March 20, 2016 — Ah the mountains. Snow-capped peaks; endless trails for biking, skiing, and hiking; and streams filled with cutthroat trout. For a small (only about 8% of our members in a recent survey) but very active group of boomers this is the dream, a far different retirement than one on a sunny beach or tranquil small town. One thing is certain, the mountains attract a very active and generally quite fit group of retirees. In this article we will discuss our experiences with a mountain retirement in 2 areas of 2 states – Colorado (Eagle /Vail), and Utah (Park City/Salt Lake City). Both areas have their attractions for retirees, as well a few drawbacks. We are sure there are plenty of other good retirement areas in the mountains elsewhere, and hope that our Members will help fill in more details about those places.
Colorado – A Rocky Mountain High
Recently Topretirements visited friends in the Eagle/Vail area of Colorado, which is located a few hours drive west of Denver. We were very impressed with this area, thinking it has to be one of the great spots for booomers attracted to this type of retirement lifestyle. Here are some of the highlights of the area.
Vail is the big ski resort around here. It is so large that there is a multi-story underground parking lot, and when you come out from it you find yourself in an ersatz Austrian village, complete with ski shops, high end boutiques (need a new mink coat?), and bars and restaurants. The ski area and its bowls are vast, with so many bowls that untouched powder is still available days after a big dump.
The problem with living at a fancy resort like Vail is the expense. Real estate, and just about everything else, is very expensive. Interstate 70 cuts through a valley here, and that leads to another issue: your expensive dream home more than likely overlooks I 70 and receives its attendant noise.
Our friends looked at Vail and ended up choosing Eagle, Eagle Ranch to be exact. This very interesting and up and coming town is a half an hour west of Vail. Located in what is referred to as the Banana Belt, Eagle is at a lower elevation and in a drier valley than Vail. The result is much milder climate with fewer storms. Other areas between there and Vail include:
– Avon. Home of the famous Beaver Creek Resort and right next to Vail. It is newer and might have even more expensive homes than Vail.
– Edwards. There are several different communities near here including Single Tree, Homestead, and Cordillera. The latter is set high on a mountain with very fancy homes but offering good value. Red sky Ranch is a new development with high end homes and a golf course; there are plans to build a new town there. You can find all types of homes around Edwards.
Eagle and Eagle Ranch
Eagle is built along the Eagle River, which flows into the Colorado River. A good thing about the town is that although I 70 has an exit here, the busy Interstate is not seen or heard. Instead the view is of a charming town in two parts, old and new, with the ever-present mountains all around.
The old part of town is quite appealing. Its compact downtown area has a wide main street offering interesting shops. The homes are a mix, mostly mid-western bungalow types. There are several nice parks, a modern library, and the County headquarters. What your editor found most interesting is the new town that is just a short distance away from the old section. Once again there is tight downtown with shops, fitness center, the Capitol movie theater, and the Porchlight Players. All of the commercial buildings are in the same style. Above the stores are some apartments, and spread out in the rest of the new town are homes in three types of harmonious styles.
Former ranch became a failed development
Just in time for the real estate melt-down of 2008, a developer launched big plans for a huge development here in the new part of Eagle. However, after some obviously huge investments to build the town center and a lovely golf course, the project failed. The City of Eagle purchased the golf course (now public) and private developers bought the unsold residential lots, which are conveniently located adjacent to the town center.
In addition to its walkable downtown and nearby golf course, Eagle has many other attractions. Castle Peak, a large senior care facility offering assisted living apartments and rehabilitation services, is being built downtown. There are 22 miles of paved bike trails that wend their way around town, with many more unpaved trails for mountain bikers going into the hills beyond (the city is hoping to become a major mountain biking center). City Market is the local supermarket, which along with Costco provides for most marketing needs. Several excellent restaurants such as Pastatively, where your editor dined, offer great food at a reasonable price. Bonfire Brewing is a local brewpub with very drinkable brews and an outdoor fire pit to enjoy them around. There is an outdoor swimming pool and ice rink that are open in season. Porchlight Players offers opportunities for playgoers and thespians alike, and summertime concerts are held on Thursdays in one of the parks. Taxpayers just approved a small increase in the local sales tax to develop and fund The River Corridor Plan, a water park and sports center along the edge of the Eagle River.
