Moving Mountains: Posh Ski Homes for Luxe Ski Vacations
By Brian E. Clark
In the early 1990s, Robin Craigen was living a nautical dream, captaining the Endless Summer II, a 72-foot Irwin sailboat, in the British Virgin Islands and working with the woman – the boat’s chef – who would become his wife.
“We did that for four years,” said Craigen, who is now 58. “It was a lot of fun to be with people who were on vacation, having some some of the best days of their lives. It was really a kind of addicting.”
But when the couple got hitched, their world outlook changed.
“After we got married and talked about what we were going to do next, we realized we couldn’t stay working on the boat and raise a family together,” said Craigen, who grew up sailing off the south coast of England.
“We didn’t want to have one of us on the boat and one on the shore. So we came upon the idea of setting up a land-based equivalent, which in our minds was a European-style ski chalet. We decided to do it in Colorado, replicating everything we did on the boat in a home situation.”
That was the seed for the creation of Moving Mountains (movingmountains.com), a luxury property management and hospitality company the Craigen and his wife Heather founded in 1997 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
The concept worked and the couple has raised two children in the Rockies. A son is in high school, while their daughter is in college.
And Moving Mountains? It now has more than 200 homes under management in Steamboat, Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge.
Craigen, president and CEO of Moving Mountains, said the couple’s vision of the business early on was to run but one ski home.
“We never thought we’d have hundreds of properties,” he said. “We really thought of our universe as this one chalet, the idea being that we would simplify a compact vacation to allow the guests to relax and enjoy themselves.
“When we were on these sailing trips, we’d say to people: ‘We’ll never ask you to put down your books to help us take down the sails or raise the anchor. But if you want to help us and be part of the crew, you are more than welcome to do as much as we can allow you. If you are relaxing and enjoying yourself, we can take care of everything.”
On the Endless Summer, he said guests would walk down the gangway onto a yacht where they’d be served three meals a day with an open bar.
“We’d take them to all the very best sites in the BVI’s and return them to port after six nights,” he said.
“That concept translated really well into a ski chalet. People would arrive and smell dinner already being prepared. Their lift passes would be on the counter, ski rentals fitted in the chalet and everything laid out for the week.”
The name of that chalet was Moving Mountain and the Craigens still manage it. They owned it initially, but sold it so they could expand their business.
“Right now, with the real estate market the way it is, I wish we would have kept it,” he quipped.
“And it’s still very much thought of as the cradle of the company. But it’s been renamed ‘Creekside Chalet.’” As the business grew, the whole company became Moving Mountains because we truly try to move mountains for our customers.”
He said what made the first home work for well-to-do clients was that every bedroom had its own private bathroom.
“That was unusual back then,” he said. “It also had a great location, only a minute’s drive from the lifts and right on the edge of the National Forest with great views.
“It’s been a good template for successful homes in our portfolio with a large, thousand-square-foot living room and a view of the mountains.”
“It had plenty of room where family members and guests could relax, a large dining area and a professionally outfitted kitchen. As a bonus, the home had a recreation room downstairs for games and a big-screen televsion.
“That laid the groundwork for kind of homes that our clients wanted as we started to manage more properties,” he said.
“We’ve always had an upscale focus and will try to do anything and everything for guests and that’s really only compatible with the very nice homes. So we focused on luxury and the average value of the homes we represent is $3 million and up.
Moving Mountains also hires chefs to prepare meals for clients if they desire.
“We also have our own in-house catering and we can stock groceries in a house,” he said.
Because of Covid, he said the amount of time people rent homes from Moving Mountains has increased, with some staying as long as four months.
“During the pandemic, we’ve had a lot of families with their kids out of school. Some stayed for up to six weeks or more because the parents can work from anywhere as long as they have good internet connections,” he said.
Craigen said Moving Mountains’ renters are primarily from the United States, though some also come from Latin America and Australia, with a limited number from Europe.
“Many come from areas that have direct flights coming into Colorado,” he said. “Skiing is not a cheap vacation, so the resorts have done their work in targeting the right demographic. But there is wealth about everywhere in this country.”
Craigen said Moving Mountain homes start at $1,000 a night for a four-bedroom.
“That’s not inexpensive, but if you divide that by two or three families, it’s not more than you’d spend to say at a luxury resort of hotel,” he said.
And on the high end, larger homes can rent for $10,000 a night, he said. “Our focus has been on the top end of the market, catering to people who are looking for something extra.”
By comparison, the Endless Summer, which slept eight guests in four cabins, cost $16,000 to $20,000 a week to charter with a crew of three 25 years ago. Now, a similar luxury yacht would run $50,000 to $60,000 for a week, Craigen said.
Though Craigen has become an avid snowboarder (he dropped skiing because it hurt his knees) and mountain bike rider, he said he and his wife have not lost their affection for sailing.
“We love Colorado and its mountains for skiing, riding and cycling through scenes that are right out of postcard” he said.
“But we’ve done family trips down to the BVI’s and its always like going home. We have a dream to have a connection with boats again in the future. So the islands will never be far from our hearts.”
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.