IN the early 1900s, the British upper classes discovered the joys of snowsports, and the chic Swiss resorts of Gstaad and St Moritz became the winter haunts of the rich and famous. A century later, as thrill-seeking Britons from all walks of life discover the year-round appeal of trendy new mountain resorts throughout Europe and North America, an intrepid trio of British developers is trying to preserve the authentic alpine flavour of a special corner of the French Alps.

Founded in 1998, French Mountain Property (FMP) was the brainchild of London-based Robert Senior, who joined forces with compatriots Chris Harrop and Paul McCulloch with a view to renovating some of the picturesque farmhouses in the beautiful Isère valley.

?We noticed that more and more of the original alpine farmhouses in hamlets along the valley were being ?modernised? by developers whose focus was on volume at the expense of quality and aesthetics. Chris, Paul and I all have homes in the area, and we were keen to help perpetuate its unique rural character, so over the past four years we have bought 14 properties, some of which we have already renovated and sold, some of which are currently for sale,? Mr Senior explains.

Cirencester-based Property Pathfinder (01285 653190) is handling the sale of two FMP properties, both within easy reach of the ski resorts of Val d?Isère, Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and La Rosière. A price ?in the region of e1.5 million? is quoted for Le Manessier at Montvalezan, a 2,600sq ft former farmhouse with spectacular views of the Isère valley.

FMP?s ideal buyer is ?a person who will genuinely enjoy his chalet all year round ?skiing Europe?s very best resorts in the winter and getting involved in tennis, swimming, walking and golf in the summer. And, importantly, who is happy for the local farmer to continue using his land in return for some excellent Beaufort cheese.?

On a more modest scale, FMP is selling half of a large A-frame chalet in the tiny hamlet of Le Planay Dessous, at a guide price of e750,000 (Fig 1). The roomy 1,500sq ft apartment has an open-plan living room with a traditional fireplace, a dining area/kitchen, a cellar/ski store, an en-suite master bedroom, three further bedrooms and a further bathroom.

Adrenalin junkies who crave the buzz of the purpose-built modern ski resort

can find it at Les Arcs, high above the town of Bourg St Maurice in the nearby Tarentaise valley. Here, the scary Vanoise Express cable-car links the resort with neigbouring La Plagne to form Paradiski, one of the world?s largest linked ski areas with a massive 425km of marked pistes.

FPDSavills (020?7824 9030) are marketing the seventh, penultimate, phase of Intrawest?s mountain resort at Les Arcs 1950. Some 100 apartments with balconies are for sale, at prices ranging from £120,000 for one bedroom, to upwards of £750,000 for the largest four-bedroom unit.

At the other end of snowsports? entente cordiale, MGM French Properties, in London W1, was created in 2000 as the UK arm of French developer Maurice Giraud Montagne, a family-owned business which has been designing and building chalets and apartments in Savoie and Haute Savoie for more than 40 years. Typical MGM developments include Les Alpages de Reberty in Les Menuires (Fig 2), and Les Fermes de Méribel Village in fashionable Méribel, in the massive

Three Valleys area.

MGM French Properties (020?7494 0706) are offering apartments

at Les Cimes Blanches in La Rosière, at prices ranging from ?171,000 for a

studio to ?448,000 for three bedrooms. Apartments at Les Fermes de Ste Foy,

at Ste Foy, cost from ?266,000 for two bedrooms to ?365,000-plus for

three bedrooms. Le Refuge de l?Alpage at Morillon has apartments at ?252,000 for two bedrooms and ?390,000 for four bedrooms. And L?Orée des

Cimes at Vallandry offers one-bedroom apartments from ?261,000, and four-bedroom apartments from ?853,000.