U.S. West Ski Homes Continue to See Steady Investment
Stake your claim where snow and sky unite
With its bluebird days, powdery trails, and miles of terrain to cover, the West Coast of the United States is a skier’s paradise.
Home to arguably the most beautiful and best quality ski resorts in America, it's no wonder the region is a sought-after haven for ski homes. “Aside from the obvious—some of the best skiing in the world—many of the locations [out west] are somewhat intimate so you can get to know the area and the people,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraising firm in New York, who compiles a market report for Aspen.
“Buyers are attracted to the combination of high-quality skiing, year-round use, and active downtown areas,” Mr. Miller said.
“Ski towns have a lot of appeal, especially to people who enjoy the outdoorsy nature, scenic views, and easy access to plenty of winter activities,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow.
“Inventory is tight in most of these cities, as is the case across the country, but home values and prices really depend on where someone is looking,” Ms. Gudell said. “In Vail, for example, homes are still appreciating at nearly double the national rate of 6.9%t, but in South Lake Tahoe, home value appreciation has slowed over the past few months to 4.3% annually. We have also found that higher-end homes are often more available than lower-end homes, which can bode well for these markets.”
According to Douglas Elliman’s second quarter report on Aspen sales, which Mr. Miller authored and believes is representative of the market as a whole for ski destinations on the West Coast, the median home sale price was $2.6 million. “However, there tends to be a lot of volatility in year-over-year trends, so the average price per square foot, $1,391, is a better indicator of market trends.”
And according to a Knight Frank Ski Property Report, out earlier this week, Aspen’s market is back, after a slowdown in 2016. “Aspen and Vail have seen sales and prices shift upwards in 2017 with the luxury end of the market performing strongly in year-on-year terms,” according to the report. Colorado has the strongest international appeal of all the U.S. resorts, overall, the report said, and there were 26 sales priced above $2,000 per square foot in the first eight months of 2017, compared with 13 during the whole of 2016.
If you’re looking to dip your boots in some stellar snow and stay awhile, here’s an insider’s guide, from top area real estate agents and experts, to some of the most popular ski destinations in the region.
An alpine paradise where water, ski, and snow collide in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Straddling both Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe and its blue waters and snow-capped skyline not only showcases one of the most spectacular scenic vistas in the U.S., it also has the highest concentration of ski areas in the country, said Brit Crezee, director of marketing at Sierra Sotheby's International Realty.
Naturally, the area is a draw for bold-faced names (Since the 1950s, it’s been a popular playground for Hollywood elite like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, and the Rat Pack.)
“The lure for celebrities in Lake Tahoe is a sense of privacy and the ability to blend in as locals,” Ms. Creeze said. “During a visit to the area it would be no surprise to run into some of the world’s most well-recognized winter athletes such as Tamara McKinney, Daron Rahlves, Jeremy Jones, and Jonny Moseley. Metallica frontman James Hetfield, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Sammy Hagar are just a few noteworthy musicians who hang their hats at the Lake,” Ms. Crezee said.
“The mantra is that the winters bring you to Tahoe but the summers make you stay forever. It’s a hard place to leave once you’ve experienced all the lakes, mountains, and surrounding rivers have to offer,” she said.
“The allure of Tahoe begins with the number of world-class ski areas we have in the region: Squaw Valley, Northstar, Heavenly and Sugar Bowl. However, the secret of Lake Tahoe is, in fact, its summers,” said Jeff Hamilton of Sierra Sotheby's International Realty, who is also an Olympic medalist and a four-time speed skiing world champion. “Families who buy ski homes end up spending more time here in the summer and call their home a ‘mountain home.’”
The epicenter of Lake Tahoe is Truckee, an old railroad town along the Transcontinental Railway. The nostalgic downtown area showcases eclectic shopping featuring local artists, hipster cafes and fine dining.
A major draw for visitors and homeowners alike is the proximity to the Reno Tahoe International Airport, which is less than an hour from most of the resort communities. “Located just minutes from downtown Truckee, the Truckee Tahoe Airport is another option for those who prefer to travel by private plane or jet services,” Ms. Crezee said.
“Because of its proximity (three hours by car), the San Francisco Bay area is Lake Tahoe’s top buyer feeder market. However, as the Reno Tahoe International Airport services more and more direct flights from places like Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York, the buyer pool is expanding,” Ms. Crezee said. “As nearby Reno continues to earn a reputation as “the next Silicon Valley” with companies like Google, Tesla, and Switch moving to town, an influx of California buyers are crossing the state line, “ Ms. Crezee said.
