Has the resort land boom in the Colorado Rockies reached its apex, or does it still have a long way to go? And how is the soaring cost of resort real estate affecting Coloradans?
These questions have no easy answers.
Much of the Rocky Mountain resort industry is focused on the high-income, distant vacationer. That is perhaps more evident than ever in Colorado's newest resort to come on line, Beaver Creek, where the new Charter condominums can cost
What people are actually buying at Beaver Creek is an expensive perch in a gorgeous new winter playground, superbly carved from majestic surroundings. Unlike nearby Vail, it is still uncrowded, still serenely peaceful at 9,000 feet above sea level.
Day skiers can't even drive in but must leave their cars below and be ferried in by buses.
Summer amenities will include a heralded Robert Trent Jones golf course. Besides the 158-unit, $70 million full-service Charter condominium hotel, there are to be three more luxury condominium projects, two hotels, a 2,000-seat tennis and ice arena, a small base village, and single-family and duplex housing units with an approximate price range of $600,000 to $1.2 million each.
Asked whether there was concern about any possible economic crunch and its consequences on such a lavish and remote playground, David Price, the Beaver Creek marketing director, replied, ''The word is cautious.''
At Steamboat, where resort condominiums have been appreciating at least 18 percent a year, the market is soft ''except in the high end,'' according to marketing consultant John Ahearn, who estimates that of some 2,000 rental units, no more than 200 high-end units are on the market.
Condominium prices in Steamboat run from a low of $80,000 or $90,000 to more than $350,000.
Some observers have called Steamboat glutted with condos. Mr. Ahearn points out that Routt County has a broad-based economy. Coal mining, ranching, and industries other than tourism are helping to produce a more balanced range of housing and prices, he says.
Around Keystone in Summit County and Telluride in the southern part of the state, the market is also somewhat soft. But at Keystone, marketing director Jerry Jones says there are signs of a pickup in activity, which he credits in part to the accelerated depreciation benefits of the new tax law. Investors must spend no more than 14 days a year in their resort homes to take advantage of the law.
Mr. Jones says Keystone will build only 100 condos a year at a current price range of $160,000 to $450,000. The average price is about $200 a square foot.
At Telluride there is hope that construction can begin next summer on what could become one of Colorado's larger resort villages. Environmental approval has already been granted, but a developer's lawsuit could delay progress. There has been speculation that this region, where condos generally sell in the $130, 000-to-$150,000 range, could become the next Vail in the continuing Rocky Mountain resort boom.
As for Coloradans' attitude toward the escalation in resort property values, ambivalence is not hard to find. On one hand, you hear people complain about escalating costs. But on the other hand, it is acknowledged that many Coloradans saw what was happening and moved to take advantage of the boom in land values.
''Those just coming in now are the ones already priced out of the market,'' says an employee of Winter Park, one of the still lower-priced super resorts, where condos are selling for less than $130 a square foot.
''When I first came here in 1975, you could buy a little efficiency for $18, 000. I could kick myself for not doing it,'' she said.
One of the major concerns spawned by the boom in resort real estate has been how to provide affordable housing for the work force.
Now, through the joint process that passes on new developments (usually by the county, local community, the developer, and the US Forest Service (which manages the vast federal forests in the Rockies), employee housing is a requirement laid on developers.
While the situation has improved over only a few years ago, moderate-cost employee housing is still in short supply. Moreover, it always will be, says Aspen developer Bob George, as long as a limited number of housing units are provided at below-market prices.
Mr. George, like Richard H. Rossmillen, whose company is building and developing Beaver Creek's Charter condominium hotel, holds that Colorado's resort-land boom has not yet peaked, despite the likelihood of ''things remaining relatively quiet for a while,'' as Mr. George puts it.
Mr. George implies there is opportunity now when he points to ''broad inventories to choose from.'' ''Buyers' market'' is a term that is beginning to be heard more often.
For now, however, foreclosures in Summit County, which includes Keystone, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain, have climbed from 41 in 1979 to 74 in 1981.
Significantly, only one of last year's foreclosures involved a condominium project. The rest were generally local homeowners who, in the opinion of Linda Rhea, the county treasurer and public trustee, could not keep up with the escalating costs in Colorado's Rocky Mountain resort country.