Community July 3, 2018

Twenty-Something in Sun Valley

Making a life in a resort town

Let’s face it, city life for young adults out there has gotten, well … kind of tough in recent years. Anxiety is (still) on the rise, pay is (still) on the decline and, in a recent study by Vice when Millennials were asked what their greatest fear in life was, it was … to not die alone. Yikes.

So, when a young metropolitan-savvy person is “so over it,” what are they to do? Well, get out of there. At least that’s the mindset of many twenty-somethings as they consider heading for the hills—literally.

Cut to impassioned Googling for the “most livable” mountain towns and scouring the Internet for any semblance of career options in outposts that typically house the likes of outdoor junkies and retirees alike. What often doesn’t pop up in these searches? Ketchum.

That’s right, the Sun Valley area doesn’t typically top these lists. It’s argued that the “rent is too damn high,” and there are no jobs, and what’s a young person supposed to do all day in a town that shuts down for months out of the year anyway?

But hold on. Let’s unpack this theory and see what the potential is actually like for those on the one-way train to their 30s here in Sun Valley to see if it can, in fact, be done.

First of all, there are three key ingredients to consider: work, play, and people.

When it comes to work, there are the classic “ski bum” options like coffee shops or hospitality jobs with Sun Valley Resort or working retail at local recreation outfitters. There are, too, a growing number of tech, investment, and creative job opportunities popping up in the Valley. Beyond brick-and-mortar, remote work options continue to rise.

According to the U.S. Census, there’s been a 115 percent increase in telecommuting over the last 10 years, and 43 percent of the U.S. workforce currently works remotely to some degree. As opportunities increase in the digital and design fields, this is more feasible for young people as they plot out where they want to live and where their daily desk is, which may be, say, at the base of a mountain.

With work comes play, of course, which is typically the real reason people move to this area. Not only is there abundant access to outdoor activities from biking to skiing, but there’s also a welcoming nightlife. If wine is on the mind, drop by Enoteca or Sun Valley Wine Company. If you’re looking to dance the night away, stop by Whiskey Jacques’ or catch live music at the Hot Water Inn. If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned, down-home mountain bar, The Cellar Pub, the Pioneer Saloon, and The Casino are classics, to name a few. Plus, in addition to nightlife, there are also various coffee shops to frequent during the day, like Maude’s and Java on 4th.

As for the people, Sun Valley is a community of passionate individuals with a love of nature branded on their skin. Like those who move to Los Angeles to work in Hollywood, locals in the Wood River Valley are here for a reason: to be outside. Finding your community is as simple as picking activities you like and getting out there.

So, while there’s a lot to do here, jobs can be found (albeit somewhat unconventionally) and the community is filled with like-minded people, the biggest question for many is sustainability. As a young person, can you really maintain the lifestyle you want living in Sun Valley? Ultimately, it depends on level-setting and compromise. If you choose to stay here for the long haul, whether that’s for two years or 20, it will come down to making a few, and potentially very worthwhile, sacrifices. Locking down a solid 401k could be tough—but that’s true for any city in which you choose to live.

Laura Elgee

Laura Elgee

Laura Elgee is one such twenty-something who has stared down such decisions. “Quality of life became increasingly more important to me after living in San Francisco for two years,” she says. “I realized what was important to me, and that I wasn’t going to find it there. Sun Valley is home and has always welcomed me with open arms. I came home to re-evaluate my career path, but you know what they say, ‘come for winter, stay for summer.’”

Whether twenty-something or older, we all make sacrifices wherever we live. Whether it’s acceptable living space in New York or proximity to the ocean in Salt Lake City, something’s always got to give. It’s about deciding what you’re willing to give up in order to get what’s even better for you.

Emmy O’Reilly is acutely aware of the challenges faced by young people choosing to make a living in a place that many people consider a big playground for adults. “Is there a scene for twenty-somethings in Sun Valley?” she ponders. “Yes, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be challenging to find diverse, compelling career options, as well as stable, affordable housing.

“People my age often return because we’ve been trained to know that life is much sweeter beyond the confinement of a cubicle. The warmth of community and the opportunity to lead an active lifestyle are what keep us comfortably stuck. As much as I appreciate and applaud Sun Valley’s preservation of history and traditional mountain lifestyle, I do think it lacks the young spark it requires to adapt to the needs and desires of future generations. Places like the Hot Water Inn, the Ketchum Innovation Center, and the Sun Valley Center for the Arts are a few places that I think are helping foster and cultivate community for younger residents, and I’m excited to see how this beautiful place flourishes in the years to come.”


This article appears in the Summer 2018 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.