwinkle's town of McCall ID is supposed to be wonderful, just an all-around great town to live in. I've seen it in many list of top 10 places to live, and it is very ski and outdoor oriented. I've never been there myself, but I plan to go sometime.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Nerudite- Mccall Idaho is definitely on my place to visit, as is sandpoint and much more of Idaho (as much for the backcountry as for the towns- the place is wonderful).

    Lee- I think you might have hit the nail on the head with the Red Lodge/inconsistency of the snow thing. Its remarkable how, with some of the best snow in southwest montana, Big Lodge has turned a great place into an industrial zone for development. As I drive around the "suburbs" of Big Sky, permitting 5,000, 9,000, and even 12,000 square foot homes, I get queezy thinking of the wildlife that is being displaced and the resources that are being used all for the sake of creating a multi-million dollar home that will be empty for most of the year. They have taken virtually all of their values- great snow, incredible wildlife, proximity to Yellowstone National Park, a beautiful river- and converted them completely into cold, hard cash. Its sad, I think.

    Anyhow, folks- I'm off to the southeast for a family reunion- it will be interesting to drive around rural Kentucky and look at these poor tobacco towns with the same planner's eye that I've developed out West. Thanks so much for the thread!

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite
    Bullwinkle's town of McCall ID is supposed to be wonderful, just an all-around great town to live in. I've seen it in many list of top 10 places to live, and it is very ski and outdoor oriented. I've never been there myself, but I plan to go sometime.

    Shhh! Don't tell anybody. We like it this way.

    We are struggling with this issue. How can we grow, and continue to capitalize on all of the people who want to visit here with money falling out of their pockets, yet still remain a real community? Part of the key is to make sure that 'real' people still are able to live here. One of the things that makes a community is different social and economic classes living in close proximity to each other, attending the same churches, shopping in the same stores, etc. We still have that, but it is getting harder and harder for the average working family to live here. We are looking in to a number of different affordable housing or community housing programs, and are trying to learn from other resort communities.

    I think it also helps us that we have very strong summer and winter seasons and a reasonably strong fall. Spring can still be tough for the merchants, but it is getting better. April is pretty dead - no skiing and the summer folks aren't here yet - but pretty much any other time, there are quite a few visitors in town.

  17. #17

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    I lived in Cheney for a couple of years. Later, I consulted with Pend Oreille County on its first growth management plan, wrote the plan for Hauser (with Abby Byrne), and did planning commission trainings in Boundary, Bonner, and Kootenai (twice I think).

    It has been some time since I passed through McCall and I a little surprised that any ordinary folks can still afford to live there. I remember a lot of Lear Jets at the airport the last time through.

    PS: Don't regret a slow spring! The locals will eventually go mad if there are no quiet seasons. The merchants just need to take a spring vacation to S Utah or Mexico or somewhere. In fact, why have a business in a resort town if its just like having a business somewhere else?

  18. #18
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Maybe....

    Cloudcroft New Mexico? Never been there, but hear it is nice....anyone know? They might be able to ski 2 weeks out of the year....ha ha ha....
    "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
    John Kenneth Galbraith

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    I have passed through Cloudcroft, but never spent enough time to know anything about how it works. It is quite scenic and relatively out-of-the-way. Global warming may indeed end its run as a ski area.

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    From a Canadian & Border Perspective...

    How about Fernie, B.C.; St. Jovite, P.Q; Invermere, B.C.; Whitefish, Montana; Hood River, OR; and I'll second Jackson & Stowe.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian permaplanjuneau's avatar
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    resorting to the last resort

    Well, as a former ski instructor turned planner, I've got plenty of opinions about this...

    When I was in Breckenridge, CO in 1995-96, there was a functional, year-round community that seemed to work pretty well. Even if most of the workers couldn't live right in Breck, Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne were close by and still affordable.

    Whistler, BC used to be a real town, but I suspect that since my last visit in the late '90's it has lost much of its functionality as a community (Blackcomb and Whistler are still amazing ski areas, though).

    Park City, with massive development for the 2002 Winter Olympics, lost any semblance of being a community. Of course, they may have overbuilt so badly that housing is once again affordable in Summit County (UT), but I'm not there anymore so I couldn't tell you.

    I am tempted to suggest Alta, UT as a town that works as a community in spite of the resort, but that would be stretching the limits of what you could call a community (although locals definitely have a tightly-knit community within the network of lodges). Alta does have a fire department and library (same building), as well as a mayor, but only about 30 houses (I may be over-estimating) and one street.

    Unfortunately, I can't suggest my own home town, Juneau, AK, as it is widely known to be a whore for the cruise ship industry (and thus a "resort" town by Alaska standards). Our community does work quite well (in my opinion, anyway), but our economy is so reliant on state government that I'd have a hard time calling us a resort town in any case. We are currently planning a new golf course and some additions to our ski area (including housing and perhaps even commercial uses at the ski area), so we may soon be more of a resort town. Of course, that would require that people actually came to Juneau in order to golf or ski in the rain...