The Vail 50 Club
If you only need one good reason for retirees to live in the Vail/Eagle area it would be the Vail 50 Club. This extremely well organized and energetic group has an amazing array of social and sporting activities. It also provides an excellent way to meet fellow mountain-loving retirees. As an example the club offers volunteer-led downhill skiing 2 days a week, with cross country and snowshoeing on other days (groups are arranged by interest/ability levels). In summer there are regular hike, golf, tennis, and biking outings. Plus there are frequent social outings and travel trips.
Many of the folks who live in the older part of Eagle are working people with children, which makes it nice for people who want to live in heterogeneous community. In Eagle Ranch, where the homes are larger and go up into the hills, the residents tend to be boomer aged retirees or nearly retired. Home prices are increasing and many lots are available. Lot prices start in the low $100s, with condos and single family homes going from the mid $200s to over $1 million for those with expansive mountain views and larger size. Here is a link to some Zillow listings in the area.
On the downside
Even paradise has to have some downsides. Locals lament that there is no mail delivery in Eagle, Avon, or Edwards (you have to go to the PO). Dry cleaning is very expensive, and although there are some good restaurants, there could always be more.
Further west in Utah
The Salt Lake City area provides a very different opportunity for the mountain lifestyle in retirement. In Salt Lake City proper you can enjoy an urban or suburban lifestyle. Either way you are close to the urban action such as restaurants, professional sports, University of Utah, and museums. The mountains immediately surround the city so within 30-45 minutes you can be skiing at big league ski resorts like Park City, the Canyons, Deer Valley, Solitude, Park City, or Alta. Snowbasin and a few other resorts are just a bit further. Although the city is attracting more diversity and younger people due to its strong economy, it has a very high proportion of Mormons.
Topretirements has always loved Park City due its vital and interesting downtown set against the mountains and 3 ski resorts. There is even a ski lift that picks up skiers in the middle of downtown! The annual Sundance Film Festival attracts A list film types and big fans alike. The homes are interesting; many are built into the sides of the hills – one might look small but what you can’t see is that it might have 2 or more hidden stories. If you get bored it is a quick drive down I 80 to Salt Lake City.
There are downsides to this tourist town, such as the crowds that throng the streets and many restaurants. Prices for everything tend to high, including real estate. So this is not an area for retirees without a substantial budget. The Zillow Home Value Index was $644,000 in early 2016, more than triple the U.S. median. If you move away from town in any direction prices will be more affordable. Jeremy Ranch is a very nice community with a golf course. It attracts well-off families but retirees would be happy here too.
Other towns in the area also offer access to a mountain lifestyle. Heber City is much more low key and inexpensive. This offer has lakes and the Wasatch Mountains for endless outdoor recreation opportunities. As is the case with most towns in Utah other than Park City, they have high concentrations of Mormons and are not particularly diverse. Provo is down the road, 43 miles from Salt Lake City, and is home to Brigham Young University. South of here are some of America’s most outstanding National Parks including Capitol Reefs, Escalante, Bryce, and Zion.
If you have thought of retiring to the mountains for the outdoor lifestyle you have plenty of opportunities. It is a very healthy lifestyle and one guaranteed to help keep you young. We hope this brief insight into what it can be like in one part of Colorado and Utah is helpful. Our subjective opinion is that most people would be happier in Colorado due to its diversity and the number of places that the average person would feel comfortable retiring to. The Vail/Eagle area is especially inviting for the recreation, housing, town, and the Vail 50 club.
Comments? Have you thought about a retiring into the mountains? If so please share your thoughts and experiences with your fellow members in the Comments section below.
For further reading
Dueling Mountain States for Retirement: CO, NV, MT, WY, and ID