Vail - Like many a ski bum before her, Jodi Link waits
tables to make ends meet. But her dreams go far beyond the next
epiphany of perfect snow or a perfect run.
In January, Link and a friend, Brooke Burgee, founded a
two-woman company called Lights On that offers hotel-style
concierge services to absentee second-home owners and part-time
vacation renters here.
They will find a fly-fishing instructor, wash the sheets or
do the shopping. If the business takes off, Link, 27, vows that
she has waitressed her last.
So enter two more competitors into the multibillion-dollar
second-home industry, which has increasingly dominated - some
critics say swallowed - the economic and social life of Vail and
Tourism and real estate have always been harnessed together
in vacation spots: People come for a visit and end up scanning
the classified advertisements in search of "2brs, fplc and
But more and more, housing and the jobs it creates are the
Here in Eagle County, where about half the
housing stock is owned by people who live somewhere else,
second-home owners have their own lobbyist, and the world-famous
ski slopes have become just another amenity that homeowners
demand, along with golf and shopping.
Some longtime residents bemoan the change. They say a culture
of real-estate calculation and the sprawling swirl of stores and
services catering to the needs of outside owners are strangling
the soul of an area that once prided itself on its
distance from the madding crowd.
Others, like Link and Burgee, a 26-year-old Vermont native
who discovered Vail's business charms last year on vacation,
mostly see benefits.
Work in the second-home industry, they say, tames the
up-and-down seasonal cycles of tourism. The jobs generally pay
much better than restaurant or hotel work, and the work never
Structures made of wood need constant upkeep at an elevation
of 8,500 feet, and new owners are prone to renovate.
Of the 33,530 jobs in Eagle County in 2002, 45 percent were
tied to the second-home industry, according to a study by the
Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, a municipal planning
and research group. Only 27 percent were generated by winter and
The money fueling the local economy was almost as lopsided,
with an estimated 38 percent derived from spending by
second-home owners, compared with 31 percent from tourism, the
"Housing has come to mean much more than just sleeping
quarters for skiing," said Elizabeth W. Slifer, the
president of Slifer Designs, an interior design firm that
specializes in Eagle County's second-home market. "Now it's
more about estate planning and retirement and social
The housing surge also created a kind of demographic time
bomb as more owners - the average age is around 55 - approach
retirement. No one knows how many might decide to retire full
time to Eagle County, where the population has doubled since
1990 and is expected to double again in the next 20
years, to about 80,000.
The state demographer, Jim Westkott, said he thought those
numbers might underestimate the growth. If thousands of
second-home owners coalesce around Vail, he said, Colorado's
newest metro area, defined as any population center of 100,000
people or more, could emerge here almost overnight.
"The more full-time residents you have, the more
full-time workers you need, and that means more schools, more
malls and more traffic," Westkott said. "Somewhere
around 2010, when the (first) baby boomers turn 65, or sometime
thereafter, is when it's all going to start."
Some resort-industry experts and local residents say image
itself could become a problem.
"The new people don't want it difficult; they
want it easy," said Greg Johnson, 52, who came here 31
years ago from Washington, D.C., and now makes his living as a
"There was no shopping: If you wanted Denver stuff you
went to Denver, and people liked it that way," he said.
"Now they're turning this place to what we all left