For many skiers, it’s a potent dream; the idea of not just skiing the mountain, but owning a little piece of it too.
It’s not hard to see why. Buy a ski property, and suddenly the snow is not one holiday option amongst many, but part of your way of life. Whatever the stresses and sacrifices of everyday existence, there’ll be a place – a real place, not a daydream – where you can go to embrace your love of adventure, and share your good fortune with your family and friends.
So it’s no wonder that every time the economic outlook improves, the demand for ski chalets and apartments jumps. We saw it in the nineties and early noughties: and we’ve seen it again in the last two or three years – especially when it comes to new-build, mid-market apartments. According to Francois Marchand, director of Erna Low Property, which specialises in ski property in the French Alps, 2015-6 was the best season for sales he’d seen for eight years.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? But before you rush to join the ranks of skiers-with-second-homes, let’s just pause for breath for a moment, and answer one simple question:
Do You Really Need to Do This?
Sure, if you’ve just been awarded the bonus of the century, then owning a trophy home in one of the most high-falutin’ holiday resorts in the world is going to be a lot of fun.
But if you’re driven simply by a love of snow, chair-lifts and gravity-driven excitement, then you should think very carefully about nailing your skiing adventures down to a single location and buying your own ski resort property.
After all, half the fun of skiing lies in the exploration of new slopes, new mountains, new countries even. It’s this experience that drives a website like Welove2ski.com, and it’s certainly helped make skiing and boarding a life-changing experience for many. Do you really want to lay that aside – never again pitting yourself against new terrain, or going on a Rocky-Mountain road trip – in favour of one resort?
My view is that younger skiers would do better to keep their cash in their wallets, spread their wings, and ski as many mountains as possible. Only later, when children come on the scene, should they get serious about a second home.
When kids do become a factor, the game changes completely. Having your own base in the mountains means you can store lots of clobber on-site, as well as developing important relationships with the local kindergartens, ski schools and restaurants. Pretty soon, everyone will know their way around the resort, and eventually – once your kids have shown they can ski responsibly – you’ll be able to let the young’uns off the leash, kick back on the sun terrace, and relax.
Interested? Here are a few factors to consider
Accessibility: if you’re in the market for a second home for your family, you don’t want to buy in a resort that’s a drag to get to. Yes, okay; you may have always dreamt of ski pad in Aspen, Colorado. But if you live in the UK, do you always want to start your ski holidays with a transatlantic flight – especially if you’ve go the kids in tow?
Picking a mountain region that can be reached by more than one mode of transport adds flexibility too. If you can drive as well as fly there, it’ll make transporting the odd car-load of clobber feasible – as well as making transport during peak holiday periods cheaper.
In other words, if you’re based in the UK, the western end of the Alps makes a lot of sense. Geneva is the key airport here. There are connections from several regional airports, and so many flights from London it’s easy to pop over for weekends. Add in a good network of motorways, and fast rail connections (including the heavenly direct Eurostar from St Pancras to Moutiers and Bourg-St Maurice in the French Alps), and it’s not hard to see why most families buy there.
Seasonality: the second consideration is whether or not you’re looking for a getaway in the summer, as well as for skiing.
If the only thing you care about is snow, then the advice is simple: aim high.
Unless you’re a hedge fund manager, this will mean compromising on the size of your ski resort property – because, for the most part, everyone wants to buy in a high-altitude, snowsure resort. Chalets are usually priced by the million, and you’ll pay a premium for a ski apartment, too.
Don’t let that put you off. Far better to have a shoebox apartment in Tignes, Val d’Isere, Les Menuires, or Val Thorens, in the heart of one of the world’s great lift systems, than be rattling around in a chalet in a low altitude resort whilst you wonder if it will ever stop raining. If you’re planning to rent out your property, you’ll also find a much bigger pool of potential customers if you’re in a high-altitude resort. These days, that’s where everyone else wants to ski, too.
But of course, there’s more to the mountains than winter – as more and more of us are discovering. Mountain biking, road cycling, e-biking and trail running have all mushroomed in popularity in recent years. Resorts have all responded to the rising popularity of summer holidays by opening bike parks, e-bike rental facilities and running trails: but it’s the lower resorts which seem to be pulling in the most visitors.
