Ski properties: Buying off-piste

You can find ski properties at affordable prices – if you head away from the big resorts, says Laura Latham

Anyone who's watched resorts such as Aspen and Courcheval become playgrounds for the wealthy might think ski property is out of their reach. However, away from the most popular destinations, you'll find homes that are still affordable in more authentic surroundings.

Take Chamonix, in France, for example. More than 435 miles of pistes and high-altitude skiing has made the town sought after and property prices have soared. Ten miles away, however, is Vallorcine, a little-known village that is about to become very big.

Having identified a need for smaller, family-orientated ski destinations, the local council recently installed the first lift linking the pretty village to the expansive pistes of the Mont Blanc domaine. It then invited select developers to create high quality residential projects. Patrick Remme was one of those approached and his apartment complex, L'Ours Blue, is about to complete, with phase two launching soon.

Two-bedroom luxury apartments start from £232,000 and are larger and of higher spec than traditional French ski properties. "We designed the apartments to suit the village ambience," says Remme. "Everything is done on a scale that will allow the resort to function without damaging its rural charm."

The same can be said of Valtournenche, at the foot of the Matterhorn in Italy's Aosta Valley. The resort has retained much of its appeal and is close to Cervinia, a better-known purpose-built resort with access to over 185 miles of pistes.

"Valtourneche is a pretty village with ski runs directly joining the main pistes between Cervinia and Zermatt," says Italian property specialist Gemma Knowles. "It's also much nicer than Cervinia, which isn't that attractive."

Because the village isn't large or well known, properties aren't easy to find. However, Knowles has some small-scale new and renovation projects, with prices starting at around £150,000.

Another option is Aosta, an attractive town 20 minutes from Cervinia and Courmayer, with cable car access to the smaller ski area of Pila, which has around 40 miles of pistes. Here it's possible to pick up nice apartments from around £130,000. "Aosta is a lovely town," says Knowles. "It's a good alternative if you want somewhere with nice shops and culture that has easy access to skiing."

Authenticity is also the reason Breckenridge, a former mining town in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, is gaining fans. It's not as glitzy as neighbouring Aspen and Vail, which attract plenty of celebrities happy to pay several million for second homes. As a result, it's possible to find two-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom cabins from around £150,000, with higher specification developments from around £300,000. "Breckenridge is one of the highest resorts in the world and is snow sure, plus within a 30-mile radius you have the entire Vail Valley ski area," says John Black of Robson Barnes. "The benefit of Breckenridge over other resorts is that it has retained its traditional feel and community, yet prices aren't on the same scale as Vail and Aspen."

Robson Barnes: 020-7801 2900, www.robsonbarnes.com

GK Italian Property: 020-7993 2967, www.italianskiproperty.com

Erna Low: 020-7590 1624, www.ernalowproperty.co.uk

Ski chalets: Buyer's guide

* French ski property is often sold via the government-endorsed leaseback system, which offers tax breaks and guaranteed rental income.

* Ski resorts above 1800m are considered snow sure, which means they generally get snow each winter.

* For better rental prospects look for resorts that offer glacier skiing through summer and also have good walking and cycling trails.

* Purpose-built resorts may have better piste access but are often deserted out of season, unlike traditional communities.

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