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Inside 3 Must-See Luxury Mountain Town Locations

 

Wherever we go in the mountains, we find more than we seek,” penned American naturalist and conservationist John Muir, and the Mountain West remains the embodiment of his emotive reflection today. Be it a destination for winter heli-skiing or summer trail hiking, or a haven to connect with community or seek out solitude, the luxury mountain town landscape renowned for its soaring alpine peaks, lush green valleys and deep cerulean skies offers singular opportunities for adventure, culture, and respite.

 

While the notion of the luxury mountain town may evoke images of apres ski couture and lift line paparazzi alongside its striking majesty, some moneyed municipalities are maintaining a decidedly lowkey feel and culture. The Luxury Division sat down with a cadre of local real estate agents to discover how these markets are navigating their evolving luxury lifestyles, population, and relationship with the Hollywood spotlight.

 

“We pack a punch for such a small town. There truly isn’t any place like it.”

The groundbreaking Sun Valley Resort opened for business in 1936, boasting European-style ski facilities and the world’s very first ski chairlifts. Its allure was an instant hit among ski aficionados, with early celebrity residents and visitors including Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Clark Gable. Agent Melissa Tindall of Compass - Sun Valley is effusive about the revered resort of her beloved hometown. “The legend of Sun Valley lives on, named the country’s #1 ski resort for the third year in a row by SKI Magazine. A huge honor!”   Compass - Sun Valley agent Evan Wyman has been skiing the resort’s Bald Mountain since childhood and his awe over its beauty remains unfaded. “When I am at the top, I look around and can’t believe how fortunate I am. Sunny blue skies, breathtaking mountains, it’s such an incredible place to call ‘Home’.”

 

In spite of Sun Valley’s notoriety, it has maintained a wonderfully quaint spirit, with neighbors gathering to picnic and unlike counterparts such as Aspen and Vail, remaining largely undiscovered. “It’s northwest understated,” explains Melissa. “People aren’t here to wear furs and go clubbing. You put on your fleece and go.” Evan details the array of outdoor pursuits enjoyed in both the winter and summer seasons. “Backcountry Nordic skiing is wildly popular, as is snowmobiling, hiking, biking, and our world-class fly fishing. A major driver of luxury real estate in Ketchum and Sun Valley is location along the Bigwood River for fly fishing on one’s very own private property.” Compass - Sun Valley agent Michelle Englert has spent over three decades in Sun Valley and watched its cultural offerings grow and deepen. “It's a luxury mountain town with the best of both worlds, where people can come to escape the city and still enjoy a fantastic art scene. We have The Symphony at the Sun Valley Pavilion, Argyros Performing Arts Center, and Sun Valley Culinary Institute. We pack a punch for such a small town. There truly isn’t any place like it.”

 

As such, the secret of Sun Valley is getting out. “Inventory for luxury homes is tight,” Michelle reveals. “We are seeing an influx of wealthy people living here year-round, working from home in industries like tech.” This may in part be as a result of the annual conference hosted by private investment firm Allen and Company for the top 1% of CEOs.  “The mogul event is affectionately known as Summer Camp for Billionaires.” Melissa shares. “Attendees have included Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg, Bob Kraft, Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk.” Michelle adds, “Once these CEOs see how great Sun Valley is, they never leave.” Even with this growing visibility and popularity, Sun Valley maintains its relative affordability, at least for now. Evan points out, “While still a more affordable luxury mountain town than Telluride or Jackson Hole, there are more homes for sale priced at $10 million and up than ever before.”

“People come to take the weight of the world off their shoulders, have fun and kick back.”

 

Lake Tahoe is the largest mountain lake in North America, with 72 miles of shoreline and water nearly as pure as bottled spring water. It is utterly transporting to feast one’s eyes on its exceptional crystal blue waters with visibility up to 70 feet deep or more, especially while simultaneously beholding the snow-capped mountains which encircle it. It is no wonder Silicon Valley elites such as Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison have embraced the luxury mountain town region as their beloved alpine escape. Compass - Tahoe agent Nicole Blair shares, “People come here to take the weight of the world off their shoulders, have fun and kick back in ripped jeans and t-shirts. You can never tell who is a mega-wealth manager or tech titan back home in the Bay.” 

 

Lake Tahoe straddles both California and Nevada, and Nicole’s business partner and husband Compass - Tahoe agent Jamison Blair  sheds insight on some differences between the regions. “Luxury real estate in Tahoe is largely owned by residents of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Tahoe homes on the California side of the lake are therefore more convenient. Its communities are also quieter, offering a real back-to-nature feel.” Jamison continues, “Meanwhile, the Nevada-side luxury properties have been growing in popularity as Nevada is a terrific tax haven with zero income tax. Even though Tahoe has traditionally been a second, third or fourth home market, we have seen a palpable increase of Californians relocating their primary residence here for six months plus one day to secure the full tax benefit.” Whether Nevada or California, the outdoor opportunities are outstanding. Compass - Tahoe agent Mark Salmon details, “Tahoe is like a giant playground. We have 16 ski resorts, you can ski a different one every day for weeks. During the summer, we have sailing, boating, jet skiing, and fishing. Health and fitness are huge draws.” Proximity to these activities are 

significant factors in the luxury market. “Obviously lakefront properties are extremely coveted and the premium paid exceedingly high, especially those with a prized private deepwater pier or set on a lot of an acre or more,” Mark specifies. “Mountain properties with direct ski-in/ski-out access are also highly sought after in the luxury market.”

