Skiing USA: why Vermont's resorts are so big on value

Wide open spaces and enormous homes put Killington in a different world to Alpine skiing resorts. Now the exchange rate has brought prices down to size. Robert Liebman reports
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The Independent Online

Rural America doesn't do small or dumpy. In the ski resort of Killington, in the New England state of Vermont, that means seven mountain areas with 200 trails covering 87 miles. The trails are serviced by 33 lifts, including three heated gondolas - a gratifying lift-per-person ratio by Alpine standards.

The scale extends to the flats and houses. Spacious homes on large plots are the norm here. And with a strong pound and a property market steadily moving in the buyers' favour, these properties represent excellent value.

"Killington's mountains are not as high as those in Europe," says Walter Findeisen, of the estate agency ERA. "But Killington has lots of challenging vertical drops, and one of the really nice features is that beginners and intermediates are not stuck at the bottom of the mountain.

"There are beginner trails at the peak, and all of the connecting trails are OK for them too. And British skiers love it here because we don't have long queues."

Another plus is Killington's massive snowmaking capacity. The area averages some 250 inches of snowfall annually, and should nature need help, 1,850 snowguns strut their stuff. They can cover more than half the skiing terrain (752 of the 1,215 acres), giving Killington more skiable area than many other ski resorts in the Eastern US have in total.

Après-ski pampering opportunities are abundant. Killington's 100 bars and restaurants, and fashion boutiques and retail outlets are located in nearby Woodstock and Manchester.

Dog sledding, snowshoeing, and other winter activities are also available; and golf, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and hunting - and in autumn, the spectacular foliage - keep visitors amused when the weather warms.

As Vermont is a four-season state, many properties in this ski-dominated area have an outdoor swimming pool (or hot tub) or tennis court and are near, if not on, a golf course. The property mix includes fractional-ownership flats as well as single-family homes and flats (aka condos or townhouses).

Most British buyers prefer a flat, a "turnkey operation" that they can lock up and leave with minimal if any worry about security and maintenance. Killington's flats tend to be located in three- to five-storey blocks built with sharing "vacationers" in mind and bathrooms to spare.

A new flat in a block known as Sunrise Village is typical. It has three baths as well as three bedrooms, enjoys a convenient ski in/ski out location, is roomy (1,600 square feet), and costs £290,000. Common fees of £100 per year include maintenance of the tennis court.

A two-bed two-bath 924 square feet flat in Mountain Green Resort costs only £105,000 but fees are £400, not including health club membership, which costs an additional £500. Freehold houses are also temptingly priced.

A 4,500 square feet pile with four bedrooms (the "fourth" bedroom is a hefty 29x15ft, and the master bedroom has a room-sized walk-in closet), five bathrooms and nearly a half acre of land is £1m unfurnished and another £125,000 for the furniture.

A similarly large (4,200 square feet, three bedrooms, three baths) house is considerably cheaper at £590,000, despite a three-and-a-half acre plot. For property tinkerers or investors, an unusual six-bed six-bath family home was built as two semis and later combined.

It is within walking distance of the area's restaurants and nightclubs, and it can easily be converted back into two units. The £500,000 price tag includes "most furnishings".

Even houses well down the pecking order provide plenty of elbow-room. A 1,768 square feet three-bed, two-bath, one-sauna family home on one acre is listed at £185,000. Owned by only one family since it was built in 1984, it is convenient for golf and canoeing as well as the ski slopes.

The resort's own Killington Grand Hotel offers deeded fractional ownership, with quarter-share owners entitled to 13 weeks occupancy per year, which they can use, let or trade - with other Killington owners and at the same company's hotels in other locations. A one-bed unit sleeping six costs £105,000, and larger flats and penthouses - which sleep 10 or more people - are also available. Located within the resort itself, it is the ultimate ski in/ski out location, and many hotel amenities are free.

Vermont's autumn foliage is nothing short of spectacular, spring is pleasant (though muddy when the snow melts), and summer heat and humidity are moderate rather than lethal.

But good off-season rental returns are not guaranteed. "We are primarily a ski area," emphasises estate agent Findeisen. "The biggest influx of tourists is during the winter, and the other seasons are a lot quieter and slower. But the ski period does last for six months."

Buyer's guide

* Killington's nearest major international airports are in Boston, Montreal and New York, all of which involve a long car drive.

* There are non-stop daily flights from Boston to Rutland State Airport, 22 miles from Killington.

* ERA Mountain Real Estate, 001-802 775 0340.

* Killington Resort, 001-802 422 6200.

* Ski Country Real Estate, 001-802 775 5111.