Once mainly the preserve of a snowbound local population and fur-clad visitors, ski resorts around the world are now attracting an ever-broader demographic. With homes in Alpine hotspots multiplying in recent decades to meet growing demand, some authorities are taking action. The Swiss government – never particularly welcoming to non-resident homeowners – has issued a moratorium on new holiday homes, in order to limit the number of properties sitting empty out of season. Austria – where prices are rising in its more exclusive resorts – has also passed restrictions on second homes.
Resorts are also now diversifying to become “year-round” destinations as they seek to meet demand from buyers in emerging markets. According to the latest Knight Frank prime ski property report, the region with the largest percentage of high net worth individuals who own a ski home is Latin America, with 20 per cent. It is followed by Europe and Russia on 12 per cent; Australasia, the Middle East and Africa, on 10 per cent; North America, on 9 per cent; and Asia, on 4 per cent.
The popularity of mountain homes is also spreading to other continents. The perennially desirable old-money Alpine resorts, such as Gstaad, St Moritz and Megève, retain their cachet and resilience against the wider market downturn, while the prestigious US resort of Aspen has bounced back from depression.
But now relative newcomers from Australasia to South America are entering the international property fray and offering competitive prices. Among these, Niseko in Japan – voted one of the top 10 global ski resorts in 2008 by Forbes – is drawing buyers from Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China.
The following round-up is a selective snapshot of the property market in mountain resorts around the world, together with a skier’s verdict from Arnie Wilson – formerly the FT’s ski correspondent – and some examples of current high-end homes on sale.
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Glittering peaks: Aspen
The “King of North American resorts”, Aspen’s varied attractions, huge investment in infrastructure, and vibrant cultural scene appeal to an international cast of wealthy individuals. Although super-prime property prices fell by about 20 per cent after the financial crash of 2008, the market is once again showing signs of growth, according to a report by Andrew Ernemann for BJ Adams & Co. Since January 2010, 210 properties have sold for more than $5m in the Aspen/Snowmass area. Of these, 26 were priced at $15m or above, while three sold for $40m-plus.
AW’s verdict: Four separate areas easily reachable by ski bus. Ajax Mountain is the big attraction, but Aspen Highlands has the most challenging skiing and Snowmass is the biggest.
For sale: A six-bedroom, six-bathroom house on a one-acre, ski-accessible plot in Snowmass Village. Priced at $9.95m with BJ Adams (bjac.net).
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According to the Knight Frank ski report, property prices in Queenstown rose 18.6 per cent in the 12 months to June this year – a rise surpassed only by Lake Tahoe in the US, at 20.9 per cent. Queenstown has a small second-home market popular with British, US and Australian buyers despite the strengthening New Zealand dollar. Second-home owners tend to favour upmarket “country club” developments, such as Millbrook Resort. Secluded lodges cost from NZ$5m ($4.15m) to NZ$15m ($12.46m).
AW’s verdict: Lively and scenic lakeside gateway town to two major ski areas: Coronet Peak (one of New Zealand’s oldest) and The Remarkables (one of the newest). Good heli-skiing opportunities in the Harris Mountains.
For sale: A five-bedroom architect-designed house above Lake Hayes, with a theatre room and indoor pool. Priced at NZ$15m ($12.4m) with Sotheby’s International Realty (nzsothebysrealty.com).
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Downhill: Cortina d’Ampezzo
With the Italian government moving to tax upmarket holdings, and banks reducing loans to businesses, the wealthy in Italy have been realising their assets. Cortina’s property market – dominated by domestic buyers – has suffered the consequences, with prices falling up to 8.1 per cent in the year to June, according to Knight Frank. The super-prime market has suffered less, with a drop of 5 per cent over the past five years. There has, nevertheless, been investment in infrastructure – such as lift maintenance and artificial snow machines – and the creation of golf facilities for the summer season in an effort to maintain Cortina’s high year-round occupancy rates. This may be the right time to invest.
