Investor Alert

Where Should I Retire?

Feb. 20, 2021, 7:08 p.m. EST

We love to ski but are struggling even with a $1 million house budget — what’s an affordable ski town where we can retire?

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By Silvia Ascarelli

Dear MarketWatch,

My wife and I are both federal employees and will retire in a few years with total (combined) pensions of around $10,000 a month. Our nest egg for retirement (TSP plus savings) will be another $2 million or so. Social Security will kick in on top of that. 

We both love skiing and ski towns, but also lakes with forest running and mountain biking trails. It seems hard to find affordable ski towns that aren’t too touristy with good lakes and water sports nearby. We’d prefer not to be too far from a “real” city to get our urban fix, when needed.  

We have $200,000 available for a down payment. That would put a house budget at around $1 million. We’ve looked at Park City it’s pricey these days. Aspen Valley is way out of reach, as is Breckenridge. East Coast skiing is icy and unpredictable. Places like Whitefish (in Montana) or Crested Butte (in Colorado) are nice but remote and hard to get to. Same with Durango. New Mexico lacks the lake options (ie, Santa Fe, Taos). Lake Tahoe is congested and full of casinos and second homes.  

I feel like we must be missing something. Any ideas?



Dear Dillon,

An underdiscovered ski town? That’s a tough one.

I hear you on pricey, but that’s down to supply and demand. And right now, demand is hotter than normal as people figure they can work from somewhere else. Sadly for you, Breckenridge is particularly hot

And ski towns are often in no rush to build more housing. See these objections about a proposed development in Breckenridge as an example.

But a $1 million housing budget is nothing to sneeze at. Many are priced out of their dream ski town with far less.

I admit I’m nervous about an $800,000 mortgage. You know your expenses and lifestyle better than I do, but please, double-check your budget and don’t forget to take income taxes on tax-deferred savings into account. Yes, you have an impressive nest egg and pensions. Equally, a 30-year mortgage at 3% is $3,373 in monthly payments — and then there are property taxes and possibly HOA fees. 

Here’s how financial planners come down on the mortgage-in-retirement debate . If you have a financial adviser, this is worth a chat.

As you know, having a great time in a ski town for one week is not the same as daily living for 52 weeks. As you look around, ask if it’s mostly filled with second-home owners and vacationers, or are there plenty of year-round residents? 

Perhaps consider renting for a year in one town. If it doesn’t feel right, try another one or reassess what you’re looking for. (Cities like Ogden, Utah, and Bozeman, Mont., with ski slopes a short drive away?) And if you love a pricey town, consider a smaller place or something a bit further from the slopes. That could make Summit County — Silverthorne or Dillon instead of Breckenridge? — work for you.

Here are three suggestions to get you started. You should be able to find something well below $1 million.

Winter Park, Colorado

Pick this lower-profile resort as your ski area, and you avoid much of the traffic jams around Georgetown and further up the mountain to Summit County and beyond. While you can live at the resort, you may want to consider Fraser, 15 minutes north of Winter Park, or Granby, another 20 minutes away. 

Nearly 16,000 people live in Grand County, or about half as many as in Summit County, and homes are more affordable. The towns are admittedly small — Fraser has about 1,300 year-round residents, and Granby has around 2,100 people. (By comparison, Breckenridge has about 5,000.)

Not only would you be in the mountains, but you’d have plenty of water options. Granby in particular is close to Lake Granby as well as Shadow Mountain Lake (actually a reservoir) and Grand Lake.

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