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The Face of Ski Town Homelessness

Housing in small ski towns especially a place like Jackson Hole is an extremely difficult proposition. The amount of homes available are limited, places are sold out from under tenants to the highest bidder, and the price range of places available are high. This short video examines the problem of being homeless in a ski town along with some of the reasons it exists. One thing is for certain, something needs to change in order for the average worker and family to survive. 

Sorry but don’t feel bad for a dude that can afford a new ford expedition and 15” macbook but not an apartment. Seems more like a choice that he chooses to live somewhere that is priced out of his ballpark. Dude seems like he spends his cash on toys (expensive truck, computer, camera equip, etc) maybe he should spend it on a roof over his head first, toys second…

    Now way!!! Do the math. A car and a computer and very modest possessions do not equal what it costs to live in ski towns like Jackson Hole.

    Very well done short film. The empathy displayed by the locals toward the workers is applauded.

    Ski towns have got to figure out how a living wage can be established and affordable housing provided to the workers who are needed to keep the economy rolling. If big business wants to show up lke Marriott, etc., they have deep enough pockets from profits to partner with ski towns to figure it out. 

    The other choice is to open up the doors to imported guest workers and pay them low crap wages and put them up in cheapo resort sponsored dorms.

      I’ll agree with you about the quality of the film, very well done and does do a great job to portray the struggles of the characters. But I feel we are just going to disagree about the wage issue. A new ford expedition (which the one he was driving was certainly 2013 or newer) costs minimum $45000 or about a $800 a month payment for 5 years. That goes a long way towards paying rent. 15” MacBook cost minimum $1500 there’s one months rent. Without getting to much into politics, cause that’s not the point of this site or this movie, I don’t know why in this country people that make a life choice to work a low/no skill job thinks that they are entitled to pay equal to people who choose to get an education and skills make. If you choose to live the bum lifestyle, good for you, more power to you. But embrace your life choices and move on. Stop trying to get society to take pity on you because you choose to live on the fringes of society. There are plenty of mountain towns that haven’t been touched by development and big money which one could live off of shite wages and partake in their skibum/climbingbum/trail trash lifestyle on their minimum wages. You make your bed that you sleep in. Don’t mess up the sheets than complain about how unfair it is.

        Good point, life is unfair.  But unless Jackson Hole wants to end up a Disneyland resort, they need to figure out how to make sure the workers can afford to live and work there.  I bet the guy in the vid would sell off his nice truck if he could find a reasonable place to live on a bus line.

    I respect your opinion and see how that could seem like I chose to live in my car. The SUV was sold to me by my boss after it was wrecked for 1600. So I had no payments. The Mac book was sold to me the year befor from a friend witch I paid off in payments. My passion is photography and thats why I want to stay in this town. The point of the film is to show that low wage middle wage and even a chef that I know that works at the four seasons was paying 1500 for rent and now his rent went up to 4000 can bearly make it in this town. These rich towns need the people working the kitchens and hotel staff to bring money in but they are being flushed out. The housing crises is affecting hotels that are using the paper to take out adds for the community to house their employees and the hotels will pay close to 400 dollars a month to house their employees. I’m not poor but I’m not rich. Raul was trying to show that the kind of homelessness here isn’t about drug addicts or alcoholics like most people atribute it to. With much respect thank you for your point of view.

      Glad that you chimed in. Also thanks for having the guts to be the subject of the film.  Personally, I consider what Jackson Hole is going through is a microcosm of what is similarly going on in the rest of the nation. Some places worse than others. For example what Baltimore is going through has been misrepresented as just a race problem but in reality it is a “class” problem of rich v poor (have v have not). When it boils down to it Jackson Hole has the same class struggle going on albeit not as blantently race based.

      We as a nation of caring good people (be us rich or us not so rich) do and can have the ability to come together so we can all prosper. Life doe not need be a zero sum game. We need to figure out how to share with each other while doing our part to pull out weight.

      Peace to all.

