VAIL, Colo. — Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Gerald Ford. Oprah Winfrey. Tom Cruise. Harrison Ford. Julia Roberts. Michael Milken.
They are just some of the rich and famous who live the high life in such rarefied resort areas as Aspen, Vail, Jackson, Lake Tahoe, Taos and Sun Valley.
Jim Brooksher, Kaye Ferry, Joe Montoya, Dave Richardson, Brad Jones and Mary Jane Dewhurst. Although not famous, they are vital to resort communities from the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the balmy beaches of Hawaii.
They operate ski lifts, drive city or school buses. They manage stores, work in restaurants, teach school, practice law, build houses. They make the resorts run.
But many can't afford to live where they work. Or they keep two or three jobs to pay the rent. Or they cram into condos and trailers with roommates.
Some are longtime residents forced out by soaring property taxes and rents. Others are seasonal workers who remained past the ski season.
They all live in or near areas straight out of fantasies, but struggle with the realities of long commutes over icy mountain passes or spend more than half their monthly paycheck on rent.
For these people, Shangri-La has become The Forbidden City.
"People who work here should be able to live here. They shouldn't feel excluded," said Gary Lindstrom, a commissioner in Colorado's Summit County.
The county is home to the Keystone, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge ski areas west of Denver. When Lindstrom moved to the area in 1974, houses were selling in the $20,000 range. Now they go for $250,000 and up.
In resort towns across the West, the rich are getting richer and the poor live somewhere else.
"Now it seems like everyone's a millionaire--and the billionaires are buying them out," said Mary Jane "Bill" Dewhurst, who has spent most of her life along the shore of Lake Tahoe at Incline Village, Nev.
For decades, growth and prosperity were goals for these resort communities, not problems. Now, while builders busily fill Montana meadows and the red-rock canyons of Sedona, Ariz., with more luxury condos, some worry about the "Aspenization" of their towns.
Prosperity has had a price. Resort towns are among the fastest-growing areas in the fastest-growing region of the country, and the growing pains felt throughout the West are magnified here. There are water worries. Crowded roads. Strained infrastructure. Higher housing costs. Friction between newcomers and old-timers.
It's the dark side of the worker's paradise: Jobs are plentiful, but affordable housing is scarce.
"In the paper, there are four pages of want ads for jobs and maybe half a page of want ads for homes," said Dave Tolen, Aspen's housing director--who lives in public housing.
Vail runs radio ads in Idaho and holds job fairs out of state seeking ski bums. Some resorts offer 401 (k) plans, employee housing and ski passes, in addition to higher wages and other benefits. In Sun Valley, Idaho, more than 200 jobs went unfilled last year because of a lack of housing. Ten times that number went unfilled in the Vail valley.
"Even the bank president can't afford to buy a home in Aspen," said Tom Hart, head of Colorado's state Division of Housing.
Anne Newton, a pharmacist at the only drugstore in Big Sky, Mont., couldn't afford housing there on her salary of $30 an hour plus benefits.
"At the age of 41, I'm going to stay with my mother and father for a while," Newton said as she packed her belongings. Her parents live in Butte, an old mining town 120 miles west of Big Sky.
In Colorado, county governments have stepped in to build public housing, lease apartments for workers, and subsidize rents and home loans. The state works with local governments to line up financing. The Denver Catholic Archdiocese built subsidized housing complexes in three mountain towns. Vail Associates Inc., owner of the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas, provides several hundred units of subsidized housing. But even that falls short; in the winter, Vail's payroll swells to 4,500 from about 1,200 in the off season.
In areas where million-dollar houses are practically fixer-uppers and rents start at $1,000, the cost of living is beyond the means of many. Vail released a report this fall showing that a person had to work nearly three jobs at the average annual wage of $22,263 each to buy a condominium in town in 1995.
It's not just restaurant workers and laborers being priced out. Businesses lose middle managers. Schoolteachers and attorneys can't buy their own homes. And city and county governments lose good recruits when applicants check out the home prices.
"One of the sayings here is everybody in Aspen has either three jobs or three homes," Tolen said.
Even some of the millionaires are selling their Aspen homes. They're moving down the Roaring Fork River Valley to Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, former havens of the working class.