Aiden Saunders is living in Woodstock and communiting 1 hour and 20 minutes to his job in marketing at Sugarbush.
“It's difficult to be part of the Mad River Valley community when I have to drive so far. It's a bummer because The Valley is such a strong community and that is the central aspect of its culture. For that to survive and be strong, it’s really important that housing is available,” Saunders said.
“Vermont is going through an exodus of college grads and young adults and that will just keep happening when housing stock is not available,” he said.
Saunders, 25, is currently living with family in Woodstock and making that 160-minute commute twice a week. He is from Vermont and graduated from Woodstock Union High School in 2015 and Champlain College in 2020. He stayed in Burlington after graduation and was hired by Sugarbush in March 2021.
“When I was hired, my team was almost entirely remote and I came on at the end of the season. When we started coming back to the office I was commuting from Burlington and started looking for housing here,” he said.
His lease in Burlington ended in August and right before it ended he learned he’d need knee surgery (and couldn’t ski during the 2021-22 ski season) so he opted to move back in with his family to have the support after the surgery.
“Now I’m at at the point where I'm looking for housing in The Valley for the 2022-23 ski season. I've started my search now because i know it's going to be a long process. I check Craigslist and Zillow and there is almost no housing stock available in The Valley. There are sometimes some summer rentals which end before November,” Saunders explained.
“I would absolutely take a year-round lease if I could find one. I’m not quite at the point where I can afford to buy a house. The more money I spend renting, the more money is flushed down the toilet and there’s nothing available to purchase here,” he said.
$20 IN GAS
On the days when he drives from Woodstock to Warren, it costs $20 in gas and he has real concerns about the environmental impacts of burning all that fossil fuel.
Sugarbush’s parent company, Alterra Resorts, is currently conducting energy audits of all of its resorts, Saunders said.
“I appreciate that and one of the things they’re looking at is employee commuting and I’m interested in that,” he said.
Saunders said that the housing crisis cannot be laid solely at the feet of elected officials.
“The community needs to address this. Vermont is built around these small communities. Culturally, we need to come together and decide what to do. The towns in The Valley need to start thinking long term about the housing crisis, so infrastructure systems, like the 2008 wastewater system in Waitsfield that was voted down, can support a growing population,” he said.
“It also brings into question the zoning regulations and Vermont, in general, has so much land zoned for single-family homes and that is not efficient or affordable for people who are not earning large amounts of money. We will see the population of Vermont grow over the next 50-100 years and it’s important to think about where we want our housing to be. Do we want to allow forests to become denuded for housing or keep our compact town and village centers with multi-family housing?” he asked.
Saunders keeps an eye on Airbnb and said there’s a lot of short-term rentals available in The Valley.
“Communities and towns will need to come together and decide if limits will be placed on the number of Airbnbs that are allowed. We have a quantifiable amount of units available for housing. If there’s a way to shift that around to support long-term rentals through a higher tax rate for them, that might incentivize more landlords to move toward long-term rentals,” he said.