This short is an insult to the truly homeless and destitute.  These people have money and are spending it on things other than housing.  This is a manufactured crisis made by people who want to live in an expensive area they can’t afford.  I’d love to move to and live in Jackson Hole.  I can’t afford it, so I don’t do it.

All of the people associated with this movie need to go to North Philadelphia, or the Bronx, and see what homelessness really is all about.

    Truly homeless?  Try going to to your hometown Walmart parking lot at night and you unfortunately will find families living out of their cars. American homelessness is no longer just an intercity problem.  It is an American problem.

    Yes homelessness in those areas is everywhere and very visable. But a lot of people who are homeless in those areas are homeless because of drugs and alcohol. I have Suv because becuse it was wrecked and sold to me for 1600 last year and the Mac book was bought last year as well . Everything I have is paid off and most of my money now just goes to rent. Rent goes up every year unless you live in a basement. Renters here ask for a deposit , first month and last month rent witch totals out to close to 2000 just to move on to a place. I’ve been lieing here for 3years and things are getting worse. I’m not rich and I’m not poor . I have a friend who pays 1500 for rent that works at the four seasons hotel and his rent went up to 4000. So even the ones that are well off are being pushed out. I understand what you mean about true homeless people that live under a cardboard but the point of the film was to show that the kind of homelessness in this town has to do with people with jobs and a town that won’t invest in affordable house. I apologize if we offended you. Thank you for your opinion. With much respect Gerson Giron

Here a solution, tell all the East Coast Yuppies that live in Jackson for 3 years and leave to GTFO, simply because they do nothing for Jackson’s economy besides work at restaurants/bars and take up housing…just to live the iconic “ski bum life,” it’s pathetic. I would honestly prefer giving that same housing to Hispanic families who will actually give back to the community and be in the valley for more that a couple years. I’m sorry but the reality is Jackson HAD enough fly fishing guides and ski bums long before we had a “housing crisis” in Jackson, hopefully it will weed out most of the wannabe locals who don’t do anything expect suck from our economy and blender give anything back.

    So instead of those yuppie east coaster (or wherever they come from) ski bums/fish guides/restaurant workers; you are ok with Jackson Hole turning into one of those H1B Visa foreign worker supported resorts towns (oh and under HIB, no the family does not come along and the woker is temporary). If so, open the doors for Marriott and typical corporate businesses to show up to suck the life and profits out of Jackson Hole…  Get ready to say good by to your quaint town.

      Because I totally was talking about illegal immigrants…if that’s your best argument then I rest my case. And if you lived in the valley for more than a few years you would know those people are the ones who run our economy. One example: you would never catch a yuppie working as a maid at the hotels in the Village or working actual civily responsible jobs ie: trash men, grocery store workers, manual labor AKA the jobs that keep Jackson alive…believe it or not if you removed 90 percent of the 3 year “ski bums” from the valley our economy would actually benefit. We don’t need “ski bums” we need people who are willing to be in the valley long term and work long term jobs…restaurant and fly fishing jobs are not long term.

        So your economic solution for Jackson is to live off the backs of low paid undocumented workers who have no choice but to hide in the shadows of Jackson Hole?  How about instead: require businesses pay a living wage;  make sure there is incentive for building of affordable housing instead of just million dollar homes and expensive hotels; ban large construction projects such as hotels, shopping centers, gated communities, etc; and then, enhance local public transportation. This would keep Jackson Hole a cool environmental gem to visit or even live in.

        I understand your dislike for “yuppie” ski bums and fish guides but they are one of the resources that keep Jackson Hole’s economy chugging along. I would say your real enemy is big corporation moving in with businesses like huge hotels that will kill what Jackson Hole is like right now. Do you really want to turn into Park City or Vail. You think the yuppies are bad, try the “stinking rich” taking over Jackson.

