WildSnow News Roundup — July 2017 — Tiny Houses, Drones vs Eagles

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 19, 2017      
Aspen Skiing Company purchased and located these tiny houses for employee housing. They made a clever move in utilizing an RV park that allows year round  rentals with no time limit for stay.

Here in our area of Colorado, Aspen Skiing Company purchased and located these tiny houses for employee housing. They made a clever move in utilizing an RV park that allows year round rentals with no time limit for stay. I got curious about this. Research I did indicated that, while inconsistently enforced, most RV parks in our greater area actually do not “officially” allow unlimited stays, due to land use code stipulations or park owner’s rules. Thus, finding a park that does allow year-around parking-living is a coup. While more expensive per square foot than a similar sized mobile home, these tiny houses are probably better quality and definitely have more architectural interest. They’re also incredibly energy efficient due to small size and attention to insulation. (Such efficiency is a nice feature in high end resort areas, where folks living in 200 square feet help save energy for elephantine mansions boasting heated driveways and jumbo hot tubs).

1. WildSnow outer local: tiny homes are again in our news. Aspen Skiing Company is buying them at $100,000 each (!) for employee housing. They figured out a tricky way to bypass restrictive land use codes that make it tough or perhaps even illegal (depending on minimum square footage stipulations specific to each land use code) to live full-time in a tiny home. Apparently some or perhaps all the RV parks in Eagle County, Colorado have special use permits that allow unlimited stays for clients. Park your wheeled tiny house in one of these RV parks — live there as long as you want.

I like what’s going on here, but have to chuckle. As has happened over the years in many other parts of our country, mobile homes in our area were once the solution to quickly created employee housing. Many of the resulting “trailer parks” remain in play, some having been developed as early as 1964 for a dam building project. Nowadays, asking for approval of a new mobile home park development in our area would be like asking permission for an oil refinery. Rename mobile homes to “tiny houses” — problem solved. Any thinking person, however, has to wonder why a “tiny house” that costs $200 a square foot is somehow preferable as affordable housing, when compared to a “mobile home” that costs $34 a square foot. Is it worth nearly six times the square footage cost not call your house a mobile home?

(Example price estimates gleaned from internet research. The Skico tiny homes, ostensibly from Sprout, are said to cost $100,000 each at about 500 square feet. I found a new 765 square foot mobile home for sale in our region for $25,585. In the case of a larger mobile home, the comparison wouldn’t be fair. But in my opinion 764 square feet is close enough to 500 for valid consideration.)

Indeed, with the incentive of charging a premium, I wouldn’t be surprised if mobile home factories begin pumping out “tiny houses” by the score, if they have not done so already. Coming soon, the double wide tiny house!

Interestingly, I studied land use codes from a few other counties and noticed that in RV campgrounds was usually stipulated as “seasonal, not year around.” Typical of the various regulations (such as minimum home sizes) that have contributed to our somewhat artificial housing crises. Article here.

2. I love the concept of off-grid living. But solar power, while often vaunted as the savior of the human race, in reality is a rather problematic way to get electricity on a small scale. You need batteries that cost money and wear out. PV panels are large, unwieldy and can be a target for thieves. The current sweet spot in panel efficiency (converting sun to electricity) is not impressive, and panels rarely operate at peak efficiency anyway. They need direct sun to do that, not have dust or dirt on the glass, clear sky, and so forth. Thus, any development in making panels more efficient is closely watched. Wiki is fascinating. Latest developments.

3. Skiing in the southern hemi is of course happening now. This CNN article is a compact overview of options in Chile, and check out our own coverage.

4. Check out this 100-year-old skier getting his summer turns. (High Bandwidth Warning, Salt Lake Tribune so loaded with advertising it barely functions, but fun article on high bandwidth connection.)

5. Condolences to friends and family of skier who fell through snow hole on Mount Rainier and appears to have been lost to a raging creek. Article here.

6. Skiing and snowboarding the Colorado 14,000 foot peaks has become popular. In fact, so popular that it’s now not a big-news item when someone completes them all. Since Chris Davenport made the speed of the project an issue when he became the second guy to ski them all — and the fastest by doing them in one year — others have tried to break his speed record. It looks like the speediest ‘teener skier (actually, splitboarder) is now Josh Jespersen. He did them all in 138 days. Super impressive. Not only do you need incredible motivation and fitness for that sort of thing, but the mental game of balancing stormy weather, avalanche danger and skiable snow can be so difficult and stressful you can easily throw in the towel part way through your project — or begin skiing only smaller parts of the peaks and rationalizing to yourself that you’ve completed them. (some peaks are hard to get complete runs on due to inconsistent snow cover from season to season). Article here.