“Historically, being on the Lake and having ski-on, ski-off access has been the most sought-after location,” Mr. Hamilton said. “In the last 10 years, though, Martis Camp, located near the heart of downtown Truckee and situated at the base of Northstar Resort, as well as other gated communities with luxury amenities, has given homebuyers another excellent option.”
According to Ms. Crezee, buyers “want to disconnect from a fast-paced, day-to-day tech world and unplug while celebrating nature and family time. But, they still want convenient access to the ski slopes, hiking and biking trails, beaches, fishing, and all the great outdoor recreation that Lake Tahoe offers.” For example, the snowbound Village at Sugar Bowl affords a unique experience in the winter where owners are transported to their homes via Gondola and then shuttled right to their doorstep by heated snowcat. The village streets become groomed cross-country ski trails and walking paths. “There are no cars and no cares while the kids play outside until dusk,” Ms. Creeze said. In the summer, owners enjoy access to a private lake.
Some buyers appreciate the convenience of not having to take care of their mountain home in the winter while others prefer the space, freedom, and privacy that a free-standing home allows. “There’s a condo experience for every price point ranging from five-star living at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe to brand new lakefront townhomes, to more vintage condos,” Ms. Crezee said.
Buyers can enter the Lake Tahoe market for roughly $300,000. Lakefront homes start around $5 million. Homes in Martis Camp start at around $1,100 per square foot. The South Shore is still considered to be somewhat of a value while the North Shore proves to be a more aggressive market. Price and demand are largely driven by proximity to the Lake, ski resorts and golf courses, and amenity-rich communities.
On The Market
Location: Lake Tahoe
Price: $14.5 million
Known as Summertide estate, this 2,518-square-foot log home, once owned by Howard Hughes, has five bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms. It overlooks Crystal Bay.
Location: Truckee, California
Price: $1.395 million
Located at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe Constellation this 1,950-square-foot condo has three bedroom and three-and-a-half bathrooms. It offers ski-on ski-off access and all of the amenities at the hotel, including a ski concierge.
European luxury meets rustic charm in the Colorado Rockies
One of the largest ski resorts in the world, with more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain, Vail boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. The picturesque Bavarian Village provides residents with a blend of European and American cultures, as well as an endless array of year-round activities.
Vail was once a peaceful home for sheep ranchers until 1939, when construction began on Highway 6, running from Denver through the Gore Valley. By fall 1966, the Town of Vail was incorporated and the first gondola in the United States, along with two double chairlifts and a beginner poma lift serving six square miles of terrain, said Barbara Scrivens of LIV Sotheby's International Realty. “By the mid-1970s, discriminating skiers had discovered Vail and the town earned the reputation as one of Colorado's best ski areas,” she said. When Gerald Ford, who owned a house in Vail, became President of the United States in 1974, the ski town made front-page news. Vail was soon recognized worldwide as a ski resort, Ms. Scrivens said.
Today, Vail is prized for its vibrant European-style, pedestrian village with heated cobblestone streets filled with world-class restaurants, boutiques, galleries and amenities. There are year-round events and concerts in the village and family-friendly options abound even outside of skiing, with ice skating rinks, a theater and bowling….not to mention plenty of cafes and sweet shops all within a few minutes’ walk, Ms. Scrivens said. It’s located just 30 minutes from Eagle County Airport and two hours from Denver International Airport.
“Vail is more of a lifestyle than a destination,” Ms. Scrivens said. “While coveted as one of the largest ski mountains in the world, it still offers a small-town feel where everyone knows your name.”
The town has been home to a host of presidents, dignitaries, and celebrities throughout its tenure. “While many resorts delight in publicizing their internationally known personalities, our town prefers privacy and anonymity,” Ms. Scrivens said. “It is a sanctuary of sorts, where those easily recognized cherish their discretion and autonomy,” she said.
The luxury market throughout the Vail Valley (Vail, Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch, etc.) has seen continued market growth during 2017, Ms. Scrivens said. The number of properties over $1 million sold in Q1 and Q2 was up 22% from the previous year. and two of the largest sales in Vail’s history—one at $23 million and one at $28.7 million—were recorded in 2017.
“Buyers are looking for turn-key properties that are either new or recently renovated and are willing to pay premium prices for them,” Ms. Scrivens said. “Time is a valuable commodity to our clients, and most do not want to undertake the remodel that properties built 30-plus years ago require,” she said. “We are also seeing a trend towards more manageable size homes versus the sprawling estates that were in demand several years ago.”