          If you don’t think the rich already run out town then you need a reality check. Localized taxes give Jackson local kids the best and highest funded public high schools in the entire country…don’t forget Teton County was for many years the number 1 richest county per capita in the United States. Those rich people pay taxes and are in town for a grand total of about 1 week out of the entire year, I can deal with that. And realize as someone who’s father owned a construction company building houses for said rich people it is much better for the over all economy ie: plumbers, electricians, stone masons etc. They all benefit from the wealthy coming to our town. And last point is if you think people who live in Jackson and work lower-class jobs are underpaid you are also very uneducated on a topic you’re debating. The average income for every job in Jackson is statistically 2-6% higher than anywhere else in the United States…so get your facts straight bud

            Funny. Guess the video was a complete farce.

Here a solution, tell all the East Coast Yuppies that live in Jackson for 3 years and leave to GTFO, simply because they do nothing for Jackson’s economy besides work at restaurants/bars and take up housing…just to live the iconic “ski bum life,” it’s pathetic. I would honestly prefer giving that same housing to Hispanic families who will actually give back to the community and be in the valley for more that a couple years. I’m sorry but the reality is Jackson HAD enough fly fishing guides and ski bums long before we had a “housing crisis” in Jackson, hopefully it will weed out most of the wannabe locals who don’t do anything expect suck from our economy.

I don’t feel at all bad for ski bums and fishing guides living out of their cars. That’s part of being a ski bum and that’s a choice not something anybody is forced into. I had to quit watching when he said he cried at night. Working in a jewelry shop in JH is a hell of a long way from rock bottom. I’ve lived a tent for a summer being a bum. At the end of the summer I moved to SLC. Problem solved.

    I understand your kind of lifestyle and how that’s ok with you and many others. And when I said hitting rock bottom it was about what people back home where I’m from would think if I told them I was living out of my car. I know I didn’t hit rock bottom. The point of the film is to show that people of all classes are being affect by this housing crisis. People can find jobs but not a place to live. This film isn’t about me , it’s about the problem in Jackson and how it’s getting worse. Ski bums and seasonal workers come and go we are talking about the locals and the struggle to live and work here. Thank you for your opinion. With respect Gerson Giron.

      I didn’t like how the problem was portrayed. I don’t disagree with the fact that there is a problem though. I moved to SLC from WA and I’ve done 5 winters in here. I would love to do a winter in JH but probably won’t because of how unaffordable it is vs SLC which is super cheap.

The fllmmaker could have done a better job with the numbers so we could better empathize with this individual.  What is his monthly income?  If housing is available, how much is rent?  How many folks that have a job in Jackson are in need of housing?  Jackson cannot afford to get rid of the ski bums.  Resort towns will always need lift attendants, servers, dishwashers, ski/snowboard instructors etc.  As towns like Jackson are building more lodging/restaraunts/retail for the tourists, they need to find a balance to provide/build affordable housing for the workers that wil be part of this growth in services.

MDZIEZYC why do you have such a hard on for restaurant workers? What make you think they don’t contribute to the economy any more than you? They have kids, they raise families, they spend money and pay taxes just like you. How does a grocery store worker “keep Jackson alive” any more than a cook, bartender, waiter, or dishwasher?
But yes, in this case homelessness is a choice. I spent close to two months homeless here in Tahoe and it was a choice for most of the time It also included a trip with my 3 daughters to your lovely area (where I spent money made from the restaurant I’ve worked at for the last 11 years). I don’t feel bad for the guy, but it does help bring to light a growing problem with housing affordability in your area. We had a similar problem here before the crash as real estate prices skyrocketed many of our town’s families could no longer afford to buy homes or if they already owned they couldn’t resist selling theirs and moving away. My daughter would lose friends on a weekly basis. Schools closed since state funding was based on a per student formula. My point is, whether or not you have empathy for the guy’s situation, it’s not something that he alone faces and it is a problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
My homeless story (it’s not so sad)

    POWDORK thank you for that. I wasn’t in the film to gain sympathy for me. I can make it in housing or not and it wasn’t a choice

Spent 3 days skiing JH this winter. The employees we asked were living w/6-8 others or commuting. Some had been doing it for years- just to live in JH year-round. I couldn’t do the house-sharing - too many clashing personalities. The commute from small towns was 45+ mins away….which might suck, but better than dealing w/others’ crap, IMHO…and no worse than driving in from the ‘burbs.