7. I’m keeping count. So far, I’ve had three annoying encounters with irresponsible drone pilots and their craft. What’s the solution? I’d shoot the things out of the sky with my elk harvesting tool, but the field of fire is often unsafe. I’d buy a drone buster electronic rig if Amazon had a deal, but they don’t. How about a bird of prey trained to attack the things? Might work. Article here.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


22 Responses to “WildSnow News Roundup — July 2017 — Tiny Houses, Drones vs Eagles”

  1. OMR July 19th, 2017 9:50 am

    As a drone proponent I can partially agree with your ‘irresponsible and annoying’ drone statements, but do you mind elaborating so I don’t make the same mistakes?
    As a child of the ’70’s, what is annoying to me is the mass-produced b.c. skiing mentality of many of today’s skiers, like groups of 10++, all headed to the same spot and thus turning once-lonely powder bowls into mogul fields, or the ‘follow-the-bread-crumb,’ Strava mentality so prevalent today. “Go small or go home,” is my rule. I’ve had thoughts of using elk harvesting tools myself;) (that’s a joke, don’t report me to the SS.)
    Anyway, thanks for the great blog.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 July 19th, 2017 10:05 am

    OMR, sure, I enjoy the amazing creative results of drone photography as much as anyone, I also get annoyed as much as anyone. It’s not rocket science, mostly common sense. Don’t fly low over private land while people are enjoying their space, don’t fly where doing so is prohibited, and when you do fly around people be safe as a drone falling out of the sky or playing around can hurt or kill someone.

    What I’ve seen is that newbie droners tend to get excited about their new technology and feel empowered or special, and sometimes ignore basic courtesy as a result.

    Not trying to be a stickler here, just advocating basics.

    As for what else is annoying, two wrongs don’t make a right.


  3. Hacksaw July 19th, 2017 10:07 am

    Careful Lou, some S&R teams are getting drones. Know before you shoot.

  4. Shane July 19th, 2017 10:41 am

    I had my first “drone experience” last weekend when my wife and I were lazily floating around a small like in inner tubes. It was a hot weekend so there were plenty of other folks in the water – but for some reason the high-pitched buzz of a drone zipping overhead seemed to destroy whatever semblance of peace there was to be had. Add to that the thought that it was being operated by some perv trying to get overhead bikini photos and, well, it was uncomfortable.

    A little later the pilot switched out his quad-copter for a RC float plane. That was a bit nicer since it was quiet but once he landed and I realized the thing had a 6-ft wingspan I got pretty upset that he had been flying above us the whole time.

  5. OMR July 19th, 2017 10:54 am

    Good points Lou. I for one do not pull out the drone if I know other skiers are in the area, and I never fly over private property. I ski lonely areas of the Wasatch that are now getting less and less lonely. Skiers are now more willing to accept long, grungy approaches for short runs just to avoid the 20-ring circus of the Central Wasatch.
    Which was why I mentioned my other annoyances: if you see one lone skier setting a hard fought skinner into a smallish bowl (like big enough for only 5-10 narrow lines of 70’s style slalom turns) how about don’t follow him in with your posse of 10+ friends when you could easily cross the ridge to another vacant bowl (but apparently setting a skin track of their own is too much work?). In that sense I’m finding easy justification to pull out my drone.

  6. Nate C July 19th, 2017 11:59 am

    I think the Wasatch would lose a lot of its character if there weren’t people complaining about the “crowds” all the time.

    It’s an interesting concept. It’s like the complainers of the crowds believe that they somehow exist outside the crowding, and EVERYONE ELSE is the “problem.”

    There’s a metropolitan area (of like 2 million people) parked on top of a tiny mountain range with some of the most incredible ski touring access anywhere in the world. You’re going to see other people, that’s the breaks. It doesn’t somehow entitle you to buzz them with a drone because you’ve created a perceived slight in your mind.

