Skiing is under threat, with fewer and fewer people doing it. But that’s great news for enthusiasts who want to buy a property, says Marina Gerner.
Skiing, the winter pastime that “blends social elitism with personal peril, is under threat”, writes Hugo Cox at the Financial Times. In top skiing destinations such as Austria, the US, Canada, Switzerland, Italy and France, the number of skiers has been falling steadily over the last three years. That’s according to a report by Geneva-based consultant Laurent Vanat.
Apparently it’s down to a combination of demographics – “the creaking knees of Europe’s baby boomers” mean they’re trading a fortnight on the slopes for “two weeks sipping gin and tonics by the sea” – and the simple fact that there’s just not quite as much disposable income around in the post-financial-crisis era.
(The Chinese – whose rising wealth has saved so many other markets in the post-2008 slump – still see skiing as something to do occasionally for fun, rather than as a serious sport, Vanat tells Cox, although the Chinese government is keen to get the population on the slopes before Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics in 2022.)
However, this decline in the winter sport’s popularity may have a bright side – for those looking to buy property in a skiing resort. Just don’t think of this as an investment. According to estate agency Savills, “price gains for skiing properties have been modest, and it is likely this will continue”. Indeed, prices in the most expensive parts of the Swiss Alps have been falling over the past year. So buy because you want to ski, not in hope of a quick profit. But where should you buy?
If you’re the only keen ski-er in the family, then you might be better off opting for something that offers more than just the slopes. One good option is Courmayeur, in northern Italy. Based at the foot of Mont Blanc, it’s very popular both with winter sports fans and less adventure-oriented tourists.
“Narrow, pedestrianised and peppered with delis, cafes and boutiques, it buzzes during the passeggiata each evening, and for most of the weekend,” writes Sean Newsom in The Sunday Times. And while it offers “a full-bodied taste of Italy”, it is only a 90-minute drive away from Geneva airport. Cipolla, a local agency, offers a three-bedroom chalet on the forested hillsides above town, for €900,000 (£640,000).
On the French side of the Alps, there’s Chamonix, which is more of a traditional ski resort, but still offers activities from ice-climbing to dog-sledding for non-skiers. The town has a “busy pedestrianised core and a resolutely unglitzy atmosphere”, notes Newsom. But you can still “get a decent meal – the Restaurant Albert 1er has two Michelin stars”. Knight Frank has a range of properties there, from a three-bedroom village house at €695,000 to a trophy home for €7m.
A more luxurious option, but which might not appeal as much to the hardcore skiers, is Megève, which boasts the Emmanuel Renaut’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant as well as a new branch of the “party-palace chain” La Folie Douce, which brings “edgy late-afternoon debauchery to the social scene”. Megève has its fair share of €4m-plus chalets, but the prices drop further down the valley in Combloux. Erna Low Property has two-bedroom flats at Les Fermes du Mont Blanc, a new development, from €304,000.
Finally there’s Morzine – a French village with a decent-sized British expat community. “Prices here have been rising in recent years, but they’re still well short of what you’ll pay in A-list resorts such as Verbier and Val d’Isère,” writes Newsom. In the summer, the meadows and forests are great for cycling and hiking. The smallest studio flat can be had for €105,000 and a new-build two-bedroom apartment is on the market for €620,000 with Morzine Immobilier.
While snowfall and season length remain important considerations, “the battleground for buyers is now moving to what local entertainment is on offer”, writes Cox, “with buyers’ children increasingly calling the shots”. Teenagers are “pushing their parents towards the bigger resorts with the best bars and nightclubs”, says Jeremy Rollason of Savills. That could make the US a more tempting destination if you’re willing to rack up the airmiles.
It’s a quieter destination – the US has only 18 million skiers compared with 45 million in Europe and there’s a lot more space to ski on. Yet America now “arguably leads the race for facility-rich resorts”. The famous ski resort of Aspen (a former silver mining town) has one art gallery for every 130 people, according to Debbie Braun of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, an annual music festival, and has recently built a $50m contemporary art museum.
So there’s definitely plenty for a bored spouse to do while their partner hits the slopes – assuming you can stretch to the prices. A top floor, two-bed town house by the river is on sale for $2,395,000 at Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty.
Even further afield in Asia meanwhile, there has been a boom in resort-building in China. “The resort of Wanda Changbaishan in Jilin Province near the North Korean border is probably China’s newest and swankiest.” Only two years ago it was an uninhabited mountainside.
However, Japan is still the regional capital of skiing. “Years ago the industry was being ravaged by Japan’s economic doldrums,” writes Cox. Today, annual visits are still less than half of what they were at their peak in the mid-1980s, according to Vanat. There is, however,“a renaissance at the top of the market, notably on the northern island of Hokkaido”.
The small town of Niseko on Hokkaido has attracted Australians “in search of superior powder and levels of snowfall far above Europe’s best”, according to Grant Mitchell of local agent Niseko Property, quoted in the FT. Other buyers in the area include expats from Hong Kong, who relish the proximity of Sapporo airport. Nicolas Gontard of local developer Odin is selling Odin House, a 545 sq metre, four-bedroom family home on the edge of Niseko, for $6m.