Why buy a ski property when most of us who ski only do so once or twice a year?
Ski property has been growing rapidly in popularity over the last few years, and one reason is that it can be difficult to book in the best resorts during peak weeks such as February half-term, and is likely to cost you an arm and a leg. A ski apartment, moreover, is one property that might really prove a good investment: you can get very good rental rates during the ski season, and prices in good locations in the Alps have generally risen faster than comparable rural or seaside properties for the simple reason that supply is limited, and further development is constrained. By buying your own place on the pistes you can pick the weeks you want at the resort you like – and make a decent return by letting it when you're not there.
The French Alps are overwhelmingly the most popular location for Brits to buy. Switzerland is also popular, and can be better value, though you can only buy in certain cantons; and Austria and Italy are both being seen as value for money alternatives. It's possible to buy in the Pyrenees, though few do, and the biggest growth in recent years has been in Bulgaria at the resorts of Bankso, Pamporovo and Borovets where big investment to improve infrastructure is taking place. Further afield Canada guarantees good snow and you get more property and higher spec. for your money.
Most people opt for an apartment in a purpose-built development in a ski resort. Ski apartments are notoriously compact, as the idea is to keep the costs down and maximize your time on the slopes. So a studio typically sleeps two, a one-bed sleeps four, and so on. Apart-hotels are a particularly good option, as there is strong lettings management on-site.
Don't expect a big kitchen or a garden. You can pick up a ski apartment (refurbished developments are a good option) for well under €100,000 outside the more fashionable resorts. At the other end of the scale, a fully-fledged chalet somewhere such as Courchevel or Meribel could cost you a few million pounds.
The first issue to consider is access; some resorts in the French Alps are more than three hours from the main airport, Geneva, which is a big turn-off for many visitors. Secondly look at the snow record of the resort. The higher the altitude the better; anything above 2,000 metres should be pretty dependable. Proximity to the nearest ski lift is also important, as is the total ski area you can connect to. Tip: look out for resorts where big infrastructure investment is planned; or less fashionable towns and villages which are connected to a big ski area.
"Ski in, ski out" means you can ski straight from your property, without having to trudge through snow or take a bus. Ski lockers for stowing wet equipment are a big plus. And extra facilities on hand such as heated pools, Jacuzzis™ and spas are increasingly a feature of upmarket developments. Finally, find out if there is much to do in summer, and if the area attracts many visitors. A 'four seasons' resort is a much more attractive proposition in every sense than one where the beds are 'cold' for most of the year.
Alexander Garrett is a freelance property writer who contributes regularly to The Observer and British Airways' Business Life.
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