A home for all seasons

With ski resorts offering year-round activities, a rental property could be a great idea
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The Independent Online

The high cost of skiing holidays is enough to tempt many to buy their own little ski retreat. Staying in your own second home and letting it while you're not there is an attractive option. But the downside can be that many ski resorts offer little out of season - and who wants to rent a ski chalet when the snow has long gone?

The high cost of skiing holidays is enough to tempt many to buy their own little ski retreat. Staying in your own second home and letting it while you're not there is an attractive option. But the downside can be that many ski resorts offer little out of season - and who wants to rent a ski chalet when the snow has long gone?

"It's a dilemma," agrees Pure International's managing director Sean Collins: "In many resorts you have to decide whether to get the best use for yourself in peak season, in which case you dilute your investment. Often these resorts have little to offer out of season, so you are not going to be able to rent them out." This dilemma has given developers a useful marketing tool with many developments being sold as "four-season resorts", but buyers should beware says Collins: "You really need to visit out of the traditional season - even if it's just for the weekend - to see how busy these resorts really are. Ask agents for occupancy levels at similar developments."

Not all buyers care about year-round potential. Buyers solely wanting a second home for skiing in winter months, may not mind empty periods in the summer. However, anyone relying on good rental returns, or who wants maximum personal use, must first research the market. Pure's developments include Canada, Switzerland and Greece but not all fall into the year-round category, warns Collins: "Some buyers actually prefer somewhere like Greece which has a very long summer season, from March to October."

But developments such as Solara in Canmore near Banff in the Canadian Rockies are true year-round destinations. Home to the 1988 Winter Olympics, you might assume that the development is solely for buyers interested in winter pursuits, so it's a surprise to find that the development, which has a 37-week occupancy rate, has its peak period in August: "Mid-summer is their busiest time: it has great weather and even more sun than the south of France," says Collins. Climate is key to any destination's enduring appeal whatever the time of year, but developers constantly strive for ever more inventive ways of compensating for "dead months" by ensuring that buyers have access to a range of activities. At Solara, where one-bedroom apartments start from £165,224, buyers can choose from a cookery school to "heli yoga" - being dropped onto a mountain for yoga sessions.

Newfound International Property's James Barnes agrees that climate is key but cites cheap air travel as a major factor which has influenced changing patterns of travel. Barnes is currently selling Nonsuch Bay in Antigua which he notes is no longer restricted to just winter visits: "You can fly there much more cheaply and hotels now report 95 per cent occupancy all year round." Newfound is also selling property at Humber Valley in Newfoundland, Canada, which Barnes cites as a prime example of a destination offering year-round appeal: "It has fantastic snow in winter and in the summer golf and fishing are world class." But even this development has "dead times", according to Barnes: "In April to May, snow is melting so you can't ski or play golf and in November it's too cold for golf but the snow hasn't yet fallen."

A three- or four-bedroom, fully furnished house on a one-acre plot at Humber Valley starts from £275,000 and a spa is currently under construction which will help fill empty periods. Spa facilities are a big draw for Sylvia Liddle, who last year bought a studio apartment at Les Naturelles in the Swiss Alpine resort of Leukerbad which she uses all year round: "It's equally beautiful whenever you go. In the winter you can ski, ice skate and use the thermal baths, and in the summer there are fantastic flat walks along the old Roman road."

Liddle describes the natural thermal baths as an "amazing experience" while snow is falling or when there's a full moon, when they stay open until midnight. "There really is something for all the family to do whenever you go," adds Liddle. Similar studios for sale through Overseas Homesearch start at around £63,636, and owners can take advantage of having all running costs including service charges, local taxes and mortgage interest payments, but excluding capital repayments, covered for the first five years by a guaranteed income level.

The director of the ski and spa tour operator Erna Low, Joanna Yellowlees Bound, has watched the interest in year-round destinations soar in recent years. Erna Low has launched its real estate arm thanks to what Yellowlees Bound describes as "a great synergy between tourism and property". Erna Low Property is currently selling a range of developments which tap into the fervour for year-round activity. At Arc 1950 Le Village in the French Alps, studios start from £150,000. Marketed as a "five-star traditional alpine village" the ski-in ski-out development offers world-class skiing at 3,000 metres.

Rental occupancy in the ski season at Arc 1950 is around 72 per cent, 50 per cent is the norm, but figures are expected to be equally strong in summer months as consumers increasingly demand top-end facilities in a resort where they can play golf, enjoy spa facilities, white-water rafting, mountain biking and kayaking. Erna Low is selling similar developments in other year-round resorts such as Mont Tremblant, Canada, and at Aspen where it is about to launch Base Village at the foot of Colorado's Snowmass Mountain. But Yellowlees Bounds believes that the French Alps in particular have much to offer investors and pure buyers alike: "The rental potential of a village of this quality is extremely strong."

For further information, contact Solara through Pure International: 020-7331 4500; contact@pureintl.com; www.pureintl.com. Humber Valley and Nonsuch Bay through Newfound Property International: 020-8605 9520; uk@newfoundproperty.com; www.newfoundproperty.com. Les Naturelles through Overseas Homesearch: 0870 240 3258; enquiries@overseashomesearch.co.uk. Arc 1950 Le Village, Base Village and Mont Tremblant through Erna Low Property: 020-7590 1624; property@ernalow.co.uk; www.ernalowproperty.co.uk