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Ski towns in the American West are getting swankier — and pricing out frustrated locals

Jordan Pandy   

Ski towns in the American West are getting swankier — and pricing out frustrated locals
  • Real-estate prices have skyrocketed in many western towns centered around outdoor activities.
  • An influx of out-of-town buyers has reset the markets making them unaffordable for locals.

Western mountain towns — with their scenic views and access to outdoor activities — have been growing at a fast clip since before the pandemic.

Interest only heightened with the hit TV drama "Yellowstone," as well as the pandemic. Rich buyers wanted their own Dutton ranch, driving up prices for locals.

Now, Driggs, Idaho, is feeling the squeeze, the Wall Street Journal reported. As Luke Smith, an associate broker with Engel & Völkers Jackson Hole, told the Journal, "These once-quiet communities have undergone a remarkable transformation."

"Many have gone from living comfortably to survival mode. Many have left because they can no longer afford to live here," Cindy Riegel, chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Teton County, Idaho, told the Journal.

Christina Assante bought a half-acre lot in Driggs, a ski town on the border of Wyoming, for $500,000 in 2021. She plans to construct a 3,200-square-foot home on the grounds of Tributary, a growing luxury residential community.

She told the Journal that the home will cost around $1.5 million. Assante moved to Alta, Wyoming, which is less than five miles from Driggs, with her late husband, Michael, in 2015 after falling in love with the ski resort Grand Targhee.

Assante, and her son, Asher, are a part of a growing population setting course for the burgeoning ski town that was once overshadowed by its trendy neighbor Jackson, Wyoming. Some locals are excited by an injection of newcomers. Others are worried that Driggs does not have the infrastructure to support more people.

What's happening in Driggs is also happening in Western ski retreats in Colorado and Montana. Affordability has become the main concern — and in Driggs, where further development is underway, locals are already starting to feel the squeeze.

An uncharted ski town in Idaho is ready to explode

In Driggs, the town's expansion trajectory hangs in the balance as a, more literal, expansion is being organized.

The local ski resort, Grand Targhee, has expanded by way of its new Colter Lift on Peaked Mountain, and has already secured a development permit to build 22 short-term rental homes at the bottom of the mountain. In 2018, it submitted expansion plans that would increase its skiable acreage by 30%, according to the Journal.

Grand Targhee Resort is in Alta, but if you're coming from the west, you have to drive through Driggs to get there. Locals, like Riegel, are anxious about what that expansion will look like. Driggs's population grew 12% between 2020 and 2022, the latest statistics available, according to the US Census Bureau.

"People are freaked out," she told the Journal. "There's concern that it will impact the vibe and the quality of life in the laid-back community that we have. People have seen what's happened elsewhere."

The infusion of rich homebuyers in ski country means more areas where workers can't afford to live and more locals wondering if affluence and affordability mix, particularly in Colorado's Rocky Mountain region, the New York Times reported.

"Inequality has always been rampant within the orbit of popular destinations," the Times wrote. "But the financial knock-on effects of those ritzy spheres have expanded as the pandemic-induced surge in remote work has supercharged divides."

Locals are being pushed further outside of this Colorado ski town

Vail, Colorado, an expensive ski town a little less than 100 miles outside of Denver, could be viewed as a cautionary tale for Driggs and other budding ski towns.

Allison Weibel is a high-school teacher living about a 32-minute drive from Vail in Gypsum, Colorado. She told Insider in February that she can't afford to live in Vail — where she also works part-time as a ski instructor for Vail Resorts — due to the high home prices.

The median sold home price in Vail is $1.1 million as of August, and peaked at $1.97 million in February, according to

Prices that high are out of reach for most Americans, as the real median household income was $74,580 in 2022, according to the US Census. But especially for a teacher, like Weibel, with an income around $60,000, homeownership seemed unreachable.

"This issue at this point of my life is that I want to become a homeowner, and have wanted to become a homeowner for some time, but that is becoming less and less attainable," Weibel told Insider. "It's a sad thing when public employees don't have that option."

It isn't only Vail that's feeling the pinch: workers in Breckenridge, a 45-minute drive towards Denver on the highway, and nearby Dillon and Frisco, are also burdened by out-of-reach housing prices, the New York Times reported.

Longtime service industry worker Michelle Badger told the Times the pressure from larger-than-ever crowds, soaring rents, and understaffing would be less pronounced if she and her colleagues could afford to live anywhere near where they're working.

In Frisco, for instance, once considered a community for commuting employees, the median rent is now $4,000, according to Zillow data cited by the Times — double the median national rent of $2,052, according to

Home prices have skyrocketed in this pandemic landing spot

Bozeman, Montana, exemplifies pandemic boomtown to the fullest extent.

In March 2020, the median sales price of a home was $406,185, according to Redfin. Three years later, the price jumped to $697,000 — an over 70% increase. As of August, it's $715,000.

"We got hit like a Mack truck in September of 2021 with the influx of people," Keller Williams real-estate agent Everdawn Charles told Insider in August 2022.

Bozeman, the 56,000-person town 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, was a place where remote workers sought refuge from their fast-paced city lives during the pandemic.

Continuing with that trend, it's become overrun with out-of-towners. Bozeman-area realtor Tamara Williams told Insider in April that she estimates 50% of the real estate in the city is now owned by people that don't live in Bozeman full time.

Interest from Kevin Costner's "Yellowstone" hasn't hurt either. A 2023 study showed the popular TV show brought in 2.1 millions of visitors — and $730 million — to Montana in 2021. "It is also clear that 'Yellowstone' has proven to be a big economic driver of tourism, creating more jobs, tax generation and a wave of economic activity," Todd O'Hair, Montana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, told Montana's KPAX news.

Those in Idaho worry. "We don't want to see the Teton Valley become the next playground exclusively for the wealthy like Park City, Aspen, or Jackson," one local, Paul Diegel, told the Journal.

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