That said, for anyone oriented toward the outdoors, Jackson Hole comes pretty close to perfection. Ninety-seven percent of the valley is state and federal land, while the Jackson Hole Land Trust has gained protection for another 15,000 acres of ranchland through conservation easements. And so Jackson has some of the country's best out-your-front-door recreation.
In winter, people working downtown can get in runs during their lunch hour at the Snow King ski area. In warmer months, there's prime trout fishing, climbing, or mountain biking. All year, there's proximity to Grand Teton National Park.
"I feel like the park is my backyard," says Laurie Andrews, executive director of the land trust. "I think everyone does."
High up in Teton Pass, a sign depicts a bucking bronco and declares, "HOWDY STRANGER. YONDER IS JACKSON HOLE―THE LAST OF THE OLD WEST." The reality, however, is that Jackson Hole is the epitome of the New West.
From 1997 to 2003, Teton County ranked as the nation's wealthiest county four times; the other three years, it came in second. Tourism is the biggest employer, but the area's affluence is apparent in the fact that the largest source of income among its residents is from investments, not salaries.
Jackson's growth can largely be attributed to economic and technological changes that have allowed entrepreneurs who are well into their careers to move here and run their businesses remotely. Jonathan Schechter―executive director of the Charture Institute, a Jackson-based think tank that studies resort and national-park gateway communities―says, "People have a great 'ah-ha' moment when they realize that instead of a two-week vacation, it's possible for them to live full-time in the place that they love more than anywhere else in the world."
Even so, many longtime residents hold on to a perception that prices have been driven up by part-timers who maintain second or even third homes in Jackson Hole. Typically these outlanders are lampooned for their conspicuous consumption and lack of community commitment. One local derided them as "Nantucket cowboys," while another resident referred to them as 228ers: two people for two weeks a year in 8,000 square feet.
Unlike the newer compounds out in the valley, houses in town reflect more humble times. Parcels are small and homes are simple, although older structures are giving way to new ones, many in updated versions of Jackson's traditional log cabin style.
Driving through the East Jackson neighborhood, architect Eric Logan acknowledges the pull toward Jackson's rugged past and the noticeable influence of such national-park icons as Yellowstone's Old Faithful Lodge.
Logan, a Wyoming native and an associate with Carney Architects, has lived here since 1995. He believes that Jackson's architecture can tap into tradition while reflecting its modern realities. "The Yellowstone lodge is phenomenal," says Logan, "but we don't need another one."
Faced with the area's real estate costs, Logan says he "bit the bullet and bought some dirt" and decided to design his own house, keeping costs down by serving as general contractor. He sought variances from his homeowners association to incorporate oxidized steel and other nontraditional materials. Some bruising battles he won; others he lost.
Jonathan Schechter believes that such conflicts arise when people's personal visions of Jackson collide. "People come to Jackson and fall in love with what it was at that specific time," he says. "Then someone else comes in with another vision that threatens to destroy the fantasy. The problem is that my idealized Jackson may be very different from your idealized Jackson. And you don't want to mess with someone else's thunderbolt."
Even as millionaire entrepreneurs run their businesses via Wi-Fi from the banks of the Snake, a morning radio show called "Trash and Treasures" serves as a hi-fi bulletin board for people looking for rides to Denver or who want to sell an old sofa. There are both gated estates and picket fences made of old skis here, and while there is no storefront Starbucks, you will find the Jackson Hole Roasters, a coffee spot located in a 1920s-vintage cabin cluttered with sacks of beans and roasting equipment. Change has come to Jackson, but the soul of the valley survives.
Next: Living in Jackson Hole