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Why Tiny Homes Might Be Just the Thing To Save Ski Towns

Throughout Micro Week, Curbed Ski has focused on the tiny, often ingenious dwellings of people who are living large with a little less. But what does the tiny home movement mean for ski towns? In a world known for big ranches, fancy pads, and ever-increasing lift ticket prices, do tiny homes make sense? It's true that the wealthy constitute the bread-and-butter in the high country; in Park City, 44% of visitors earn $200,000 or more. But that's not really mountain-town culture. At their core, ski towns are made up of die-hard mountain lovers who are obsessed with snowy peaks, love the amazing but too-short summers, and who are willing to put up with the spring mud season. Unfortunately, rising housing costs are making it nearly impossible for snow lovers to "ski-bum-it" for one season or for twenty. Curbed Ski thinks that the tiny home movement might be just the thing to save a ski lifestyle at risk of extinction.

What is the Tiny House Movement? The tiny house movement consists of people downsizing their home space in order to focus on simplified, more sustainable living. Whereas the typical American home measures 2600 square feet, tiny homes clock in around 100-400 square feet, and almost all are under 750 square feet. Some people choose micro homes to lesson their environmental footprint, others because they seek financial freedom from debt. Whatever the reason, tiny home lovers seem inherently attracted to adventure and a desire for freedom that often finds its outlet in nature.

The problem: The cost of housing in ski towns is one of the major difficulties facing the high country. While resort towns are in desperate need of reliable workers (just ask any restaurant owner or hotel manager) the hardest part of living in a ski town isn't finding a job, it's finding housing. And even ski towns like Aspen and Telluride who have successful affordable housing programs are struggling to keep up with demand. Near Jackson Hole, a recent housing study said that while the county added 503 jobs between 2010 and 2013, the number of housing units went up by only 53 in the same time period. When there is housing available, it is often priced well beyond the meager salaries of the ski world's bus boys, waitresses, and lift operators. To put it bluntly, living in a ski town is damn expensive.

The solution: As a recent Teton Valley News article surmised, one solution to the ski-town housing crunch is tiny homes or alternative building structures. And we're not talking about the tacky, factory-produced, 10-foot wide mobile homes that usually don't move and are at least 320 square feet. Instead, tiny homes are an off-the-grid, better-organized solution that fits the ski bum's needs. They can be built by hand if necessary, are much more affordable than traditional housing options, and can easily move. Want to follow the snow for a season? Grab one of these fine adventure vehicles (okay, maybe a less fancy version) and enjoy the ski parking-lot life. Want something a bit more permanent without sacrificing mobility? Check out this tiny house on wheels that was asking a mere $27,350. Tiny homes could give snow lovers aged 20 to 99 the lifestyle they've always wanted: freedom, financial independence, and the ability to live in the mountains. Just ask professional skier Zack Giffin, who lives in his 112-square-foot home on wheels.

The obstacles: Tiny homes might be the answer to many of ski country's biggest problems, but that doesn't mean this is an easy solution. The first problem is land. Much of the land in or near ski towns is designated as National Forests, helping to preserve the natural playgrounds we love. This makes property in the high country expensive. Local building codes and laws could also present challenges. And thirdly, if you want to use your tiny home at 9,000 feet, it needs to be built for the cold. But these challenges are surmountable. At a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting in Teton County, Idaho, planner Jason Boal said he was looking at options to update the county's building codes to accommodate more yurts and tiny homes. While changes may need to be made, it's likely that other city planners in ski country would see the benefit of easy-to-build, affordable housing that leaves a small environmental footprint.

Some tiny-home dwellers park in RV campgrounds, others on small plots of purchased land, still others in the backyards of friends. Whatever the solution, tiny homes work well in places where real estate is at a premium. They also align with the snow-driven, nature-focused lifestyle so prized by people who live, work, and play in the mountains. We think it's a possible solution to save ski-town culture and the powder-loving locals who create it. What do you think, Curbediverse?

· Counties, cities look at tiny home options [Teton Valley News]
· How to build your dream mountain tiny house [Teton Gravity Research]
· On the Road in a Tiny House [Skiing]
· One percenters and our widening wealth gap [Pique]
· The Tiny Life
· Zack Giffin: Living Tiny, Skiing Large [Huffington Post]
· Why the Death of the Ski Bum Will Ruin Ski Towns Everywhere [Curbed Ski]
· From Telluride to Winter Park: Average Rent in 17 Ski Towns [Curbed Ski]
· All Micro Week Coverage [Curbed Ski]