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News brief with The Colorado Sun: Resorts provide worker housing and experts say new snowpack won't quench drought

On a dark overcast day, a person wearing red rides a ski lift with the name "Winter Park" on the side and many other visible lift chairs empty
Hugh Carey
The Colorado Sun
A rider navigates between Winter Park ski area's villages using the Cabriolet gondola, Mar. 31, 2023, in Grand County. Employees living in the resort's planned on-site modular housing will be able to use the open-air lift, free of charge, to get to work and back at the mountain.

Each week we speak with our colleagues at The Colorado Sun about the stories they're following. This time, we hear from The Sun’s rural economic development reporter, Tracy Ross, about ski resorts that provide housing for employees and a false correlation between increased snowpack and lower drought risk.

A new trend is emerging among Colorado ski resorts in their efforts to retain employees: building housing. Ross wrote recently about what Colorado's Winter Park Resort is doing.

“They are about to start construction on two buildings—that are costing them $60 million and will house 330 people—right at the base of the resort,” she said.

Ross told KUNC it hasn’t been easy for some resorts to house workers. They face hurdles like land availability, money and conflicts with municipal officials.

In Vail, for example, Ross said the local resort company has faced some pushback.

"The town council voted to keep Vail Resorts off a parcel it wanted to build on in order to protect bighorn sheep habitat," Ross said. "Brian Elliott, who's the chief development officer for Altair, told me some places where the company has resorts, the communities they're linked to aren't necessarily cooperative."

In other news, the snowpack that much of Colorado has received lately is good for ski resorts—hence the need to hold onto employees—but Ross said water officials still can't relax.

“Although we're having an amazing season of snowfall and that's incredible, the Colorado River Basin is still in a 23-year megadrought,” Ross said. “The big important reservoirs for the West, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are running short on water savings if they fall too low.”

The reservoirs can't produce hydroelectric power or release water to downstream users if levels are too low—and they're still low, despite the hefty snowfall. Ross said the good news is that the additional snowpack means Colorado reservoirs will likely see some recovery this year.

“Water leaders just want to warn people not to get too excited about this snowfall because there are still big, big problems with the water that is in the big basins,” Ross concluded.

As a reporter and host for KUNC, I follow the local stories of the day while also guiding KUNC listeners through NPR's wider-scope coverage. It's an honor and a privilege to help our audience start their day informed and entertained.
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