  7. Scott Allen July 19th, 2017 12:29 pm

    100 years old and making snow turns!
    That was inspiring….it’s hot here in Colorado…think snow!

  8. See July 19th, 2017 12:29 pm

    Regarding solar panel efficiency: I recently got an Anker 15 watt solar usb charger that weighs about 12 oz. and uses some unusual looking matte blue Sunpower cells. These are supposed to be very efficient (as pv cells go) but I haven’t had a chance to do any tests. I can say that the panel seems to charge my usb battery “chargers” surprisingly effectively .

    That said, unless you’re carrying them around on your back, solar panel efficiency is kind of a non-issue, in my opinion. The technology will improve, but even in it’s current state it is clearly good enough for many important applications. And besides, getting enough electricity to do meaningful work from a few totally silent panels up on the roof is a beautiful thing.

  9. Bruno Schull July 19th, 2017 1:14 pm

    Hi Lou. I have what is probably a silly question. Instead of all those trailers, or tiny houses, wouldn’t a small apartment building make more sense? Is this a hopelessly European perspective? What are the regulations, or political obstacles, to building small apartment buildings?

  10. Lou Dawson 2 July 19th, 2017 5:40 pm

    Bruno, I think that’s above my pay grade in my level of economics education. And yes I’ve wondered the same thing. I know that part of it is minimum size requirements that exist in many land use codes. Also, I think part of the appeal of tiny houses and mobile homes is the “instant” housing aspect, and the way they can be moved around to areas of need or for that matter sold to people in different locations. Much more liquid. Lou

  11. Andy Carey July 19th, 2017 8:04 pm

    The tiny house for the employee reminds me of the numerous timber towns in WA & OR where there were lots of tiny houses for mill employees, sometimes on skids, and many relocated after the timber companies closed down the towns because of liability. There is one just down the road from us, that once was a major town producting unbelievable tall timbers for ship masts. You can find a foundation or two but lots of feral ornamental plants.

    Years ago, we put solar panels on our Airstream for dry camping–worked well all the way from WA to Belize. Our own little tiny house 8 X 23′–a little crowded so we now live in a big house, 20 X 24 feet.

    Finally, in the new here, are how drones are wreaking havoc on forest fire control, causing all fire-fighter related aircraft, including bombers, to be grounded unitl the drone operator is found and ….

  12. Crazy Horse July 19th, 2017 9:20 pm

    The traditional Western approach to getting rid of unwanted predators was to offer a bounty. Should work for drones as well. So what is the best weapon, goose loads in a shotgun or an AR15 modified to fire three round bursts?

    re tiny houses as residences, Look up the history of the Wheelhaus company in Jackson. After years of battling the county overlords, they ended up being $400 per night tourist cabins.

  13. Lou Dawson 2 July 20th, 2017 7:07 am

    Crazy, this 2014 article about Jackson and tiny houses is pretty good, still the same situation?

    The article says:

    “Concerning zoning laws in the valley, the Gibeaus have to move around frequently so they are able to live within legal limits. By traveling during the summers and camping on friends’ land whenever possible, they are able to base themselves in Jackson.”

    “We’re lucky that our work is flexible,” Brittany said. “Dan can do his work as a cinematographer anywhere. But what about the people whose jobs won’t allow them to move around every 30 days? Tiny houses make so much sense for working people in Jackson Hole, but it’s extremely hard to find somewhere to park. Teton County is not tiny house friendly.”


    Some contend (myself included) that zoning laws are the biggest single obstacle to affordable mountain town resort area housing. Not the evil 1 percenters who employee everyone, not the realtors, not the corporations, just the zoning laws…

  14. Crazy Horse July 20th, 2017 8:16 am

    Lou, like most articles in the liberal press, the one you quote tries to describe an elephant by feeling its trunk. It’s not just the zoning laws that Wheelhaus came up against, but the economics of a highly desirable place in a country where 12 individuals own as much as the lower 50%.

    In Teton County Wyoming the cheapest available lot costs a half million dollars. Even if there were no zoning and NIMBY barriers, how many tiny homes could you fit on a 100 x 100′ lot?

    The Town of Jackson “solution” to the problem is to allow people to live in their cars in public parking lots and use public restrooms for a mere $495 per month fee!