Back in the 80’s I bummed @ Keystone, which provided employee housing. Two to a room, bunk bed w/shared bath. It wasn’t bad, esp. since it included the room, pass and meal discounts…Yes, really.

Until we ALL ‘get’ the total cost of running a resort (village, city…ahem, COUNTRY), it won’t be resolved.


    Add to this since I don’t see an Edit button….Socially, I believe we should all pay. Charge every business a fee that goes into a fund to subsidize employee housing. Somewhere it must be working?? Heck, I don’t get why this isn’t done for ‘employee morale’.

    But if you ask an economist, this will likely just cause MORE people to move to the area, since there’s plenty of work, and people will naturally follow the jobs AND the housing opportunities…..this is why (partly) I’m not in politics.

    We did run into a couple of ‘attitudes’ w/JK staff. Hard to say if they had a bad day or the 1-3 of the others sleeping in their room kept them up the night b4 w/their cough.

    But as noted by the film’s producer, this isn’t a ‘seasonal bum’ issue; it’s a TC community issue that is occurring.

    In Aspen, the city has a program that provides for affordable housing for residents. I can’t recall its name. But I think you have to live in town for X amount of years b4 you’re eligible…isn’t that a Catch-22?

    If there was an easy answer the commissioners (present and/or past ) would’ve resolved it by now.

Sadly, this problem won’t go away, just the local workers will go away.  I commuted to work in Jackson from Alpine and eventually I wanted a better situation.  One starts to compromise one’s desire for the adventure lifestyle with the reality of raising a family in a viable family friendly community.  Some families have means to raise a family in Jackson, mine did not, we moved to where we could make our situation work for us.  It is all about priorities I guess.  The town and corporations will figure it out once there is no one left to do the menial jobs necessary to keep the tourists happy and the corporation’s bottom lines are finally affected.  “First world problem”.

As the filmmaker, I’m saddened to see some of the negative responses in this forum.  This film deals with a real human issue that is negatively affecting this wonderful community and is predicted to worsen each year. 

Without causing further conflict, and for the sake of promoting dialogue and positive communication, I will say this:

- Not everyone in Jackson Hole is a ski bum and not every immigrant is here illegally.  This community is composed of individuals from all over the world who work here in all kinds of different capacities.  Jackson is a “complete” community with healthy growth, opportunity, and infrastructure except in the area of low-income/affordable housing.

-When evaluating how this issue affects an individual, you must take into account culture.  In some cultures, living in a car in order to enjoy a sport may be completely normal, while in others it is viewed negatively.  For example, where I grew up in South Florida, living in a car is a sign of absolute poverty or even mental distress.

-In order to move this issue in a positive direction, we should focus on the actual issue and try to remove prejudice or other personal bias.  You are presented with an ethical documentary that includes opinions from a respected community organization and an elected councilperson, and some choose to judge the value of a vehicle or a computer.  The fact that someone with a decent job, vehicle, and laptop can’t afford a place to live is the issue!

-This crisis extends beyond the traditional ski bum or summer college student wanting to enjoy an active mountain lifestyle.  This is working its way up the social ladder and now affects professionals within the community.  Managers, nursing staff, school district paraprofessionals, first responders, and other working lower and middle-class individuals are now being affected.

-Bear in mind that those affected by this crisis always have the option of leaving Jackson Hole. However, those who replace these people will face EXACTLY the same problems.  The community continues to grow and hotels and businesses continue to open and expand but where are these people supposed to live?

This short version of Postcards from Paradise was a proposal for the Wyoming Short Film Contest and did not include all the perspectives or issues associated with this crisis.  The full-length film is currently in production and includes other segments of the population such as low-income families and middle-class individuals and related issues such as gentrification.  Hopefully we can create a robust forum where we can share innovative solutions for this real and growing dilemma.

can they increase the minimum wage for workers to help keep the middle class?

