Out of all the states we visited so far we liked Colorado best. May be because of the mountains: lots of very dramatic peaks in the western part. May be because the people are not so interested in our story: they seem to ignore our accents even more than folks in Massachusetts. Or may be because the food is OK here and they know how to make beer. Seems like each and every town sports its own microbrewery.
All in all, we've decided to spend the winter in Colorado. The perspective of skiing (Damian) and snowboarding (myself) in the famous West Coast powder was of course the deciding factor so I started looking for a place in one of the ski resorts. But which one? Big and challenging enough so we don't get bored. On the entire East Coast that would narrow the search to three, may be four. Here, in Colorado alone, that still has left me to consider - somewhat arbitrarily - at least ten: Aspen, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte, Keystone, Steamboat, Telluride, Vail, Winter Park. There are more of course but choosing one out of ten is a difficult task already. OK, nine as Aspen is famously expensive.
Geek to the core, I have decided to create a spreadsheet: number of trails, length of the season, price of the pass. Much to my surprise I've discovered huge differences in the latter: from $369 for Copper Mountain to $1,950 ($1,298 until October 29) for Telluride and $1,854 ($1,499 until September 24) for Aspen. Other resorts land somewhere in between but, with the exception of those owned by Vail Resorts (Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail) and Intrawest (Copper Mountain until November 2009, Steamboat, Winter Park), the price approaching a thousand dollars is typical. Intrawest and Vail Resorts have been engaged in a season pass pricing war since 1998 when they've dropped the prices 60%. They have been steadily increasing them since but they are still 40% below the 1997 level.
Why did they decide to give skiers such a big price break? They own properties on the mountains, so the diminished revenue from passes (and forgone lift tickets) are more than made up with rentals and concessions. They may have figured out that an average skier/snowboarder spends only one or two weekends a season on the slopes and by offering a pass they can assure he does that in their resorts. Or they want to send a signal skiing is cheaper on their mountains and, even if the message is not reflected by the daily prices, people will come. Regardless of their reasons it looked like a bargain to me and so I've started looking for a place concentrating mostly on Vail Resorts properties.
Pricing and securing a lodging turned out to be way more difficult than picking up a ski pass. Since we'll be here most of the winter, an apartment seemed a logical choice. Using Vacation Rentals by Owner I've sent over 80 inquiries for a long term rental of 1 bedroom condo within walking distance od the lifts or at least a short bus ride and the ability to ski back at the end of the day. I've received about 50 replies. One would think that owners who bothered to list their condo and paid $279 yearly membership fee would extend a courtesy of response. Of those who did reply, half was not only negative but also curt with no explanation of any kind along the lines of Not interested. Sorry., We only rent by the night during ski season., and Thank you for your inquiry, however we do not rent long term during ski season. It made me feel I committed some kind of a faux pas. I dare to plan to be on the mountain entire winter? Unheard of! Few negative responses offered an explanation usually related to being booked already or owners using the place throughout the season.
The very first positive response, if you can call it that, that I've got was I'm sorry to say we do not do a monthly rate during the ski season. The average rate per night would be around 450 dollars a night amounting somewhere over 50000 dollars. If there are any questions feel free to give us a call just email us back! I was briefly tempted to call and advise them to update the photos on the website since the current set does not even hint at something that luxurious.
The other half of responses indicated willingness to negotiate. At least this is how I interpreted any reply that didn't tell me no outright. I was vaguely annoyed with people who, instead of giving me their rate, asked what my budget was. This just sounds like an invitation to low-balling and that's exactly what they've got. As it subsequently transpired, they knew how much they could charge. All who were hesitant to name the price or gave me a reasonable quote were willing to accept pretty much the same amount. Curiously the going rate for a winter rental of 1 bedroom condo throughout larger resorts of Colorado doesn't correlate to the cost of the season pass confirming once again that very few people treat skiing/snowboarding as more than once a season affair.
Not every owner renting their condo is willing to give up imaginary profits. Apart from this $50k proposal I've got quite a few answers that bordered on fanciful: $11k to $24 with one more outlier of $36k. While I can accept the low end as it is in some relation to the going rate, I chalk it up to expectations of rarely if ever materializing profits that the owners actually knew are not realistic. They did however attempt to proffer explanations: Ski in/out is going to be significantly more expensive. If you are staying for several months, you may be more interested in staying in town. The bus system is free and very convenient for mountain access. I've attached an unofficial Breckenridge condo map which might help with your search. You may want to check our local paper The Summit Daily classified section for rentals., or: $12,000.00 USD, this offer is good for 48Hrs. My son will buy his airline tickets Monday for a week in March, and that 4 month period will no longer be available. (apparently you can put a price on your offspring), or: Sorry but [t]he short term rentals make a lot of money during the ski season. I would have to charge at least $3000.00 a month to make it worth while. Curiously the opposite also happened - the owners warned me that they will have to charge a high rate only to come with a very reasonable quote. Clearly high and low are subjective terms.
Among more weird answers was We can only rent 28 days consecutively. […] I think that is the Grand Lodge Policy. It made me think of a good old communist bureaucracy. The prize for eagerness to cooperate goes to a guy who apparently managed a set of timeshares and was offering to accomodate us in one week stretches. Yes, I would have to move almost every week but I would be living in style - if one considers Marriott suite to be in style that is. Too bad he thought $130 a night was appropriate price for such convenience.
Having developed tough skin (easier by email) and used my superb negotiating skills I landed us a rental that was not necessarily less expensive but definitely bigger than most we considered. We'll be spending 2/3 of what we've been paying a month in Boston for 2/3 of the square footage. Within walking distance from the lifts in Keystone, Colorado. Seems like a good deal to me. But may be this is what you learn by living in a second most expensive city in US. Everywhere else feels if not cheap then at least acceptable.