Once a month, Sharon Heller of Ithaca, N.Y., makes the seven-hour drive to ski Jay Peak, Vt., staying in a rental house with her friends for a long weekend. "My husband and I ski so much we want to go as cheaply as possible, says Heller, a government employee and a self-described hardcore skier. "A four-bedroom house at Jay runs about $400 a day. With eight people, that's $50 a night. You can't find a motel for that.
Then there's Steve Rosenthal, from Long Island, N.Y., who has been renting houses in Colorado for years. For the past two seasons, he's settled on Aspen, renting homes for six to 10 family members or friends. "We always try to take a house with a hot tub, says Rosenthal. "One or two nights we cook; the rest of the nights we go out to dinner and come back and watch movies. It's much more casual than a hotel. It feels homey. And, of course, a house is less expensive than a hotel.
Whether it's a 1970s chalet on a Vermont hillside or a 5,000-square-foot mansion on Aspen's Red Mountain, house rentals can be a smart way for groups to get more square footage per dollar. There was a time when full-season house rentals were a standard part of the New England ski scene, especially at Killington, where ski chalets and farmhouses filled with young New Yorkers and Bostonians hot to ski—and party. But with fewer vacation days and time-pressed skiers less inclined to make the weekly Friday-night drive to a seasonal house, short-term rentals have become more common. That's true not only in New England, but out West in pricey towns such as Aspen. "Our minimums have dropped; now they're either three or five nights, explains Cheryl Bach, reservations manager for McCartney Property Management, which manages 17 houses in Aspen.
While groups of friends have long banded together for the clout that a group can wield, the current boom is being driven by extended families who are seeking a place where they can settle in and catch up. "We got an unexpected boost from 9/11, says Mary Beth Quinn of Stowe Country Rentals. "Families suddenly wanted to vacation together.
Why Book a House?
A house offers space, privacy and a gathering place for a family or a group of friends, with savings that range from minimal to substantial. "I've stayed at The Little Nell and in condo apartments in Aspen, and nothing compares to having your own house, Rosenthal says. "The cost is manageable, and the more people you have, the more favorable it is. There are no hidden costs. You can view the properties on the Internet. And a lot of houses are dog-friendly. Last year, my son brought his French mastiff with him.Prices are dictated by season, and managers like McCartney have five different price periods, with New Year's being the priciest. January is one of the best months for value pricing, with late spring being a good bet, too. As with all real estate transactions, location determines cost. Slopeside houses will always cost more than a chalet tucked in the woods five miles from the mountain. But that remoteness is what some people crave after having suffered one too many noisy condo rentals.
"You save money on meals because you don't have to go out to eat, Heller says. "But frankly, we're all too tired to go out after skiing all day. We just like to go home, drink beer and make dinner.
What to Look for in a House
According to property managers, hot tubs are the most requested amenity, even though they command a premium. High-end rentals can also come with an indoor pool, sauna and spacious bedrooms. But bed configuration is probably the single most important aspect of a rental. Houses with king-size beds are great for couples, but not for a group of friends or a family with four kids who would be better served by twins or a mix of twins and doubles. And when a house description says it can sleep eight, make sure that two people who expect a bedroom aren't faced with a lumpy sofa bed in the living area. Even if you'vee viewed the inventory online, speak with a property manager before putting a deposit down, and be clear about what you want.
What Will it Cost?
In Aspen, McCartney has a cabin in town with three bedrooms that costs from $365 to $785 per night. At the high end, the company also rents a 5,000-square-foot house on the Aspen Golf Club that can sleep 15 to 20 for $1,260 to $2,625 per night. It has seven bedrooms, six baths, two kitchens, jacuzzi tubs, an outdoor hot tub that seats 10 and daily housekeeping. With seven couples splitting the price, the cost ranges from $90 to $190 per person, per night—about half what a good hotel would cost.
In Stowe, Stowe Country Rentals has two-bedroom houses such as Bonnie's Place, which rents for $300 to $400 a night. A larger house like Bull Moose Run runs $1,000 to $1,200 per night. It has seven bedrooms, four baths and comfortably sleeps 14 people. That comes out to $72 to $86 per person, per night. On the luxury end, there's Soupçon ($1,400 to $1,500 per night), with four bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, a game room, slate counters, fine linens and antiques.How do houses compare to condos in price? Quinn rents both and says that her average two-bedroom house runs $400 per night while a comparable condo runs $300 per night.
House rentals generally have no hidden costs, but there are extras that are stated upfront. They include local lodging tax, which in Aspen runs 9.6 percent. You might also face booking fees, which in the case of McCartney in Aspen are 3 percent of the pre-tax amount. Cleaning and linen fees are also a factor. In Stowe, for example, they run $145 for a two-bedroom and up to $275 on larger houses.
Seasonal Rentals & Catered Chalets
Resorts such as Killington still attract the seasonal ski house crowd. In fact, there's an entire section of killington.com geared to help people find houses or housemates. A typical seasonal rental through Stowe Country Rentals is Stowe Chalet. This four-bedroom house sleeps eight and has a sauna, as well as a hot tub on the deck.
Located about a mile from the village, it runs $14,000 for the season, plus approximately $2,000 more for utilities, which includes plowing. If you go in with eight people, that costs out to $2,000 per person for about 20 weekends of skiing or $100 per weekend. The only potential downside is that seasonal rentals, like all house rentals, are prepaid. "If our winter goes south in January, Quinn says, "it's not refundable.
Catered chalets, a European spin on house rentals, are offered by managers such as Colorado-based Moving Mountains, which has three houses in Steamboat, three in Breckenridge and one in Vail. The six-bedroom chalet in Steamboat, with an outdoor hot tub, costs $1,800 per night in January for a seven-night stay. That includes all meals except for two dinners. With 12 adults sharing, it comes out to $150 per person, per night.
When & How to Book
The easiest way to find house rentals is to contact a resort's central reservations, which can offer a list of local property managers. While some skiers shop in summer for next winter's rentals, you can still find vacancies during the season.
This season, Heller shopped the Jay Peak market hard, and found a house in the $50 per-person, per-night range. And after years of experience, she put this year's group together based on a new mantra: "No whiners.