Deer Valley Resort making a push for more employee housing

New project would give the Park City ski area about 700 beds for its mostly seasonal workers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Numerous mattresses cover the floor where 12 foreign students from Argentina who came to Park City to work on J-1 visas describe their living conditions for the past two months on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Because of lack of housing, they have been living in a one-bedroom apartment, paying $12,000 a month in rent.

Saying it recognizes affordable housing is “the highest priority for staff experience,” Deer Valley Resort told The Salt Lake Tribune that it plans to nearly double its employee housing by the end of the decade.

The news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by Alterra Mountain Resorts, Deer Valley’s parent company, that it would commit $50 million this year to bolster employee housing at eight of its resorts, including Deer Valley.

“We all know affordable housing is the highest priority for the staff experience,” Deer Valley spokesperson Emily Summers told The Tribune. “And we want it to be in town, close to the resort.”

Deer Valley’s management has already targeted a location for the project. It is a building Deer Valley owns in the Prospector-Iron Horse area of Park City, northwest of the resort. It is close to restaurants and at least one grocery store. The building is currently being used as a laundry facility.

Seasonal workers are Park City’s lifeblood, especially during the winter ski season. Many of them come from the Southern Hemisphere on student cultural exchange visas, also known as J-1s. They are mostly on their own to find housing, which can be nearly impossible in Park City’s already anemic rental market. Earlier this season, The Tribune reported on a group of 12 J-1s living in a one-bedroom apartment for $12,000 a month.

Deer Valley employs about 3,000 people each winter, Summers said. About 10% of those are on J-1 visas, she said, and several others are American citizens or other visa holders who seek out seasonal employment.

For the past several years, Deer Valley has provided more than 400 beds for employees. Those are divided among four properties located between Heber and Park City. At the start of this season, Summers said Deer Valley added 40% more beds, or about 170 total, after the resort began extending offers to employees and realized it needed more lodging. It found some of that extra space in the unused guest rooms of area homeowners through a new Mountainlands Community Housing Trust program that gives residents perks, like free season passes, if they rent to seasonal workers. Currently, Deer Valley is the only employer of seasonal workers participating in the program.

“Hopefully that’ll gain traction and be more desirable to community members to participate in next year,” Summers said. “And have more businesses [join in].”

Many of the units added this season are located in Heber Valley and Salt Lake City, which are less attractive to temporary workers because they can be more than an hour away by bus. To counter that, Summers said, Deer Valley has been providing transportation to and from the resort.

Deer Valley’s intention to provide additional employee housing as early as 2026 is motivated in part by need and in part by obligation.

In the coming years, the ski area known for its high touch and luxury plans to expand its Snow Park Lodge base, which serves as the main entrance to the resort. That project is projected to break ground in 2025. As a condition of granting the necessary permits for the project, however, Park City is requiring that Deer Valley create several affordable housing units. According to municipal code, a company must create affordable housing for 20% of the people whose jobs were created by the expansion.

Summers said she did not know exactly how many beds that translated to for the first phase of the Snow Park project, but “it’s far less than what this facility is going to accommodate.”

Renderings presented to the Park City Council on March 16 allowed for 214 units — 177 of which were one-bedroom units and 37 of which were studios. Summers estimated that once the new facility opens, Deer Valley will be able to provide 700 beds a year to its employees.

Jared Smith, Alterra’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the company’s housing projects will improve the lives of its employees.

“These projects, and our investments in the years ahead,” he said, “demonstrate our unwavering commitment to evolving our destinations to better serve our guests and to improving the experience our employees can expect when living and working in our mountain communities.”