Canada: A new frontier

The Winter Olympics in British Columbia in 2010 is a big draw for ski lovers looking for an investment opportunity – but don't overlook Quebec and Ontario, says Ginetta Vedrickas
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Some European ski resorts faced a distinctly wobbly start to the season this year. France may have escaped, this time, but resorts across Switzerland, Austria and Italy all reported delayed openings as lack of the white stuff scuppered many a snow hound's dreams. Uncertainty over conditions is prompting many Brits to look further afield. Anyone wanting guaranteed snow need look no further than Canada, for record-breaking conditions.

Boasting a ski season that often runs from November to June, at the time of writing British Columbia, Canada's most westerly province, was cloaked in 80 inches of the lightest, driest snow on its most popular slopes. Resorts such as Whistler, which will host the 2010 winter Olympics, reported over eight metres of snowfall last season, the highest amount since records began 27 years ago. Factor in a great lifestyle – Canada has been voted "best place to live" for several years running by the UN – and it's not hard to see why British buyers are opting to buy ski homes here rather than in Europe.

Martin Sadler, managing director of property investment company Assetz Canada, says: "Canada is fast becoming one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. With its world-class skiing and excellent international travel links, this has opened up a whole new market to British property investors."

Canada now has mortgages available for between 65 per cent and 75 per cent of the purchase price, and Sadler points out that the country is currently performing well as an investment destination: "Capital gains are around 10 per cent a year, and ski resorts offer excellent returns on cash invested in buy-to-let."

One reason for the growth is that winter sports holidays are growing in popularity and around 1.3 milllion of us now regularly take to the slopes each year. As skiers look for increasingly affordable options, we hear much about the potential for cheap skiing in Eastern European markets such as Bulgaria and Slovakia where low-cost airlines ease the financial burden. Yet Canada, too, boasts low-cost airlines and routes to the UK are constantly expanding. This year Zoom Airlines ( massively expanded its destination base. It now flies from the UK and Ireland to locations across British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, with prices from around £389 return.

Journey times vary considerably, ranging from five to nine hours, whether you opt for eastern or western provinces. Agents and developers are predictably biased according to their developments' locations. John Prior of Undiscovered Properties points out that Canada has far more to offer than just its famous resorts, such as Whistler in the west: "It is also home to a handful of affordable gems which are gaining significant ground, such as Mont Tremblant in Quebec." Here, at Eagles Ridge, the company are selling traditional log homes built upon 1.5-acre plots, surrounded by five lakes giving the development year-round appeal. Fifteen minutes from Mont Tremblant itself, a route through the National Park takes you to the heart of the ski resort on the south side of the mountain. Prices start at £280,000.

In Muskoka, a province of Ontario, Red Leaves is a 566-hectare resort on the shores of Lake Rosseau in the town of Minett. The resort includes a golf course as well as nature trails and a village which boasts JW Marriott's first hotel in Canada, The Rosseau. As well as skiing, the area enjoys the kind of abundant snowfall that lends itself to a wide range of winter activities as well as downhill skiing. Studios start from £143,000 and will form part of a rental pool operated by Marriott.

It takes up to nine hours from the UK to western Canada but buyers here should benefit from price growth and rental income when Vancouver hosts the winter Olympics, says Adam Godwin of Dream Homes Worldwide: "Property prices in British Columbia are rising fast, with the nearby cities of Calgary and Edmonton seeing apartments rise in value by 38.9 per cent and 72.1 per cent respectively from 2006 to 2007."

The company is selling two developments here including high specification three-bedroom apartments being sold off plan at Copper Kettle Lodge which start from £292,400. For buyers who want a property they can use this season, one-bedroom apartments at Aspens phase III start from £142,400.

Nestling in the heart of British Columbia's Rocky Mountains, Fernie has a range of charms on and off the mountain, it is here that PURE International has just launched 901 Fernie, a multi-million-pound transformation of a 1908 school and grounds in the city's historic downtown area. The development is made up of 44, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses ranging from £195,000 to £808,000. The city enjoys views of Mounts Proctor, Fernie and Trinity.

Capital appreciation in Fernie rose by 15 per cent annually from 1993 to 2005 and PURE's managing director Sean Collins expects further hikes and strong interest from British buyers. "With North America forming a significant portion of our business, we have always seen Fernie as an excellent opportunity for UK investors and have just been waiting for the right project. I strongly believe Fernie now joins Tremblant when comparing its four season appeal to the UK market."

Undiscovered Properties: 0870 7347968;

Assetz International: 0845 400 6000;

Dream Homes Worldwide: Freephone 08000 193 847

Red Leaves: 00 1 866 764 6388;

Pure International: 020- 7331 4500;