The Hidden High Costs of Rocky Mountain Living
“As discussed below, drawbacks to living in the Mountain West include very high costs of living – especially in winter.
Many towns from Colorado to Wyoming are playgrounds for wealthy individuals, but year-round living comes with a lot of additional expenses and inconveniences
Living high in the Rocky Mountains, whether in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Ketchum, Idaho, seems ideal for those who love an active outdoor lifestyle. Buyers are drawn by the spectacular beauty of the mountains and, in many places, the sophisticated amenities found in resort towns.
“Aspen has always been an elite ski resort, but it’s become a year-round destination now because it has high-level shops and restaurants that you find in big cities,” said Heather Sinclair, a managing partner with The Agency in Aspen, Colorado. “It’s a very small chic resort with a cosmopolitan feel.”
But before you pack up to move to higher altitudes, there are some aspects of the Rocky Mountain lifestyle that could bring you down.
“Good places are hard to get to and extra-special places are even harder to get to,” said Ms. Sinclair. “We have an airport five minutes from the center of Aspen that has direct flights from a few major cities, but it’s in the mountains, so we definitely face weather issues.”
Once you get to your mountain town, you’ll need to be prepared to drive on steep, snowy roads.
“It’s a hardy lifestyle and you need to learn how to drive in snow,” Ms. Sinclair said. “A solid vehicle is your safety net, and you may need a new one every couple of years.”
An oversized winter-ready car is a necessity for snow, face-offs with large animals on mountain roads and to haul sports equipment in every season, said Latham Jenkins, a broker with Live Water Properties in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Many people have multiple pairs of skis to bring to the lift along with fishing and hunting gear.
“People often think that because there’s an airport somewhere that it’s easy to get to, but it can take a full day of travel to get to the East Coast from Jackson,” Mr. Jenkins said. “You’ve got to fly or drive to a hub airport before you can fly to your destination. Plus, bad weather can shut the airport or close down roads.”
Nothing Is Instant
Beyond transportation, there are some other aspects of an elevated life to be aware of before you transition to year-round mountain living.
“Of course, we want snow here in Aspen and the city streets are plowed and shoveled, but homeowners need to arrange for someone to plow their driveway and shovel their front walk,” Ms. Sinclair said. “I was on a private ranch last week that had better equipment than the city, but that comes at a high price.”
Homeowners in Rocky Mountain towns should be prepared with special equipment such as snow blowers and roof rakes, said Cam Dowski, a real estate investor and founder of We Buy Houses Chicago.
Depending on which mountain town you choose, healthcare options may be limited. Ms. Sinclair said that Aspen has a state-of-the-art hospital comparable to any city facility. But if you’re living in Jackson Hole, for example, you may need to be transported to Salt Lake City or Idaho Falls for a serious health issue, which could be dicey in severe weather, Mr. Jenkins said.
Urban transplants will find many services aren’t as readily available as they might like.
“We don’t have modern conveniences like Uber Eats here,” Ms. Sinclair said. “There may be an Instacart, but it’s less ‘insta’ and more like two days to get a delivery.”
Part of that is because of the shortage of workers everywhere, which is exacerbated by the remote locations of Rocky Mountain towns and the lack of affordable housing for employees, Mr. Jenkins said.
Home Repairs Are Common and Slow
Another issue to consider is that home maintenance can be more challenging and costly because of harsh weather conditions and rugged terrain.
“The soil and terrain in mountain towns can be unstable, which can cause foundations to shift and settle,” Mr. Dowski said. “This can lead to cracks and other damage to the structure of the home, which may need to be repaired.”
Similarly, water damage can be caused by snowmelt and heavy rain, so it’s important to have a home designed with good drainage, Mr. Dowski said.
“Extreme weather with cold winters and hot summers can strain heating and cooling systems, which may need to be serviced more frequently or replaced more often,” he said.
And when something does break, you may need to be patient, particularly in the off season since a town with a smaller population is less likely to have a big supply of contractors.
Depending on the town you choose, the population can shift dramatically from the ski season to the off-season. It may be overcrowded in winter, busy with summer hikers and extremely empty in spring and fall. Aspen and some other Rocky Mountain towns are attracting more year-round residents and visitors, particularly since the pandemic when people began to spend longer vacations there.
Unexpected Costs of Rocky Mountain Life
While home maintenance and snow removal can be expensive as well as a hassle, some other costs can be higher in remote resort towns, too.
“Healthcare costs tend to be higher in rural areas, including mountain towns, due to the limited availability of healthcare providers and the higher cost of delivering healthcare services in these areas,” said Mr. Dowski.
Even groceries likely will cost you more when you move to a Rocky Mountain town.
“There’s no Costco or Sam’s Club here, so you’re buying food and other goods at pom-and-pop stores that typically are more expensive,” said Mr. Jenkins. “But they provide a vital service and sales tax revenue that keeps the streets plowed.”
Wages are often higher in places such as Jackson Hole for plumbers, electricians and other contractors in order to attract workers and help them afford to live in the area, said Mr. Jenkins. Those higher wages generate higher costs to consumers, too.
“People learn this quickly when they want to build a custom home and are quoted $1,300 per square foot,” he said.
Buying an existing luxury home is hardly a cost saver in mountain migration hot spots..
“Last year I used to say $30 million was the new $20 million, but now $50 million is the new $30 million,” Ms. Sinclair said. “The homes here are among the most expensive in the world.”
On the other hand, the healthy outdoor lifestyle and beauty of the mountains may justify the extra cost and occasional frustrations of moving to a Rocky Mountain resort town.
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