Summer Work in a Mountain Town: Dreamy. The Rent: Not So Much. from Outside tzemke


I want to live and work in a mountain town this summer, but finding affordable housing is proving to be near impossible. Can you give me any tips or direction so I can turn this dream into reality? —A Frustrated Flatlander

“I came for the winter and stayed for the summer” is a common mountain-town refrain. That sentiment, combined with a pandemic-fueled real estate boom, has resulted in a dearth of affordable housing, both seasonal and permanent, in mountain towns across America.

In many small western communities like Steamboat Springs, Durango, and Snowmass, Colorado; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Mammoth Lakes, California, it used to be that employees and locals lived in houses, and tourists stayed in hotels. The reverse is now true: houses are monopolized by Airbnb and VRBO rentals and second homeowners, and some hotels are being purchased by ski resorts and converted to affordable employee housing.

Sadly, more and more essential jobs are going unfilled, some with six-figure salaries, because potential employees can’t find reasonably-priced rentals. As a result, many mountain towns are shifting their focus to year-round, affordable-housing programs. In Wyoming, for example, Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area helps to fill critical nursing and teaching positions by building homes for individuals and families making between 30 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.

What does this mean for seasonal workers? Here’s my advice for finding affordable summer housing in a mountain town.

Find Towns Working on Their Housing Shortages

Whitefish, Montana, a beautiful recreation hub, is making a concerted effort to woo more seasonal workers with affordable-housing programs. (Photo: Craig Moore/Getty)

Whitefish, Montana, the gateway to Glacier National Park, is one such place. Its workforce-assistance program, which supports full-time and seasonal employees, is funded in part by a voluntary 1 percent fee added to local lodging, food, and transportation. Half of the contributions from its participants go to Housing Whitefish, a nonprofit that facilitates affordable housing.

Part of last year’s $52,000 allocation went toward a newly launched rental-assistance program, modeled after a similar one in Winter Park, Colorado. Over 12 months, Housing Whitefish will distribute a total of $64,620—or $5,385 a month—to 17 qualified applicants. (The money goes directly to the property owner or management company.)

The Tahoe Housing Hub, which advocates for better options in the North Tahoe and Truckee, California communities, aims to add inventory for the local workforce through its recently launched Accessory Dwelling Unit pilot program. Homeowners are incentivized to add rental space that includes a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, and in return they receive assistance with building, permitting, and leasing processes.

Although the organization can’t help you find housing, it does direct prospective renters to resources through the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee.

Living and working in a mountain town like Truckee, California (above) is a dream of many young people. According to Zillow, the median rent for a one-bedroom home in May was $2,150. At the time, 11 such properties were available. (Photo: Matt Gush/Getty)

In 2022, Breckenridge, Colorado, allocated $50 million to a five-year workforce housing plan to create some 1,000 new units. The town’s housing fund also receives money from a short-term rental fee requiring owners to pay a set amount for each bedroom they rent. The goal is for nearly half of the town’s workforce to live in Breckenridge, with a little over a third of the housing inventory reserved for locals.

In 2016, Aspen Skiing Co., the town’s largest employer, purchased six 500-square-foot tiny homes for about $100,000 each and put them in the Aspen-Basalt Campground for its winter seasonal employees. The project was such a success that it now offers more than 40 tiny homes for seasonal workers, and for the first time has extended this housing option to summer hires.

Units range from $518 to $638 a month, and leases are available from May 15 through October 31. Most have a waitlist, however, and when units become available, the housing authority reaches out to local businesses and nonprofits first to see if they have employees in need of housing.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s tiny homes, available to seasonal workers, are comfortable, spacious, and affordable, unlike other housing in town. In May, Zillow showed that the average rent for a one-bedroom property was $5,900. (Photo: Courtesy Hal Williams/Aspen Skiing Co.)

Employers in Sun Valley, including the Limelight Ketchum hotel, have also purchased tiny homes in the Meadows RV Park, 3.5 miles away, to rent to employees. Many of these programs run on an application system and most take enrollment for summer employees in March.

Land a Job Before You Head Out

A recent search for summer work in Aspen, Colorado, showed everything from bartenders and restaurant servers to camp counselors and bike valets. Landing a job before you move to a mountain town is a smart course of action, because you can prove to landlords that you’ll be able to pay. (Photo: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Many large employers, notably ski resorts such as Aspen-Snowmass, Steamboat, and Telluride, Colorado, or Killington, Vermont, offer housing or make an effort to help you find housing after you’ve been hired. Sun Valley Resort, for example, has two dorm-style buildings with free laundry and fitness centers available for seasonal employees on a waitlist basis. Two-to-four-person accommodations range from $140 to $210 per person every two weeks. There’s also an option to pay day-to-day, starting at $10 a day.

Beyond ski resorts, places like Breckenridge offer town employees short-term seasonal rentals, for jobs at businesses like the recreation center or golf course, as well as rental-deposit-assistance programs.

Betsy Crum, housing director for the town of Snowmass Village, notes that winter housing is typically full, while there’s sometimes more housing available for summer workers.

