The ‘Next Aspen’: Part IV

By David Frey, 1-01-08

Jackson Hole, Wyo., has tried hard to cling to its Western heritage, even as it becomes an international playground for the super-wealthy. Boardwalks still line the streets and echo with a satisfying thud under foot. The downtown is lined with Old West facades, even if national retailers like Eddie Bauer and Coldwater Creek lie inside.

altJackson, though, is a place that has struggled as much as any Western resort town with the price of popularity. As I travel the Rockies in search of the “next Aspen,” it’s hard to find a better contender than this A-list cow town of multi-millionaires.

If there is a place where the threads of Jackson come together, it’s the Silver Dollar Bar, where residents – some in cowboy hats and handlebar moustaches, some in puffy ski jackets – find common ground. This place has a Western feel it has nurtured since it was built in the Wort Hotel in 1950. Around me, in the shadow of the bar studded with 2,032 inlaid silver dollars, I hear conversations about football at one table, photovoltaics at another.

In a town of ranchers, ski bums and billionaires, finding a place where everyone can sit down together is a feat.

“Our bar is filled with the same people almost every night of the week sometimes,” says Janelle Johnson, the grill manager. alt“We’ve got a lot of cowboys who come in. We’ve got local snowboarders. We’ve got a lot of people who work locally in town. It’s kind of a meeting place, and that’s what it’s always been, ever since the Wort brothers ran it. It was a social hub of the community. We’ve tried to always keep that environment.”

Home values in this town of 9,200 have soared to a median of nearly $1.2 million, up 28 percent in a year, and double that of four years ago. Growing numbers of workers commute across treacherous Teton Pass in eastern Idaho, and there, too, property values are soaring.

“Pretty much every place can agree that they don’t want to be Aspen or Jackson,” says Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute, a think tank that has worked to preserve the town’s character, partly by dissecting it.

Link to Part IV and others