It’s no surprise really. Their landscapes are much softer and greener than the bare, treeless mountainsides of the snowsure resorts in summer. Some – in Austria, and Chamonix for example – have long traditions of summer tourism too, while others, such as the mountain-biking resorts of the Portes du Soleil (Morzine, Les Gets, Chatel), have built their summer trade more recently. Either way, popular summer resorts are beginning to offer good rental returns for property owners in July and August. It’s something to consider even if you’re not a biking/running/climbing/golfing family.
On top of the general pointers above, a couple of hours on this website will help whittle down your search for a ski property to a handful of resorts. But a few stand out straight away. Many of them are in France.
Les Arcs, for example, is a good, family-oriented resort with a buzzing summer scene, and less hardcore scenery than the likes of Tignes. It doesn’t have the old-school charm of ancient Savoyard villages like Megeve or Samoens: but it does have a lift system that rises up to 3000m. Chamonix has a vibrant summer season, too, as well as some of the most exciting skiing in the Alps. But you will have to be an expert skier to make the most of it.
Other resorts with good year-round potential include Meribel and La Rosiere.
Where to Find the Specialists
To properly explore the resale market, you’ll need to contact specialist companies. These include
Alpine Homes International, Athena Advisers, Chestertons, Erna Low Property, Free Spirit Alpine, Hartmann Singleton, Knight Frank, Investors in Property, and Pure.
Oh yes, and one more thing. If you do buy a gorgeous ski resort property, close to the lifts and in a stunning resort, can we come and stay?
September 4, 2016John Daly
Sean this is a very honest article and I enjoyed reading it. John Davy Ireland
September 4, 2016Felice Hardy
We are very pleased you enjoyed reading our article, John.
September 23, 2016Gary Arnold
Fantastic article, fits us to a tee, skied lots of places when we we younger and now with a 12 year old settled in Montchavin-Le-Plagne. Have just purchased a cosy 2 bed apartment in need of slight updating in a wonderful village at 1200m with ski-in/out. Also summer mountain biking is fabulous and an outdoor pool on the door step, what more could we want! Gary Arnold Stratford Upon Avon..
September 23, 2016Felice Hardy
Sounds like you’ve found just the right place! It is a real bonus to have summer activities such as mountain biking and swimming, as well as great skiing in winter.
October 18, 2016cameron
The two season point is a very good one. I’m an American actually thinking of the Reno Nevada area. It’s “close” to a lot of resorts and a decent amount to do all year.
Cameron from Washington
October 20, 2016nidski
For most buyers isn’t affordability is going to be a boring, but key consideration too – both to buy it and ongoing costs? That said, it’s a great time to get a Euro mortgage, rates are so low.
May 22, 2017Michael Gold
Great! It is always worth to buy a holiday home. If you then rent it, it is a good investment.
February 6, 2018Cookie
Oh please, it is a very mediocre investment at best! Its a lifestyle purchase, its a vanity purchase, it makes you feel good and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is a very dubious investment.
Why? look at Notary table of sales, there are some hot spots, you can be fortunate, but single digit growth over 5 years is the norm in France with quite a few resorts delivering negative euro returns in the 2012-2017. Long run history is barely double digit over 10 years. Now factor in friction costs, that is close on 20% of the value of the property (resale), which means the first 20% of appreciation is break even. Your running costs at 1% of value (crude) plus funding costs will eat up any rental return. The only upside is that you at least get some leverage and Euro exposure that can be beneficial depending on what other assets you have. Still sound good?
My advice would be to stick to a diversified asset class portfolio held for a reasonable length of time if you want a sound financial investment. However that is boring, its not something that will make you smile, you will not get a kick talking to your friends about it. So nothing wrong with buying the dream ski pad, but buy for the right reasons and don’t be misled by the ‘didn’t I do well stories’ that suggest it is a sound investment to pump your hard earned savings into…it is not and you could well regret any decision on that rationale.