Summertime on the slopes

Global warming is a threat to resorts. Graham Norwood discovers what happens when the snow melts
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The Independent Online

Buy a home in a ski resort? In the mountains? In May? Are you mad? In years gone by such comments would have been justified. But these days a ski lodge can be a solid year-round second home, and all thanks to global warming.

Buy a home in a ski resort? In the mountains? In May? Are you mad? In years gone by such comments would have been justified. But these days a ski lodge can be a solid year-round second home, and all thanks to global warming.

Climate change means developers cannot guarantee long ski-seasons, especially in European resorts built below about 2,000m. Most resorts are, therefore, attempting to become year-round sports centres to ensure a good return for owners who rely on income from holiday lets.

Ski areas are now enjoying "summer seasons" for the first time and developers - never slow to miss a new opportunity - are marketing mountain homes at energetic sun lovers as well as die-hard ski-types.

Fabienne Beauquis, of the French developer MGM, sells homes in the Alps at Morillon, near the Swiss-French border. The resort is 1,000m above sea level and has suffered snow shortages. "Now there's climbing, walking and biking on the hills as well as ski-ing," she says. At the start of a ski season we sometimes even import snow to provide practice runs if there hasn't been a natural snowfall," she admits.

This is a far cry from the 1990s when Morillon was open just four months a year and dominated by individual chalet owners, who mostly did not let out their properties. Locals say the area resembled a ghost town in summer. But by 2000 the council had created year-round well-marked alpine walks, a lake for fishing and boating, transport links and shops that opened in spring and summer as well as during the ski season. New chalets and apartments are now being built at Morillon mainly for purchase on a sale and leaseback basis (from €200,000, £136,000 MGM 0033 671 101 890), which means the resort rents them out and owners get a guaranteed annual rent.

Following the same trend is the Portes du Soleil area, which is about one hour's drive from Geneva.

Not only are there 650km of ski pistes, but the region boasts the world's longest mountain biking tracks plus 800km of mountain walks. There are also ice-rinks, swimming pools and golf courses which can be enjoyed by summer visitors.

New homes are for sale in Mont Chery village, near Morzine, at 1,450m, with views to Mont Blanc. It is what the developer Bekenn & Weston calls "a dual season resort", with access to all summer and ski sports facilities (properties from €313,000 to €1.5m from Savills, 020 7824 9030). Not far away at Anzère, Le Jardin des Alpes, are apartments on sale from Swiss francs 470,000 (£208,000 to SwFr1.12m (Knight Frank, 020 7629 8171). They are close to slopes, snowshoe trails and snowboarding but the real draw is the list of summer sports. Buyers can enjoy 35km of trekking, 166km of hiking paths, five mountain bike tracks, three fishing ponds, tennis courts and a golf course.

Les Arcs, one of the Alps' largest resorts, was also one of the first to exploit year-round activities thanks to its US owners Intrawest, which started this trend in North American mountains in the late 1990s. The final two phases of Arc 1950 go on sale this month at £130,000 to £650,000 (Savills, 020 7730 0822).

At the cheaper end of the market there are apartments from €110,000 at Chamrousse, near Grenoble, in a 1,700m resort that now offers para-gliding and a casino amongst its summer attractions (from Assetz, 0161 456 5000).

Daniel Hatton, a Manchester lawyer, has owned a traditional hillside chalet near Chamonix since 1992 and now lets it for about 12 weeks each summer through the local tourist bureau, even though it is not in one of the formal resorts that proliferate in the area. "We thought we'd use it several times a year but actually we only have a month here each New Year. We didn't think of renting it out until it was obvious the local resorts were turning themselves into permanent tourist locations. Now we have plenty of non-ski tenants each summer," he says.

These days one unexpected issue for buyers at resorts in the Alps is that most new homes that win planning permission are flats, whether they are in extensions to older resorts or in brand new schemes.

This is because, mirroring British planning since the late 1990s, the French and some Swiss local authorities favour high-density schemes in specific mountain locations and exert a near-ban on new building elsewhere. This helps meet the high demand for homes without space-greedy chalets cropping up in areas of outstanding beauty. "Chalets can still be found in older resorts operating for one season only from December until May. But if you want a new home in an area with sophisticated infrastructures and year-round activity you will probably end up with an apartment," according to Marie-Agnes Gaden of MGM.

She works at the newly-enlarged Sainte Foy en Tarentaise resort, close to Val-d'Isere, Courchevel and Meribel - all locations, until recently, synonymous with ski-ing. But even these iconic winter resorts are building summer attractions and their mountain homes are becoming summer havens.

Off piste

Summer sports in ski resorts typically include:
para-gliding; microlite-flying; climbing; mountain biking; hill-walking; fishing; rough-ride equestrianism; golf; thermal spas.