Ski property: Canada

Low prices, large homes and a long ski season make Canada the smart choice if you're looking for property, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

Owning a ski property for most Britons means looking at the Alps or possibly Bulgaria, but there is one classic location that is fast becoming a new favourite with buyers: Canada.

The country has a string of high quality, award-winning resorts such as Whistler and Mont Tremblant, with properties ranging from ski apartments at about £70,000 to luxury chalets hitting seven figures. Other resorts such as Banff and Jasper are in large national parks, so skiers share the area with the wildlife of the Rockies. And because of Canada's top-class road system, most resorts are usually no more than two hours' drive away from a town.

The Canadian ski season lasts from November until June (longer still in Whistler, where it is usual to ski through the summer months) so it is much longer than the European equivalent, and several resorts have snow-making equipment to ensure year-round activities.

Chartered airlines such as Canadian Affair, Zoom and Air Transat are now offering low-cost flights to major hubs such as Vancouver and Calgary - sometimes for just £70 one-way - so the Canadian ski resorts are fast opening up to the British market.

With lower property prices than in the French Alps in particular, longer seasons and larger ski homes than almost anywhere in Europe - therefore accommodating more people - Canadian properties are a sharp investment, too, for those who want to combine a holiday home with earning an income.

"House price growth in Canada hit 11.2 per cent at the end of 2006, creating strong prospective capital gains as well as a burgeoning rental market as Canadian ski resorts become more accessible to European tourists," says Martin Sadler of Assetz Canada, a ski property estate agency and finance consultancy.

Canada has an interest base rate of 6 per cent and with mortgages available at 0.85 per cent or more below this rate, investors can expect rates as low as 5.15 per cent. Even as a non-resident of Canada, mortgages are available for at least 65 per cent of the purchase price of a property.

"The number of people going to Canada to ski has consistently increased over the past decade. Canada is a stable country with a great standard of living. Buyers are investing because in just a few more hours than a European flight, they can be at their own large log home purchased for the same price as an apartment in the Alps," says Sean Collins, managing director of Pure International, a UK estate agent selling ski homes around the world.

"Snow is guaranteed, the standard of skiing is high and the number of other snow and year-round sports available is just vast," he says.

To prove the point, one of Canada's most popular ski destinations, Mont Tremblant - voted the number one ski resort in the eastern region of North America for eight years by the US's Ski Magazine - has 100km of cross-country ski trails, a frozen cliff face for ice climbing, an 18-acre snow park with ramps, modules, jumps and a 130-metre long and six metre high half-pipe for extreme sports fans.

For ski purists the resort, which is about 90 minutes by car north of Montreal, boasts 94 marked downhill trails, 13 ski lifts and 13 chairlifts and gondolas shifting over 27,000 skiers per hour at peak times.

Mt Tremblant has expanded vastly over the years - tourist numbers have grown from 700,000 in 1996 to 2.5 million in 2006 - and there are now several new property schemes being built and marketed simultaneously.

Lesa River de Sanctuire has three-bedroom semi-detached properties with 1,200sq ft of interior space starting at £160,000 and going up to £185,000, while larger units with 2,160-sq ft go for up to £500,000, all with local golf club membership thrown in. Close by is Blueberry Lake, where £204,000 will get you a 1,250-square foot three-bedroom house and £365,000 buys a 2,950 sq ft five-bedroom property. Both have 7 per cent net rental guarantees for a year, too, through Pure International.

If you feel more adventurous you can buy a plot of land at Lac Desmarais on the Mt Tremblant resort - close to a property owned by Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas - and then build your own home. Some 1.5-acre plots have lakeside views, too, although these will be well above the base price of just £167,000 (again through Pure International).

If you are looking for a lower priced Canadian ski investment property, there is a more European-style complex of dense apartments at Fernie Grande in British Columbia, with prices starting from just £67,000 for a 400 sq ft studio including a furniture package, through Assetz Canada. Your property is automatically part of a scheme-wide rental pool. You may use it personally as little or as much as you wish. On the remaining days, your rental return is based on a proportion of the rent income for the rest of the scheme.

But although most Canadian ski resorts are well-regarded, there are some complaints about others mainly because of their size. Ski resorts in Canada are measured in their thousands of homes, because of the sheer size of the landscape and the potential for building. But occasionally developers find resistance from buyers.

The huge Three Sisters Mountain Village, 90 minutes from Calgary, for example, is beginning to sell the first phases of 4,000 new flats and houses in what will be Canada's second-largest scheme after Whistler. But some visitors say the properties built so far are too dense and are simply too close together.

In some cases the ski infrastructure is too small to support the massive number of skiers - at Mt Tremblant, for example, 40-minute waits by ski lifts are not unusual at peak season, which north American skiers in particular regard as too long.

But these are minor quibbles in what is broadly regarded as a keenly priced market with good returns for investors as well as consistently excellent skiing for enthusiasts.

With European resorts increasingly expensive to buy into, and this year's snow disappointing, things may well be looking up for Canada's ski developers.

Savills: 020-7016 3740

Pure Internationa: 020-7331 4500

Assetz Canada: 0845 430 0020