Montana’s Big Sky Housing Trust has housing for up to 100 seasonal residents in four- and five-bedroom dorm-style configurations. These units are leased to local independent employers. Lone Mountain Land Company, another major employer in Big Sky, offers dorm-style housing for up to 400 seasonal residents employed by their entities.

The Powder Light Development in Montana, part of the Big Sky Housing Trust’s efforts to support affordable housing (Photo: Becky Brockie)

Check Out These Helpful Housing Websites and Social Media Sites

Due to the huge demand for housing, many landlords avoid popular rental-listing sites Craigslist and Zillow. One Outside editor seeking a new tenant for housing she has in Carbondale, Colorado, 30 miles from Aspen, didn’t publicly post a listing because she knew she’d be overwhelmed with calls. Instead, she put the word out quietly to friends and looked at posts from people in need of housing on a local Facebook group, Roaring Fork Rentals and Roommates.

In fact, local Facebook community groups or neighborhood-focused sites like Nextdoor often have rental listings you won’t find on larger, public sites like Craigslist. is a free site where you can find a roommate or a room available to rent within a house.

When posting that you’re seeking housing, be clear about your employment situation, desired rental dates, and budget. Younger people should present themselves as a mature, responsible option, preferably coming in with a job already secured. (For example: “Hello, I’m coming here to work for the Solar Institute and need a place to stay from mid-June through July that’s less than $600 a month.”)

You might find success on, a housing marketplace for vacation towns that pays property owners to convert their homes to short- and long-term rentals for the local workforce. Mountain destinations include Woodstock, Vermont; Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, California; Wood River Valley, Idaho; East Placer County, California; and Eagle County, Colorado.

Finally, is a membership-based platform (starting at $10.75 a month) where you can find house-sitting or pet-sitting gigs.

Consider 5 More Resources

1. Look at a Town’s Website

Many communities offer housing programs or partner with local nonprofits or housing authorities, like the Truckee Tahoe Workforce Housing Agency, to administer programs. “It’s always worth a call to any city’s housing development and housing authority to see if they have resources,” says Daniel Sidder, executive director of Housing Whitefish.

2. Embrace Camping or Vanlife

Camping for the summer is an option in Crested Butte, and why not, with vistas like these? There are 208 designated sites in the area, and many are first come, first served—although you’d have to change sites every 14 days, the maximum stay. Additionally, there’s land for dispersed camping. 

In Colorado, Crested Butte and Durango have options for free car camping for a season. You can shower at local rec centers.

3. Cruise the Town

Some good old-fashioned neighborhood drive-bys to spot “For Rent” signs posted outside of apartments, on community boards at grocery stores, or in coffee shops can lead to deals, too.


Old-school resources like newspaper classifieds can still pay off, with postings for work and accommodations. (Photo: Kanawa_Studio/Getty)

4. Talk to Locals

Lindsay Nohl, 46, enjoyed free communal housing in Tucson, Arizona, while working as the director of NOLS Southwest. But when the campus closed during Covid, she moved to Teton Valley, Idaho. Recently, she made her eighth move in four years, as landlords continue to increase prices or start to rent their properties on Airbnb.

Her go-to strategy for finding cheap housing on the fly? Word of mouth. Another lesson: be flexible. Even though Nohl hasn’t had a roommate in two decades, she’s now paying $1,000 a month to share a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot house so she can remain in Teton Valley for the summer.

5. Scan Newspaper Classifieds

You might come across opportunities to pet-sit or nanny. Or working as a property manager can also lead to free or affordable housing.

Weigh Your Options

Soaking after work in the thermal waters outside the town of Mountain Lakes is a perk of living in this part of the Sierra. California’s minimum wage also pays more than many other states. (Photo: Courtesy Jake Stern)

The last thing you should consider, Flatlander, is which mountain towns are too pricey or too popular. For example, Steamboat, Aspen, and Telluride, Colorado, as well as Jackson, Wyoming, and Big Sky, Montana, have reputations as luxury vacation escapes, which means housing is in high demand and the cost of living will be greater there than in lesser-known but more economical mountain towns like Le Grande, Oregon, and Reno, Nevada. Or even Laramie, Wyoming, which has a lot going for it.

Many seasonal jobs pay minimum wage, which varies from state to state. In Utah and Wyoming, for example, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, while Montana pays $10.30 an hour, Colorado $14.42 an hour, and California $16 an hour.

You should also consider free services offered by the mountain town you’re considering. Aspen is expensive, but it offers free public transportation, which is another way to help save on costs.

Spending a summer working in a mountain town can be one of the best experiences of a young person’s life. I hope my advice lands you good, affordable housing. I’ll be pulling for you.

The author biking in Breckenridge, Colorado (Photo: Courtesy Jen Murphy)

Travel-advice columnist Jen Murphy has scored affordable rent by offering free travel tips to her landlord, as well as volunteering to take out the building’s trash cans on garbage day and maintain the gardens. 

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