As mentioned this issue has plagued JH for centuries. I lived in the valley from 1976 to 1996. In the early 70’s Aspen started experiencing the same issue and their answer was to import a couple of thousand asians to fill up the labor void. To say this proved to be problematic would be an understatement.

During my time the only resort in the valley that had staff housing was Grand Teton Lodging Co. I think Snow King has some staff housing. Many workebees lived in spudland and traveled over Teton Pass daily.

The solutions we employed was to get a few friends and split the rent. The guy in the film seems very responsible and personable I would think in a few months he could have hooked up with some folks shared a place. Spring or fall are best times.

Like now there were plenty of jobs. 3 winters I had 4 jobs. One job was for the resort so I had a pass and skied every chance I had. The powers that be in the valley, the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Commission did start requiring the larger businesses to have staff housing but it needs to increase that.

My son is at Breck and they have amazing staff housing. He and his friend have a decent 2 BR apartment for a reasonable rate.

If you move to Jackson without any cash saved, unwilling to share housing or work alot it’s going to be an uphill battle. In my view owning a nice truck and having a computer has nothing to do with the lack of housing.

You would think 30 plus years dealing with this issue should be plenty of time for a comminity to come up with solutions but it’s alot easier said than done.

After 20 years it wasn’t the lack of housing, I eventually bought a very humble place in Hoback Jct, or lack of making a decent livable wage, which motivated me to return to the homeland, Vermont. It was the chaos of the summers.

Finding housing takes alot of work, almost like a part-time job. From the specific situation of the youngman in the film working in a small retail shop makes it harder. Working at the resort, for example, you meet and get to know so many people that it doesn’t take much time to hear about someone moving out of a place.

Get more social…lots of things going on in Jackson these days. A majority of the places to rent are not listed in the JHNews&Guide;.

Btw, I was a photog for the JH Guide in the mid 80’s then owned a photography gallery a half a block from the town square. The JH area has boundless photo ops, not just the two parks, especially if your willing to get up early. Good luck to you.

Ok, so as someone with a deep background in economics, allow me to tell you the answer from an economist’s point of view. As housing becomes unaffordable, workers cannot come to the resort and the dependent businesses like the big hotels, forcing them to increase wages until workers can afford to work there. If they do not, they won’t have staff to run their businesses and their customers will go elsewhere. To be fair, there are alot of time lags and disruption as there are intermediary agents involved that do not necessarily see the big picture. For example, hotel devs will go and build the hotel on the basis of demand and assume someone else will fix the housing situation. They do not realize the precarious state of the employee market although if rents are going north of $4k/mo, I suspect they will suffer that crisis very quickly as no ski industry operation can afford to pay workers wages that can sustain such a rent. There are other mountains and while I love JH, I can go elsewhere as a skier.

Now, in relation to helping the subject of the film. The traditional answer was that if you want to live a ski bum lifestyle, accept the consequences of your actions. Do it when youa re young for a summer or a winter and then go get a real life. A more modern take, especially as it relates to JH in particular (I was there this winter), is that the town is in danger of losing so much of its long term residents that it will essentially stop being a real town and just become a giant resort (eg, Disneyland). I’m fairly well off but found JH to be 100% focused on yuppie to high end tourists - and most of my friends consider me to be a yuppie!

Now one thing I would suggest, is commute from a smaller nearby town. People here seem horrified by the idea of commuting 45min. In the greater NYC area, people commute up to 2hrs each way because they want the high paying city jobs combined with a middle class house./lifestyle. And there is every shade of grey in between - myself personally, I chose a spot 1hr away by train from the city to combine certain suburban elements of life with city pay. In JH, its not about monetary remuneration so much as about living the lifestyle. So my suggestion is, if you are not having a hard time finding a job, then live 45min away and do the commute - put that SUV to work. If you remain single, find a shared house. One thing the TOWN should do to alleviate the situation is allow a large apt complex to be built on the outskirts of town with a requirement for locals living. I think Aspen did the hard work here by figuring out what a town can do to help the situation (if you are not gonna be there more than a year, you are not long term imo).