With respect to the design of luxury Tahoe homes, Mark explains, “Timeless, classic Tahoe charm prevails along the lakeshore and ski trails, with steep gable end roofs, large vaulted great rooms, and high-end rustic style.” Jamison notes there has also been recent new luxury development which feature more modern designs and amenities, most notably at Martis Camp in Truckee. “Martis is a private ski and golf resort community. While the homes don’t have lake views, they offer unparalleled onsite amenities and conveniences, like a private ski lodge, world-class skiing, championship golf, trails, fine dining, and a private beach.” For Nicole, the luxury mountain town region of Tahoe just keeps getting better and better. “50 years since its first performance, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival ranks among the most outstanding outdoor cultural events in the United States.The Waldorf Astoria is about to break ground here. Tahoe City and Reno are being reimagined and redeveloped.” That said, preservation of the pure, natural beauty of the lake is always the region’s top priority, Nicole underscores. “The League To Save Lake Tahoe sponsors events to raise money and awareness to protect this extraordinary place we call home. Its motto is, ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’.”

 

“The millionaires driven out by the billionaires are relocating here.”

 

For those in search of a luxury mountain town with proximity to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone but less traveled and pricey than Jackson Hole, Teton Valley presents outstanding opportunities. Recognized by National Geographic Adventure and Outside magazines as a “Best Place to Live,” Teton Valley is sited on the quieter western side of the Tetons, straddling the Wyoming-Idaho border. The region and its Grand Targhee Resort make the ideal ski-lover’s hideaway, where one can enjoy a variety of luxury lifestyles and amenities. Compass - Teton Valley agent Zach Smith happens to also be the former Mayor of Victor, Idaho, a key luxury market in Teton Valley, and he is extremely knowledgeable about the region’s history. Zach explains, “Once upon a time, Teton Valley was all agricultural. At the inception of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, visitors began coming to the area more and the idea of establishing Teton Valley’s own notable ski resort grew more attractive. The Teton Valley locals started a nonprofit ski resort and ultimately, the Gillett family purchased Grand Targhee in 2000, and expanded its ski lifts and resort facilities. It’s an impressive and beloved family business which helped kick off luxury real estate here.” Teton Valley residents are not limited to skiing Targhee, either. “Interestingly, the Teton Valley town of Victor can be closer in terms of drive time to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort than the town of Jackson.” 

 

In addition to resort skiing, Teton Valley offers a host of year-round outdoor activities. Compass - Teton Valley agent Melissa Raynor shares, “We have gorgeous scenic trails for backcountry resort skiing in winter and hiking and mountain biking in summer. The views while hiking Teton Pass are astonishing. The Teton River boasts excellent fly fishing. And you can’t forget about our great golf courses and luxury golf course communities.” When it comes to purchasing luxury property in Teton Valley, location is a key determinant of price point. Compass - Teton Valley agent Eric Johnson details, “Teton Valley spans both Wyoming and Idaho. With no state income tax, estate tax, or capital gains tax, Wyoming is the most tax-favorable state in the country, so luxury buyers are willing to pay more for properties in Wyoming than Idaho.” But what about luxury buyers whose primary residence is in a low or no income tax state, like Texas, Florida or Arizona? Eric smiles, “These buyers get the full advantage of Idaho’s relative affordability. A couple million dollars goes very far.” Whether Wyoming or Idaho, the price difference between Teton Valley and its Jackson Hole neighbor has been a powerful driver of the luxury market. Eric explains, “Buyers come to Jackson Hole, get sticker shock, and pivot to Teton Valley. Rather than leave the area, many Jackson Hole homeowners have decided the time is right to cash out and make the same move. The millionaires driven out by the billionaires are relocating here.” There is a notable exception to this rule: Thomas Tull, the 51-year-old billionaire who recently purchased a 4,000 acre ranch from the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

 

Pricing in Teton Valley’s luxury mountain town market has additional determinants, including the finish level of a home, style and location. Melissa explains, “`Mountain Modern’ architecture which combines traditional mountain design with a contemporary spin is quite popular now. Luxury buyers are also willing to pay steep prices for properties with golf courses and amenities, proximity to Targhee or with views of the Tetons.” The tight knit community is appreciated by old and new residents alike, and its cultural amenities have been broadening while maintaining its small town feel. Zach shares, “Teton Valley Foundation's Music on Main is amazing, with free concerts by national acts all summer long. Some local businesses from Jackson Hole have moved here while other new businesses continue to open, and they’re booming. We have breweries and cideries, even a vodka distillery.” Zach highlights the towns of Victor, Driggs and Tetonia in Idaho and Alta in Wyoming as representatives of the heart of luxury in Teton Valley. “The local landscape and wildlife are awe-inspiring. To simply behold them is a luxury in itself.”

 

 

 

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