Colorado’s mountains aren’t the only places showing more white on top. Residents of the resort towns below are graying at some of the fastest rates in the country.
Steamboat Springs, Edwards and Breckenridge ranked first, third and fourth, respectively, for the biggest gains in their senior populations this decade, while Glenwood Springs came in 13th, according to an analysis published in Newgeography.
“You have to recognize that not everybody wants to move to Florida. A lot of people enjoy those mountain communities,” said Wendell Cox, a principal with Demographia near St. Louis who did the analysis using U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
Cox looked at the change in the 65-plus population between 2010 and 2016 in 933 places across the country ranging from small communities to large metropolitan areas. Of the 15 locales with the biggest percentage gains in senior population, nine were in the Rocky Mountain region, including four in Colorado.
Nationally, the nation’s senior population this decade rose 15.2 percent, a gain nearly five times faster than overall population growth. The entire country is getting older, but Colorado, with its heavy concentration of baby boomers, is aging faster than most.
Steamboat Springs, including surrounding Routt County, saw a nearly 80 percent surge in its senior population in the period studied, edging out The Villages, a community northwest of Orlando, Fla., built specifically for seniors.
“A lot of retired people move here who have lived in bigger cities,” said Meg Tully, executive director of the Routt County Council on Aging. “A lot of seniors have children that live here, and the kids have moved their parents here to keep a better eye on them.”
On top of that, boomers who came up for the skiing when they were young and made a life of it aren’t leaving the “paradise” they found, she said.
Steamboat Springs also has some specific advantages that might make it more attractive to older residents than other resorts, said Glen Weinberg, a commercial mortgage lender with Fairview Lending who relocated to the town.
At an elevation of 6,732 feet, it isn’t too much higher than Denver. Although the median home price in Steamboat Springs tops $1 million, that represents a bargain compared with Vail and Aspen. Still, at those prices, the movement of seniors into mountain resorts is likely limited to those with higher net worth.
Steamboat Springs is removed and self-contained enough so that it doesn’t feel like an extension of Denver, which Weinberg said is how he sometimes views Summit and Grand counties.
The stereotype is that as people age, they will favor warmer climates at lower altitudes, such as Florida and Arizona. But that might actually reflect a generational preference of those born before 1945.
Boomers seem more predisposed to living in the mountains — and the opportunities the outdoors offer for staying active. In short, what drew many as young adults still holds a lure.
The newly retired are still young enough that they can enjoy the slopes in the winter and the hiking trails in the summer. They are popping up more frequently as ticket takers and ambassadors at resorts, Tully said.
But what happens when those young seniors enter their 80s? Representatives for resort counties say they are on it.
“A lot of rural areas are lacking in resources for their aging population. We have been working to expand. We keep beefing up our resources so they don’t have to leave,” said Carly Rietmann, healthy aging supervisor for Eagle County Public Health.
Developed to handle injuries on the slopes, the medical facilities at mountain resorts tend to be better than those found in most rural areas. And the communities tend to look forward. Eagle County opened its first skilled nursing facility in October 2016.
Rietmann said mountain resort towns offer a welcoming attitude and provide a sense of community, while avoiding the age-specific segregation and isolation that can occur in more traditional senior communities.
If the trend continues, it could shift the perception of Colorado mountain resorts beyond places of affluence and youthful adventure to havens of graceful aging.