Aspen Highlands home

This six-bedroom, 10,600-square-foot home in the Five Trees subdivision near Aspen Highlands rents for $75,000 per month, and is listed by Lisa Turchiarelli.

When Sonya Auvray booked her family’s spring break trip to Aspen-Snowmass, she didn’t anticipate that one week would turn into a year. But as the world quickly changed in mid-March because of COVID-19, she and her husband, along with their two sons, decided to hunker down in their Snowmass rental and, instead of returning to Manhattan where they live, extended their stay.

“We said, ‘If we get stuck, then we get stuck,’” she says. “We look out our window now and it’s absolutely stunning. Everyone is so kind and welcoming. It feels good and we’re going to stay for at least a year.”

Auvray, who recently launched a mezcal company, Dona Vega, also has a public relations career and can work remotely, and so can her husband. Their boys, 10 and 12, will enroll in Aspen Middle School in the fall.

Their family is one example of a nationwide trend in which people are leaving urban areas, at least temporarily, for more expansive landscapes because of the pandemic. Aspen’s top summertime feeder markets—Texas, New York and California—remain the same, but how long people stay and where they’re booking rentals is shifting.

“Even though everything is canceled for the summer, they are looking forward to being in a mountain town,” said Tracy Sutton, president of Aspen Signature Properties. “Inventory is diminishing and rates are going up.”

Because many people originally canceled their plans this spring, summer reservations are being made in just a few weeks and rental brokers say they’re busier than ever.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Lisa Turchiarelli, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse.

In past years, Turchiarelli said people have wanted to book properties in the Aspen core, where walkability was desirable. Now, clients want homes outside of town, where they can cook and recreate on-site in neighborhoods like Red Mountain and McLain Flats.

She exclusively manages 25 luxury properties. The most-wanted homes this summer, she said, are in the $20 million or more range that rent for upward of $75,000 per month. Wealthy families that may have typically spent their summers in Europe, for example, are opting for Aspen.

“Most people are renting at least a month, if not two or three,” she said. “Some people are saying that after the summer, ‘Maybe we’ll stay here,’ depending on if their kids can, or will need to, homeschool and they can work remotely.”

Lori Hughes, a realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty, echoed that.

“I’m, hearing, ‘I’ve come for a couple weeks in past years, but I’d like to come for the month,’” she says.

There is no central tracking agency for property rentals in the Aspen-Snowmass area. While long-term rentals, at 30-plus days, were permitted under Pitkin County’s stay-at-home order in May, short-term rentals under 30 days in lodges and through private companies were not allowed until early June. Hotels and similar properties must adhere to 50% capacity guidelines. Short-term rentals by owner open up June 22 under the updated public health order.

Frias Properties is the largest property management company in town, with about 200 vacation rental options within Aspen and Aspen Highlands. Marketing Director Alex Boyd said their long-term bookings are up, but they expect to see the short-term bookings fill in too.

“The booking windows have been shrinking for summer rentals in the past couple of years anyway, and the uncertainty with travel right now will amplify that trend,” she said.

Contact-free check-ins are one way that Frias is addressing cleanliness concerns from guests. The brokers agree that clients are curious about hygiene measures and guidelines, and conscientious of COVID-19 restrictions locally. All property rental agents are having to add cancellation clauses amid concerns of additional outbreaks.

Andy Carnahan is another summer visitor turned part-time resident who’s hoping to remain in Aspen through September. He calls Dallas home, but has started to spend more time in Aspen, where he rents a house on the Roaring Fork River, during the summers. His mother lives in Basalt, and this way he can “escape the Texas heat.”

“Not that you need an excuse to spend more time outdoors here, but I anticipate spending more time in the great outdoors,” he said, of how coronavirus may affect summer plans. “COVID or no COVID, I’m just grateful to be able to spend as much time here as I do and there’s no place I’d rather be.”