    The only partial solution — apart from a revolution in income distribution — is increased density. Anybody who has ever spent time in Whistler village has seen the prototype. Jackson uses the NIMBY principle in zoning and planning, but is there any reason why somebody wouldn’t rather live in a nicely designed 12 story high apartment tower and walk or ride the bus to work rather than driving two hours a day across Teton Pass and spending $6,000 a year on commuting?

    To carry the theme further, why not build 500 sq. ft apartments in a tower with bus transportation at the doorstep AND NO CAR PARKING for single working people or young couples (and pass the savings along in lower rents)? Great opportunity for someone downstream in Alpine to create a cheap car park for the seldom used cars and provide delivery on demand for the Jackson based owners. Let the market decide if the renters can’t live without their car in the basement—. (Readers, don’t get caught up with the no-car suggestion—- my proposal is really about density vrs. sprawl.)

    ps I’ve submitted two articles with a similar theme to the local papers, but they won’t print them. Guess they know which side of the bread the honey is spread on—.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 July 20th, 2017 9:40 am

    Thanks Crazy, excellent op ed. I’d add that another part of economics has to be playing a role in this, that of tax base. These wealthy resort counties get used to amazing amounts of cash, often from property tax, allowing stuff that might not be as lucrative is of course against their nature. And getting more nuanced, these counties clearly would rather tax and spend, rather than unfetter individuals and let them find solutions. That’s just a cultural thing and could be reversed, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    That sleeping in cars thing sounds tragic.


  16. Crazy Horse July 20th, 2017 1:39 pm

    I worked on a house in Teton Village three years ago where the construction laborer lived with his wife underneath the Flat Creek bike path overpass for half a year. Finally ended up in a domestic dispute that enabled the worker to upgrade his housing several hundred percent by moving into the county jail.

    A construction laborer in Jackson would have to work 3 1/2 full time jobs in order to afford the median rental if he followed government recommended budgetary guidelines . At least he wouldn’t have to worry about the quality of his housing while working 28 hours a day—

  17. Bill B July 20th, 2017 1:50 pm

    Hey Lou
    How does ASC manage the sewage from the tiny houses?

  18. Crazy Horse July 20th, 2017 1:58 pm

    Another solution that readily finds the white-out pen on the editor’s desk:

    Require that every house on more than 2.5 acres with more than 3,500 sq ft. include a guest house on the property—and that the guest house be rented full time to an individual or family employed in the county. If left un-rented, the county would have the right to lease it out for a dollar a month. That should be enough motivation to enlarge the pool of available housing beyond the five or six total that is typical now—.

  19. Lou Dawson 2 July 20th, 2017 1:58 pm

    It’s just hooked up to an existing system like any other RV or mobile home would be, or house for that matter. Lou

  20. Lou Dawson 2 July 24th, 2017 7:27 am

    Bill, re the waste disposal, it’s handled just like any other hook ups.

  21. Lou Dawson 2 July 24th, 2017 8:01 am

    Crazy, I keep thinking that if the political will was there, then the land use codes in certain mountain resort areas in the U.S. could indeed be tweaked and much of the problem thus solved. In my opinion, it doesn’t have to draconian. Any realist, however, has to admit that due to the way things work a complex problem such as affordably housing 100% of workers near their jobs in mountain resort towns is not entirely solvable. It’s so bad in some areas, however, that making visible progress could be pretty easy — again, if the political will was there. I’m rambling (smile). Lou

  22. Crazy Horse July 24th, 2017 8:54 am

    Lou, the thing is, solutions that actually have a chance of solving the housing problem are only draconian from the point of view of a tiny minority. (And that minority is the one with all the advantgage$$$ in the political arena.

    Take for example the idea of requiring owners of luxury estates in Teton County to provide housing on their estate properties for people who work in the community and make it function. First, realize that most only reside in their palaces for a few weeks a year. Having a teacher and her family or a policeman and his family living on the property should be seen as an asset rather than a liability. Perhaps the lot size requirement should be 5 acres rather than 2.5, but there is no reason why extreme scarcity and extreme pricing couldn’t be mitigated by asking absentee estate owners to be part of the solution rather than one of the causes of the problem.

    “Draconian” ideas that would actually start to address problems never emerge because we have an owned press, and that press is deeply embedded in business as usual. It is to your credit that, even with what seems to be a libertarian/conservative political perspective, you allow rants like mine on what is after all a site about skiing!

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