Think of North American ski properties, and the word expansive springs to mind. Alpine chalets can appear a little small when compared to the liberally proportioned homes that sit on broad slopes against the panoramic sweep of America’s 14,000ft peaks. Perhaps this is why British appetite for a dual-season second home on an uncrowded mountain across the pond has hardly been dented by the downturn. And for buyers willing to brace the intercontinental trek, now is a good time to house-hunt, because prices bottomed out last year.
‘Although the USA has seen a tidal wave of foreclosures, only a very small percentage of those have been in the top-tier resorts of Colorado,’ says Bill Fandel, VP of Peaks Real Estate Sotheby’s International Realty in Telluride. ‘That said, we’ve seen price adjustments of 15%-25% and the market continues to see opportunistic cash buyers seeking the very best in quality and location at discounted prices.’
Among the most popular locations is the perennially glamorous Aspen, in Colorado, which brings together world-class skiing with designer boutiques and fine restaurants, all housed within Victorian red-brick buildings.
Its rarefied air didn’t prevent the half-built Base Village development on Snowmass mountain going into receivership last year, but, generally, the market here is recovering fast, according to local agent Gary Feldman, who is affiliated with Christie’s. ‘There’s so little inventory here that we’re seeing steady, incremental increases,’ explains Mr Feldman. Nonetheless, ‘entry-level properties are down 25% -you’re looking at £191,000 ($300,000) for a downtown condo, although most people spend £1.3m ($2m) to £3.2m ($5m).’ Ski-in ski-out properties in town are scarce, but then half the fun here is choosing which mountain to ski on-shall we Prada-watch on Aspen or tackle some double-blacks on Highlands?-and many people prefer to live in the resort’s wooded fringes. ‘Our typical European buyer wants a log home tucked away with plenty of privacy, perhaps three miles from downtown,’ adds Mr Feldman.
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For ski-in, ski-out properties, Snowmass mountain offers condos from £638,000 ($1m) and single-family homes from £1.3m ($2m) to £9.6m ($15m), or there’s a rare opportunity to buy a 20,000sq ft sevenbedroom residence currently being built on Aspen-yours for £19m ($30m). Even more dramatic than Aspen is the box-canyon setting of Telluride, a charming old mining town. Also situated in Colorado, it’s a short-hop flight from Denver, but this compact resort draws rich and famous buyers seeking a low profile, including Tom Cruise, Ralph Lauren and Jerry Seinfeld. ‘We attract a very well-heeled clientele who don’t want glitz, chain-store boutiques or lift queues,’ says Mr Fandel. ‘Wealthy families from the East Coast come and gather here, and its prestigious September film festival brings the Hollywood set year round.’
The entry-level price here is £320,000 ($500,000) for a small condo, although most people choose between a single family home in the historic downtown (about £1.3m ($2m) or a larger, 5-10 bedroom ‘legacy’ home on the slopes (£2.4m ($3.75m)-£12.8m ($20m)). ‘It’s a choice between the ambience of town-the [old train] Depot area at the base of the slopes is especially soughtafter- or being ski-in, ski-out in Mountain Village, a 12-minute gondola-ride away,’ explains Mr Fandel.
Telluride is much more vibrant in the summer than many Alpine resorts, but when it comes to sheer diversity of yearround offerings, nowhere beats Lake Tahoe, on the border between Nevada and California. It has seven major ski resorts-the highest concentration of ski areas in the USA-and a lively boating scene, and blends Nevada’s casino-fuelled nightlife (and tax advantages) with a laidback Californian vibe. ‘It’s unique, because you can have a beautiful lakefront home [from £2.55m ($4m)] and tour around a variety of ski resorts within an hour’s drive,’ comments Susan Lowe of Chase International, who, in 1998, sold a Lake Tahoe property for £31,985m ($50m)-the most expensive private residence in America at the time.
Today, prices in the area are somewhat more affordable, having dropped 35% from peak. For ski-in, ski-out homes, buyers can choose between the Lake’s two most popular locations, Squaw Valley (a European- style village on the north shore) and Heavenly (a sprawling resort in South Tahoe). ‘The inventory is mostly apartments or townhouses (starting at £126,000 [$200,000]), but you can get single family homes in Heavenly from the low £500,000s [low $800,000s] to £1.3m [$2m],’ continues Mrs Lowe. ‘However, Incline Village [the Lake’s newest community on the north shore] is the hottest address on Tahoe, with a lake-front “tear down” starting at £3.8m [$6m] or a new, non-waterfront home at about £2.55m [$4m].’ For lakes, mountains and a panoply of outdoor activities at a lower price point (and a shorter plane ride away), the place to head to is Quebec, in eastern Canada.
The area has been more popular this year than in 2010, according to Annabelle Waite of Pure International. ‘We’re having more interest in the Mont Tremblant area [than in Alberta and British Columbia] because it has world-class skiing within an awardwinning resort accessed by a six-hour flight from the UK. You can get a large, three bedroom log cabin for the same price as a studio apartment in Verbier. Plus, more people are seeking year-round rental yields, which are much better in Canada.’
A budget of £310,000 (CAN$500,000) buys a one-bedroom apartment in the Mont Tremblant resort itself, but looking a little further out, it can get you a whole chalet. Pure is selling new three- to fivebedroom log cabins from £325,000 (CAN$525,000) just six minutes from the resort, and a resale chalet half an hour away, in a development of new-builds, for £279,000 (CAN$450,000). Buyers with a long-term view, a love of heli-skiing and a desire to live near North America’s greatest vertical might consider Revelstoke Mountain Resort (www. discoverrevelstoke.com), a good few years off completion, but a survivor of the downturn.
Although it takes 12-14 hours to get to British Columbia from the UK, 11% of Revelstoke’s buyers are British, who paid between £217,000 (CAN$349,000) for a studio and £1.8m (CAN$2.9m) for a threebedroom home. The British are also the most active buyers in the better-known resort of Whistler, which is two hours from Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. Known as a snowboarder’s paradise, this mighty resort received another boost to its reputation with the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Nonetheless, post-downturn prices are 20% to 30% lower than at peak, according to Ross McCredie of Sotheby’s International Realty. ‘Prices for single family homes are often less than £620,000 (CAN$1m), although British buyers tend to spend more.’ Mr McCredie explains that the best ski-in, ski-out areas are the Benchlands (high above the main village) or Creekside (base of the Olympic runs) where prime condos cost £497,000 (CAN$800,000), town houses £1.55m (CAN$2.5m)-£3.1m (CAN$5m) and single-family homes £3.1m (CAN$5m)-£6.2m (CAN$10m). However, he adds, you can get entrylevel condos for £310,000 (CAN$500,000) in both these areas.