Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wanted: Spouse with a Home in Resort Town ; in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Locals Fretting over Sky-High Home Prices Flock to This College Course: 'Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Wanted: Spouse with a Home in Resort Town ; in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Locals Fretting over Sky-High Home Prices Flock to This College Course: 'Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire.'

Article excerpt

In this mountain resort community known for its cowboys and outdoor passions, the fine art of social climbing has always ranked well behind downhill skiing, flyfishing for Snake River trout, scaling the Tetons, kayaking whitewater, and big-game hunting.

But this winter, as a sign of the changing times, a local college course is being offered that's proving wildly popular among denizens interested in achieving new heights of upward mobility.

Its title: How to Marry a Millionaire.

Although the course has generated no small amount of bemusement among the ski-bum crowd, it also points to a disconcerting reality in this corner of the New West. Planting roots in a pretty place can cost big money, and in Jackson Hole, the number of digits in a checking account has created a widening gap between wealthy transplants and working-class folks who gave the valley its once- unpretentious flavor.

Marrying a millionaire is considered the only hope some residents have of remaining in the valley. "Next year they'll have to change the name of the course to 'How to Marry a Billionaire,' because even the millionaires are finding themselves priced out of prime real estate," says Jonathan Schechter, a Jackson Hole economist.

Across North America, resort communities from Nantucket, Mass. to Taos, N.M., to Lake Tahoe are undergoing similar transformations, but few are as pronounced as in Jackson Hole. Until recently, the valley's remote location insulated it somewhat from the social upheaval sweeping the New West.

But as the Internet has enabled business executives to commute to work digitally from satellite offices in the middle of nowhere, a housing-construction boom has begun, spurred by residents who spend only part of the year in Jackson Hole, but who want homes with prodigious amounts of square footage.

Well-heeled snowboarders

On winter mornings after heavy snows, scores of backcountry skiers, many of them young, independently wealthy trust funders, typically gather for breakfast at Nora's Fish Creek Inn before ascending into the mountains to reach the fresh powder.

"There is a high percentage of millionaires around here, so it's probably a good spot to find one," laughs Mary Gridley, coordinator of college-level course offerings by the University of Wyoming and Western Wyoming College.

The course isn't really about conveying a step-by-step strategy for landing a well-heeled spouse. Rather, it's intended to teach middle-class inhabitants how to reach seven-figure fortunes by investing wisely. Within days of its announcement, the class was nearly full.

Still, Ms. Gridley says, desperate local Cinderellas feeling the need to find a prince-charming benefactor - or, in this case, a Lycra sugar daddy - in order to have a future here, aren't just a fable. …

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