Liquidity, length of season and what happens beyond the slopes are three major factors affecting today’s ski-property-buying decisions. Arabella Youens investigates which resorts are luring in the next generation.
Today’s ski-chalet buyer is not who he used to be. Now that the baby boomers have hung up their skis, a new breed of enthusiasts is taking to the slopes in a very different way. For one thing, the sport has gone virtual: from checking conditions online to sharing mountain-top photos on social media and recording stunt videos for YouTube, today’s skiers and snowboarders simultaneously use their smartphone with their salopettes.
Recent research by Savills highlights that the ever-growing range of leisure options for this generation is spreading the prospective market even thinner. Resorts are realigning themselves to lure skiers in, offering on-slope free wi-fi and moving away from the traditional rustic look preferred by the older afficionados, towards a more contemporary style. Savills cite annual events such as Snowboxx in Avoriaz, a week-long affair with late-night parties held in igloos, and Snowbombing in Mayrhofen, Austria, dubbed the ‘Glastonbury of ski-resort festivals’, as evidence that groomed pistes and glasses of vin chaud en plein air are no longer enough to attract the younger market.
‘Skier numbers in the west are at a plateau, or, in some markets, in decline,’ says Paul Tostevin of Savills World Research (020–7016 3883), adding that, in Switzerland, the number of ski visitors has gone down by 17% in the past decade. ‘The most resilient Alpine resorts will be those that are able to diversify,’ he says. The average age range of ski-property buyers is 40–55, adds Jeremy Rollason of Savills Alpine Homes (020– 7016 3753), so members of the so-called ‘millennials’ or Generation Y are still mostly too young to be investing, but that won’t last forever.
Roddy Aris, who heads up Knight Frank’s Alpine desk (020–7861 1727), isn’t convinced that the availability of 4G coverage or ‘whether you can double up your ski pole as a selfie stick’ carries weight when it comes to buying a property, but he agrees that today’s buyers differ from those of yesteryear. ‘The boomers bought to ski and only to ski and they rarely rented their property out. Nowadays, everyone wants to rent out to cover running costs and they also want an active year-round season. The two go hand in hand.’
One of the main concerns of today’s ski-property buyers is liquidity—that is, the ability to sell the chalet or apartment on once their interest in the sport has faded—as well as the ability to maximise rental opportunities through both length of ski season and an established summer season.
Knight Frank’s latest research shows a noticeable correlation between resorts in which property values are growing and those that are renewing their ski infrastructure and investing heavily in the wider provision of non-ski activities. The French resorts of Val d’Isère and Chamonix have been particularly active and both register price rises by an average of 6% and 5% respectively. Val d’Isère’s decision to make the cable car free during the summer months is a major draw for walkers and mountain bikers. Furthermore, the resort has invested €16m to develop the Tête de Solaise area of the mountain, including replacing an old chairlift with a 10-person télécabine, with heated seats and onboard wi-fi, due to open this season.
‘However, the benchmark resort has to be Chamonix,’ believes Roddy. A truly year-round resort—with more visitors in summer than winter and millions of Euros going into new lifts, buses and pedestrianising parts of the town—it now has a Chanel boutique on the high street. ‘It used to be about beers and pickaxes, but now, there are a few more furs,’ adds Roddy. ‘Chamonix caters for everyone from toddlers to grandmothers and die-hard fitness freaks. We have buyers from all backgrounds and professions, including hedge funders, aristocrats and those from the Middle East looking for somewhere cooler to spend the summer.’ Compared to its ‘pretty sister’, Megève, prices are reasonable, too, with an average of €7,000 per sq m compared with €18,000 per sq m.
Another area with good rental income year round are the villages around Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez, recommends Heather Byrne of Leggett Immobilier (00 33 622 70 89 77). The project to upgrade facilities in Alpe d’Huez in the next five years will result in an 18-minute gondola ride linking the two resorts. By 2021, the total ski area will measure almost 300 miles, making it larger than Espace Killy (Tignes & Val d’Isère) and the Paradiski ski area. ‘Before they were linked and, in order to compete, both resorts developed a great deal of year-round activities to bring revenue into the area, so it’s very popular for mountain biking, road cycling, kayaking, rafting, climbing and trekking,’ says Heather. ‘Prices compare favourably to the big world-famous resorts. The average price for a prime property in Alpe d’Huez is about €6,500 per sq m,’ she adds.
The elephant in the British sitting room is currency. In the wake of the EU Referendum and the fall of sterling, Swiss Alpine property is 8.6% more costly for us and French and Austrian chalets are now 7.6% more expensive than in May.
The exchange rate is ‘paramount’, says Jeremy. ‘It has a huge impact on buying decisions.’ Although it’s too early in the season to measure the impact on British buyers, he adds that the invitation to ‘hedge’ against sterling by taking out a mortgage in Swiss Francs or Euros plus interest rates, which are often so low that it would be ‘almost criminal not to borrow money’, the team isn’t feeling too pessimistic about the season ahead. Plus, according to Knight Frank’s network of Alpine offices, the market has widened— in 2010, the French, Swiss, Russians and British dominated; in 2016, they’ve been joined by the Germans, Swedish, Dutch and members of the UAE.
Need to know: resort updates
Arlberg, Austria: Four new gondolas make it the largest ski area in Austria
Val d’Isère, France: New Solaise télécabine and beginner area
Villars, Switzerland: New link to Les Diablerets
Zell am See, Austria: New lift includes free wi-fi and heated seats
Courchevel, France: New lift system and new hotels
Chamonix, France: €477 million to be invested in new lifts over the next 27 years