Affordable housing, childcare, climate change, and traffic congestion. Aspen Skiing Company’s (Ski Co) newest employee housing project aims to address all of these issues — and hopefully, provide people the opportunity for a great quality of life.
It was Memorial Day weekend 2021 when tenants' keys began to unlock the doors of the brand-new apartment-style units located at Willits Town Center in Basalt. The Hub at Willits is a 53,000-square-foot apartment complex with 43 units and a total of 150 beds. The energy-efficient building is designed to offer 35 units to Ski Co employees and eight units to non-Ski Co employees who are licensed childcare workers in the area. It is also the first ever modern multi-family building in Colorado that is completely electric, and is centrally located in the Valley near public transportation and amenities like grocery stores, restaurants and entertainment options such as the new Arts Campus at Willits being built just next door.
The $19 million housing project is what Ski Co’s Director of Community Engagement Michael Miracle calls a “systems approach” to problem solving. “When we are confronted with a problem, we need to ask how many problems we can solve with this one solution,” he says. “And The Hub at Willits does this in a real way.”
“When we are confronted with a problem, we need to ask how many problems we can solve with this one solution.”

–Michael Miracle
Director of Community Engagement
Aspen Skiing Company

From a Housing Perspective

It’s not news to anyone familiar with life in mountain communities that there is a housing crisis. It's been a hot topic in both local and national media for a long time, and the issue continues to worsen amidst a larger, national housing crisis. For the past 45 years, the town of Aspen has offered the largest affordable housing program per capita in the United States, with roughly 3,000 employee units set aside in a town that has about 7,500 full-time residents. But it’s not been enough.

Walking through the heart of many mountain towns, it’s hard not to notice the frequency of “help wanted” signs. This shortage in the staffing pool has been directly linked to the housing crisis, with land use as one root of the problem: existing housing that was historically residential is being converted to short-term rentals, which transitions it to commercial space. The Hub at Willits will be completely residential and provide 150 beds to valley residents, adding to the 700 beds already in Ski Co’s employee housing pool.
"This project tells employees ‘With this job, comes housing,'" says Miracle.
“This project tells employees ‘With this job, comes housing.’ What this does is guarantee that we can have employees in general,” says Miracle. And the topic of affordability is key as well. “We try, as a goal, to make sure that people are paying no more than 30% of their wages on living,” he says, which offers those living in employee housing units the opportunity for a better quality of life where most of their income is not being drained on rent.
“When you build your own housing and tie that housing to working at a specific place, your employees no longer have to compete with the current market,” says Miracle. In this way, The Hub helps to adjust a distorted housing market. In the summer, when Ski Co’s need for seasonal employees shrinks, other local stakeholders like RFTA (the local bus system) will be offered open units for their employees, so more of the community can benefit from the space. The project allows Ski Co to inch closer to its goal of housing a quarter of its employees, especially seasonal employees who often have the hardest time finding housing in the region.
The Hub at Willits - Bunk Workspace
The Hub at Willits - Bunk Workspace

The Hub at Willits - Interior bedroom
The Hub at Willits - Interior bedroom

The Issue of Child Care

In addition to the lack of affordable housing, there is also a child care crisis nationally, particularly at the infant level. Families are spending large portions of their income on childcare and having to make hard decisions about potentially leaving the workforce. This issue is acute in this Valley for the same reason there is a housing crisis — land cost, lack of housing and an employee shortage.

“We are looking to solve a large community, societal issue that of course lands on us, because we have employees with kids,” says Miracle. By offering eight of the 43 units to licensed childcare workers in the Valley, Ski Co hopes to address the larger childcare problem in a multi-tiered way. First, care providers are able to find affordable, convenient housing. And second, Ski Co employees benefit by simply having more (and happier!) teachers and daycare providers available in the Valley.

Combating Climate Change

Ski Co has long recognized climate change as an existential threat to the ski industry. As such, for the last few decades, Ski Co has invested in innovative solutions to reduce emissions, including the installation of solar arrays on and off mountain and a $6 million project launched nearly a decade ago that converts methane to energy at an abandoned coal mine. The Hub at Willits continues this tradition of innovation as the first modern multi-family all-electric building in Colorado, getting its energy from solar panels and cold climate heat pumps to create a totally carbon-free living facility.
The Hub at Willits continues this tradition of innovation as the first modern multi-family all-electric building in Colorado.
“We are going to have to electrify all new and existing buildings if we hope to solve the climate crisis,” says Ski Co’s Vice President of Sustainability, Auden Schendler. “Why? Because if you design a building to be heated with natural gas, it will emit CO2 for its lifetime.” Globally, buildings account for nearly 40% of total CO2 emissions; and if new construction continues to utilize gas heat, it will emit CO2 for the next 50 years or more. “But if you make that building electric,” Schendler says, “it will slowly get cleaner and cleaner as the grid adds more renewables.”
The Hub at Willits - Entrance
The Hub at Willits - Entrance

The Hub at Willits - Electric Vehicle Charging Station
The Hub at Willits - Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Location, Location, Location

With housing clearly an issue, many people commute long distances to work in Aspen — sometimes an hour or more — which inherently adds to the issue of traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. The Hub at Willits is located in Basalt, which is considered mid-valley at 22 miles (or about 25-35 minutes) from Aspen. It’s also next to a BRT stop (bus rapid transit), which efficiently shuttles people up and down the Valley. All resident employees will be given free bus passes; additionally, there’s an on-site bike share station, and charging stations for electric vehicles.
The Hub is located in a mixed-use location next to The Contemporary: An Arts Campus as Willits, an arts and entertainment venue currently under construction. It's an easy walk to multiple restaurants, two grocery stores, outdoor trails, Crown Mountain Park and various shops and storefronts. The hope is that when residents of The Hub are commuting less, spending less money on housing, and living within the heart of the community where they work, they will have an overall better quality of life.
The hope is that when residents of The Hub are commuting less, spending less money on housing, and living within the heart of the community where they work, they will have an overall better quality of life.

The Takeaway

Employees, communities and the environment at large can all benefit when companies take on projects like The Hub. While this new building is a strong example, however, it’s not a complete solution. There are miles to go, but Ski Co believes with projects like this, they can lead the charge.

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