AW’s verdict: A delightful, old Dolomites town, which hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics. The locals often start skiing late, eat lunch early, and begin après-ski early, leaving the slopes agreeably empty for visiting skiers.
For sale: A nine-bedroom, 11-bathroom contemporary house to be built with a large “wellness centre”, located in the prestigious Cristallo Estate in the village centre. Priced at €18m with LP UK Consultancy (rightmove.co.uk).
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Well groomed: Verbier
Switzerland remains the most expensive country in the Alps for skiing, with low and discreet sales activity in old-money enclaves such as Gstaad. The Lex Weber legislation, limiting the construction of new holiday homes, is set to have a strong impact on Verbier, increasing demand for available properties and fuelling further price rises. In many ways the opposite of sedate Gstaad, younger, brasher Verbier has usurped the title of Switzerland’s priciest resort, offering both traditional and contemporary-style chalets. The super-prime market ranges between SFr24m (€19.5m) and SFr40m (€32.5) but, with more than 250 sq metres of net habitable space, such large properties are available only to Swiss nationals and residents. The example below falls within the permissible restrictions and is available to foreign buyers.
AW’s verdict: A party town whose superb skiing presents a dilemma for visitors: riotous après-ski or early-ish night to hit the slopes early? The younger set seem to manage both.
For sale: A new chalet beside a stream on forested slopes, Chalet Poinsettia has four en suite bedrooms, terraces, lift access, spa, cinema, wine cellar, and double garage. Priced at SFr12.5m (€10m) with Savills (savills.com).
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Summer pastures: Megève
Concerns over measures by François Hollande, the French president, have been tempered by low mortgage rates and good investment opportunities. However, the market in the French Alps remains weak. The exceptions are the resorts of Val d’Isère and Megève, where property prices have stood firm over the past five years, and are now rising. Limited supply in Megève and its exclusive nature (Megève was made fashionable by the Rothschilds in the 1910s), ensure some of the highest prices in the French Alps. At the same time, easy access to Geneva (a one-hour drive away), mountain walks, riding and golf at Mont d’Arbois – not to mention great views of Mont Blanc – make this a true year-round destination.
AW’s verdict: The oldest, most traditional major resort in the French Alps, Megève is a delight all year round with unexpectedly good skiing at a relatively low altitude.
For sale: The contemporary-style, ski-accessible Chalet des Sens, in Mont d’Arbois, has six en suite bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, garage parking, terrace mountain views, spa area, home cinema and games room. Priced at €23m with Knight Frank (knightfrank.com).
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Off-piste: San Carlos de Bariloche
It is tempting to extol the Andean resort of Las Leñas – which is to daredevils of the southern hemisphere what Chamonix is to their northern counterparts – but the property market has yet to catch up with this remote spot. Instead, Bariloche, on Nahuel Huapi Lake in northern Patagonia, enjoys excellent infrastructure and well-priced homes in pretty wooded settings that are more Heidi than gaucho in style. With its modern resort of Cerro Catedral, 12 miles from the town, easy access to the contrasting resorts of Cerro Bayo (43 miles north) and Cerro Chapelco (163 miles), Bariloche offers skiing at all levels. Serious thrill-seekers might wish to travel 218 miles south to La Hoya, for some of the best off-piste skiing in the country. The season runs from mid-June to mid-September.
AW’s verdict: Just outside Bariloche, Cerro Catedral, South America’s biggest ski area, has it all, with the best tree skiing in the Andes and excellent “hike-to” terrain.
For sale: La Florida is a nine-bedroom, five-bathroom lakeside family home set in 1.5 hectares of landscaped grounds, with service quarters and a guest cottage. The property is 4.5 miles from the town centre and a 15-minute drive from Cerro Catedral. Priced at $3.3m with Sotheby’s International Realty (sothebysrealty.com)
It is advisable to consult a lawyer regarding any restrictions, procedures or requirements that may apply to non-resident property investors.