And past that, let economics do their thing. JH is trying really hard to become a “big mountain”. It certainly has the natural terrain for it. Infrastructure, both on the mountain (lack of mid-lifts and overreliance on two base lifts) and in the town, is a huge problem. I can tell you I was very put off by the mountain’s weak infrastructure despite LOVING the mountain itself. THe problem resolves itself with people such as myself not going to JH, espeically if they are understaffed in terms of services or lack the amenities I want. Reduced demand from tourists will ease the crisis although that does not seem to be the desire of the local businesses spending heavy money to develop the place.

Finally one last point. If Marriott builds a monster hotel there, it will draw away some of the demand on smaller establishments, which can ultimately lead to that land being repurposed for apartments. There was no shortage of lodging to visit as a tourist in the $100/night range meaning JH was not at capacity. Add in a massive supply such as a large Marriott hotel and the supply on tourist side goes up beyond what is needed. Unless you think Marriott would bring in more tourists that are not alreayd coming for the mountain/park. Ive never traveled to a destination to visit a Marriot - I do travel to visit a mountain/national park. My point being, dont hate the Marriott - the Marriott will handle a larger chunk of the tourist market freeing existing properties for locals to use as you wont have to fight with tourist dollars for those locations anymore. In that regard the film was very weak and took a socio-political agenda that imo, is the opposite of what is needed. ANY larger real estate dev will help the situation since I dont blv building more hotels will increase tourism and there is no existing shortgage of places for tourists to stay during peak periods. Thus more devs on any side of the equation will lead to more affordable land being freed up on the lower end.

A bit of sensationalism in the video. Anyone can live at the Painted Buffalo or Pony Express motel for under 800 a month. That’s 200 a week. Or $5/hr of your wage on a 40hr work week.

What we have in jackson is a bottleneck effect. There are tons of people who wish to be here, but since housing is short, you have to really want it. Me and my friends have had 0 problem finding housing and jobs that pay rent. If you don’t want to work over 40hrs a week and up to 70hrs a week during peak season, then don’t move here.

You don’t need money, education or skills to survive comfortably in ski towns. You need desire. Desire to make it work. If you can’t manage to work hard and hold down a job or two, then we don’t need ya in our town.

    If it were so simple. Just “work harder” and don’t worry about the equity of it.  Corporate will take care of your sweat equity and book it as profit for the shareholders. Enjoy the ride and see how it works outs. Think you were treated fairly at the end of the day?

      Living in Jackson, Squaw, Nelson, Vail, Telluride, ect…is a choice. All of those places are under the thumb of the corporations. Airports, ski resorts, hotels, restaurants and outfitters. They all survive by making profits. I’m not about to explain how or why they make profits, but if you can’t come to grips with your sweat equity making profits, then you probably should become a farmer.

      We are blessed by these corporations to allow us to have jobs that pay well enough to survive in a town that is only useful for skiing. Back in the day, we would be mining for coal if we wanted to live in a mountain town.

      Point? I live in Jackson, and the real problem is the town has a zoning restriction on the number of unrelated tenants, height of a building and length of a seasonal rental. Rewrite the zoning laws to allow for more housing options so that we don’t have unrented rooms in 5 bedroom houses because no more than 3 unrelated tenants can share an abode. That’s the real problem in Jackson Hole.

      Jackson has the strongest social safety net of any city or town I’ve lived in. I think it’s a shame this video portrays us as a town that is failing our residents. It is really a town that does more for its citizen than anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. Cheers to Jackson and cheers to everyone who lives here.


        To your point of “under the thumb of the corporations”, there is no blessing in that.  Corporate morality is the answer we are looking for. As I mentioned before, paying a “living wage” would help out the situation not only in Jackson Hole but the rest of the country.

Would like to see this as a documentary; I’m a ski resort employee near Vail livin in my car. Let me know if you come to CO and need some footage. Best of luck

    Agree. They should show this type of vid at the Snowboard on The Block. Should have a social conscious movie stage of some sort.

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