Adventure travelers, by nature of their quest to have unforgettable experiences, tend to seek out a wide variety of locations that range from secluded and “off the beaten path”, to popular “must-see” holiday destinations that usually also fall under the elusive travel category of “I’ll never be able to afford that”. Some rare places can give you both.
When I left my corporate job in the music industry and decided to take on seasonal positions in different National Parks, resorts, and wilderness areas, I quickly realized one way this lifestyle would help me beat the system – I could live and work in popular, sought-after vacation destinations for less than the cost I would incur by paying rent in the city and working a desk job. By living in employee housing and often having meals provided, it didn’t matter what my wage was; I was able to save money for once because it wasn’t all going to rent and bills. Why hadn’t I cracked this code earlier?
In the Grand Canyon, I think I paid something like 4 cents a week for housing and I got to live, quite literally, on the South Rim, where I hiked into the Big Ditch every day before work. In Alaska, I lived and worked at a hostel in Anchorage where so much food was being made in the communal kitchen every day that I never needed to buy groceries. And at The Bunkhouse in Minturn, Colorado, I spent every day with adventurous travelers from all corners of the globe as we got the chance to affordably experience one of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world. I know most people have no interest in living my lifestyle, and I don’t blame them. There are pros and cons to minimalism, and to not building one “home” in one place.
My time at the community-driven Bunkhouse hostel near Beaver Creek Resort made up for those cons in droves, and I could tell that our guests shared in that home-away-from-home feeling. Staying at a backpacker hostel allows participation in this community, even if you’ve not devoted your entire life to it. Now that I’ve put roots in Flagstaff, I crave that vibe whenever I can get it. When I travel for a few days or weeks at a time, it’s rare that I don’t stay in a backpacker hostel in an effort to seek out community, affordability, and the trading of ideas. When I stay in a backpacker hostel, the people I meet tend to be likeminded. In the Vail Valley, they’re usually snowboarders, skiiers, hikers, or bicyclists. Their curiosity is heightened; most are interested in doing new things and witnessing spectacular scenery with their own eyes through the fruits of their own hard work and effort, rather than simply marking a place off of their list to say they’ve been there. Their goal is to see Beaver Creek, not the inside of a hotel room. When I worked there, at first I didn’t have much context about the economic state of the Vail Valley. I just liked hostels, so I found a cool hostel.
As I learned more about being a local, it became clear that affordability is actually a huge problem. As a worker at the resorts, there is limited housing available and it can be difficult to stay on for multiple seasons. As a visitor, there are no low-cost accommodations in the area aside from The Bunkhouse; it is the only hostel lodging in Beaver Creek, and then the options immediately jump to luxury resort rooms. More affordable establishments have tried and failed to make it in the Valley, but the cost of property and permits can be exclusionary and we’ve seen many come and go. For serious snowboarders or skiers with the main goal of devoting time to their sport, this can be a problem. The Bunkhouse’s ability to stay around speaks to their commitment to quality. I’ve spoken to many travelers over the years who express a fear of hostels due to a reputation for being unclean, unsafe, or lacking in privacy.
Where the Bunkhouse succeeds is in their secluded Pod-style bunks that are built into the wall and close with a privacy curtain, and include an outlet, reading light, shelf, and drawer for each guest. The entire hostel is cleaned every single day, down to the floors. The entrance is only accessible by a secret code, there are security cameras in common areas, and an employee is on call 24/7. They’ve also taken into account the circumstances of the Colorado mountain environment; fire pitswarm the front porch, lockable snowboard/ski racks line the outside wall, and all cleaning products used in the hostel are green (they’ve even won awards for sustainability).
The town of Minturn, a short drive from Avon where Beaver Creek Ski Resort is, is tiny and quaint, especially in comparison to the resort area. There is one main street, but it’s lined with local restaurants, bars, antique shops, and the only record/comic store in the Valley. You can even ski “The Minturn Mile” from Vail all the way to the Minturn Saloon for an après-ski burger and beer, or climb Lionshead to look over the expanse of Minturn from above. I preferred to spend my free time here, as opposed to the bustling tourist hub of Avon or Vail (though I loved being in the middle of it all at Beaver Creek Resort during the day…mostly for the cookies).
What I loved most was the people I worked with, and the guests who came through. Everyone contributed something and got to know each other so fast, that I found myself feeling sad when our guests had to leave. We had parties at the hostel for each holiday, and sometimes for no reason at all. Employees and guests alike would cook for each other in the communal kitchen, and rounds of Cards Against Humanity often kicked off, encouraged by the local craft beers and wines sold by the Bunkhouse. That being said, we thankfully avoided the discomfort of the full-on “party hostel” vibes I’ve experienced at other hostels around the world.
I know ill-meaning employers countrywide all say it too, but being at The Bunkhouse truly felt like a family, and one I know I can always come back to when I need a dose of friendship or mountain life. For those wondering why anyone would book a hostel room near Beaver Creek Resort, the more appropriate question is, why wouldn’t you?