House Hunter: Which ski resort is a sound investment?

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Mark Walker writes: "I have a small, mostly UK-based property portfolio, and am keen to add to it. I've bought most of my properties as an investment, apart from an apartment on a Portuguese golfing development, where I go each summer. But I would like to buy somewhere to spend time in winter, as I'm a keen skier. Ideally I would like to buy into a year-round resort.

"I've been thinking about buying in the French Alps, but am slightly concerned that buying a ski chalet may not be a good investment, as the season there can be quite short. I'm also aware that the Alps have crept up in price substantially over recent years and I'm wondering if this is still the best place to invest.

"I have recently heard of a few developments in the US and Canada, where I know the skiing can be excellent, but wonder if buying there would be limited in terms of a rental market. Are people more prepared to travel that extra distance for their skiing holidays?

"Ideally, I would like somewhere that is large enough to take friends and family, and really want to get away from the poky studio apartments that I've often rented myself. I like the idea of a bit more luxury and would prefer some other facilities nearby to please the non-skiers who are invariably in my party. But one of my prime concerns is, as well as buying somewhere that I'll enjoy using myself, to ensure that it will also be a sound addition to my investments."

THE ADVICE

"We've seen a huge surge in buyers like Mark who want both a ski chalet and a good investment, and there is a range of current developments that may appeal. In Europe we are selling Arc 1950, in the French Alps, mostly to buyers who are drawn to the skiing but who are also very much investment buyers who want to see a good return or who want to pass it on to their children.

"In Canada and the US, we also have a number of other ski developments such as Aspen, Whistler and Tremblant. Aspen is very much the top end and this development appeals to the more adventurous buyer, particularly those who have American connections. All of these developments are good investments whatever the length of ski season, as you buy the freehold and then the properties go into the leaseback system, so you have a guaranteed return.

"In France, the summer season is short, about four to six weeks, but Aspen and Whistler are very much four-season resorts. Tremblant is just as lovely in the summer as in winter and a lot of activity centres around the lakes there.

"Like Mark, buyers as consumers are now much more demanding. It's not like the Eighties when we were all happy just to be able to ski and didn't mind about sharing small studio apartments. Now, size really does matter and people expect huge power-showers, space and light, and all the trimmings in the kitchen.

"All of these developments have things such as nice big balconies and en-suite bathrooms. People like the idea of a concierge greeting them on their arrival and being able to order in pizzas, just as you would in a hotel. There are also many extra amenities on site such as swimming pools and saunas, as well as entertainment, including wine-tasting and children's activities. You don't have to take part, but it's there if you want it.

"One important thing for Mark and others to bear in mind in terms of investing in a ski apartment is that you must always make sure to buy in a resort that is over 1,800 metres high. You must think about your investment over the next 10 or 20 years and, because of global warming, many lower-level resorts may suffer from lack of snow. All of these developments are at the highest levels - which is very important in terms of investment."

Joanna Yellowlees-Bound is the director of Erna Low: 020-7590 1624; property@ernalow.co.uk; www.ernalowproperty.co.uk.

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Tremblant Les Eaux, Mont Tremblant, Canada.

Price: About £155,695 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Agent's details: Voted "number-one ski resort in eastern North America" for the past seven years, Tremblant is increasingly popular with British skiers/buyers, with airlines now offering direct flights to Montreal. A variety of properties is available, including one-, two- and three-bedroom properties, set against a mountain backdrop with views of ski trails and forest.

Property two: At Nature's Door, Whistler, Canada.

Price: From £135,000 for a five-week "chapter".

Agent's details: In one of the most exclusive areas in Whistler, this development consists of 22 ski-in/-out homes alongside the World Cup Dave Murray Downhill. Each property has mountain views and comes fully furnished with wooden floors, modern kitchens, media room and en-suite bathrooms, as well as a private hot tub. There is an owners' lodge complete with private spa, guest suites, fitness room, steam room, sauna, massage rooms, cinema and children's playroom. Outdoors there are spa pools, a slope-side swimming pool and sundeck. At Nature's Door is being sold in "chapters", entitling owners to a minimum of five weeks' use, including two weeks during the ski season, two weeks of summer use, plus an additional week during either season.

Property three: Arc 1950, near Les Arcs, French Alps.

Price: Studio apartments from £150,000.

Agent's details: Launching in spring, this final phase of apartments includes a range of properties from studios to four-bedroom apartments, and the village will also have many on-site facilities such as restaurants and shops. Buyers have ski access to the Paradiski domain, which is one of the largest skiing areas in the world and has 400km of runs as well as two glaciers.

THE VERDICT

"I'm really impressed by the sound of these developments and Joanna's advice about buying in a high resort is spot-on. They all appear to have top-notch amenities, which will definitely help rent them out, and the leaseback system appears to have good investment potential.

"People these days do seem prepared to travel much farther for holidays, so I'm hoping that destinations such as Canada and the US will become even more popular. France is certainly accessible but the prices in Canada and the US are particularly attractive at the moment. I find the idea of buying a part-share in a property interesting, as you could end up owning something far more luxurious and special than you'd ordinarily be able to afford. I'd like to know more about that."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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