    What about Cedar City, UT and Brianhead Resort? They are very close to one another, although arguably not the same place...the same thing goes for Grand Targhee, WY and neighboring _______(Driggs?) ID. Damn--can't remember the name of the town...

    I'd also like to step into the fray around Sandpoint, ID, which is a fantastic town that doesn't tolerate, much less support white supremacists (which is why they all live in the woods outside of town). I think Sandpoint has done an admirable job of withstanding pressure from ultra-right-wing groups, as well as managing growth in a coherent fashion (note that I haven't been there in at least 8 years, so all this could have changed).

    One final example that hasn't had time to work or not work, as this is it's first year of operation (it could be a good example of what to do or what not to do in coming years): The villiage of Hoonah, AK wanted to get in on the cruise ship action, but wanted to retain the "community" they already know. To this end, they built an entire new resort called "Point Sophia" outside of town, where cruise ships are now docking, and where tourists can take tours and/or buy gifts to their heart's content without disturbing the residents of Hoonah. I haven't heard if this strategy is working at all, but since tourists on cruise ships are pretty much a captive audience, the residents are lucky in that they can limit where the tourists have access to by controling the tour operators.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    The new city of Mont-Tremblant, in Québec, seems to work very well as a resort community. Before amalgamation in 2002, the ski area, with thousands of slopeside rooms, many slopeside restaurants, and one of the steadiest flows of tourists in Canada, was part of the small (population 1400) city of Mont-Tremblant. The new, "amalgamated" Mont-Tremblant has a population of roughly 12,000 and takes in the adjoining city of Saint-Jovite, a subregional center. Not only does Mont-Tremblant the resort community work year-round (it receives a heavy tourism load in summer and fall as well as winter), Saint-Jovite continues to function as an independent city, with a main street lined with independent commerce and restaurants (rue Ouimet), and the main highway from Montreal to Abitibi offering two large supermarkets, Canadian Tire, Tim Hortons, and all the other necessary services for today's Canadian small town. Unlike in Aspen or Whistler, resort workers haven't been priced out of the area; housing prices remain on par with what they are in greater Montreal, and the presence of businesses that cater to more than just skiers (way too many of the Vermont towns are lacking this) ensure that the economy of Mont-Tremblant can be sustained.


    A standard Montréal bungalow in Saint-Jovite for C$149,000. You're not getting that in Aspen.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    I was in Jasper, Alberta this summer. It seemed pretty touristy, but had lots of locals in the downtown, grocery stores, etc. It wasn't all t-shirts, fudge and ye old gift shoppe.

    I also went to Banff and that place oozed wealth- primarily Japanese money. Not sure how that works as a community.

    I would also echo Stowe, VT. Bar Harbor, Maine is a coastal resort town, but has a prominent science laboratory and some specialized schools and institutes dealing with marine issues-- things that are active year round.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Every community has it's pro's and cons, and resort communities geenrally have the same problem: everyone wants to live there, but they don't want it to lose it's attractiveness as a quaint, distinctive community. I can't think of any resort community that doesn't face this problem.

    Park City has done a decent job of holding on to it's past by honoring it's history as first a mining town and second as a winter sports town. The community has supported many of these efforts, through an increase in sales tax to purchase open space, historic buildings and development rights to offering grants to refurbish old mining cabins. It is the growth that occurs outside of city limits that are having a negative impact on Park City. But they also have a benefit to the city in that housing is cheaper and people who work in the service industry can live closer to where they work.

  25. #25
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    Cloudcroft New Mexico? Never been there, but hear it is nice....anyone know? They might be able to ski 2 weeks out of the year....ha ha ha....
    Cloudcroft is quite small; maybe 500 people. There's a few restaurants, a few art galleries, and a good woodsy tavern like what you would expect in a mountain town; otherwise, it's very quiet. It's more of a weekend summer getaway for those from Las Cruces and El Paso, to escape the heat of the desert floor. I'l see if I can dig up some pictures.

    Ski Apache is around Ruidoso, about 25 miles north of Cloudcroft. Ruidoso is certainly no Vail or Aspen; it's more like an unattractive, low-densirt suburb in the mountains. Maybe it's the Texas influence; it's the closest ski area to Dallas, San Antonio and Houston (a 12-16 hour drive, but a bit less to Amarillo and Lubbock), and you normally see more Texas license plates than New Mexico plates on the road there.

    I've been impressed by Taos, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado. Both seemed like unpretentious small towns, with reasonable costs of living compared to other ski towns, where one could actually live year-round. I was very impressed with Durango's downtown; the main street was lined with retail businesses, restaurants, and pubs, but without that feeling of hyper-exclusivity that would normally make one feel like they were an outsider looking in. You don't have to drive tens of miles to a "real city" for day-to-day necessities; as well as the healthy main street, there is a mall, Wal-Mart, and a small assortment of big-box retailers, albiet in an architecturally and environmentally sensitive setting, south of town. To me, Durango felt quite inclusive and comfortable.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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