The most sought-after places to live are the homes situated right on Vail Mountain. Rockledge Road, Beaver Dam Road, Forest Road, and Mill Creek Circle are close to the village yet have the privacy of a neighborhood and easy skiing access, Ms. Scrivens said.
The average price of a home on Vail Mountain is $2,800 per square foot, while the average price of a property within the Town of Vail, but outside of the immediate resort area, is just over $800 per square foot.
On The Market
Location: Vail, Colorado
Price: $9.75 million
Nestled right on Vail mountain, this 3,575-square-foot penthouse has direct access to the slopes and membership to Gold Peak Passport Club.
Location: Edwards, Colorado
Price: 19.5 million
Tucked in the verdant Vail Valley, this 16,599 square feet Tuscan-style villa has eight bedrooms and nine-and-a-half bathrooms. Amenities include a tennis court, basketball courts, a home theater and a 1,200 bottle wine room.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Where the spirit of the Wild West and the adventure of the Great Outdoors come together
Recognized for its stunning natural beauty, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife, Jackson Hole offers over 2,500 acres of skiable terrain. It’s located in the heart of 2.7 million protected acres of unspoiled mountain ranges, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national parks, and rivers.
“With the ever-increasing demand for unique life experiences, people flock to Jackson Hole for its rugged yet refined lifestyle,” said Mack Mendenhall, associate broker at Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates/Christie’s International Real Estate. “Ownership in Jackson Hole is owning a piece of the Wild West with five-star amenities and world-class culture—not to mention the most favorable tax structures in the U.S.”
Jackson Hole is an authentic cowboy town named after fur trapper David “Davey” Jackson who traded in the region in the 1820s. The historic Town Square is still the focal point, framed on four corners with Elk Antler Arches.
“Primarily a hunting destination on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park in the 1940s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. began buying up the flatlands around the Grand Tetons to one day donate more than 30,000 acres back and create what is now known as Grand Teton National Park,” Mr. Mendenhall said. Ansel Adams famously photographed the region, and his “Snake River Overlook” photo from 1942 can still be replicated daily, Mr. Mendenhall said.
“The Town of Jackson is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting in the West: Weekly farmers’ markets with local produce on the famous Town Square, live music spilling out of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, and the captivating sound of footsteps as people shuffle across the historic wooden boardwalks that surround town,” Mr. Mendenhall said.
Adjacent to these historical icons, locals can find world-class art for sale—many times with an artist-in-residence—as well as top-of-the-line furnishings and rugs, and fly-fishing shops to stock up on gear. Four major airlines service the area, and a local airport is only nine miles from town. There are year-round community activities—from movie and art festivals, live music, marathons, sled dog races, and endless recreational activities. Restaurants abound, from fresh sushi to local game created by world-renowned chefs.
“Jackson Hole is a place many people come to ‘not be seen,’ Mr. Mendenhall said. Locals and celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock enjoy the humble anonymity of the community, he said.
“We are beginning to see a large shift in two directions: The first is generational family purchases, where parents pull investments out of a volatile stock market and invest in a hard asset that their kids—and grandkids—can use today and for years to come. We are also seeing a baby boomer demographic, focusing on low-maintenance condo living in downtown with walkability to all amenities,” Mr. Mendenhall said.
While buyers want brand new homes, they also want character and history. Whether built of reclaimed beams from Montana or hundred-year-old Italian stone, custom homes are the hot item in today’s market, Mr. Mendenhall said.
For most owners, Jackson Hole is the amenity—because of immediate access to trails, rivers, and mountains. “While we have homes with bowling alleys, pools, gun ranges, etcetera, the amenity here is access to the outdoors, private fishing, communities with naturalists on call, horse stables where owners can ride without the hassle of horse ownership, and more,” Mr. Mendenhall said.
The most sought after place to live is known as The West Bank: The West Bank of the Snake River is minutes from world-class skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and just steps from fly-fishing.
Slope-side homes generally start in the $10 million range, while mountain-style townhomes start at $5 million. Private condos near the famous Jackson Hole Aerial Tram start at $900,000, and single-family homes in the valley also average $900,000.
On The Market
Location: Wilson, Wyoming
Price: $7.5 million
This 4,616-square-foot mountain retreat is located in Wilderness Ranch and features five bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Location: Wilson, Wyoming
Price: $3.4 million
Featuring brand-new construction, this 4,286-square-foot home has four bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Park City, Utah
A quaint mountain retreat that’s equal parts culture and sport
Renowned for its pristine groomers, sweeping back bowls, and staggering Rocky Mountain vistas, Park City is a snowy playground with one of the most charming, lively, and walkable, alpine villages in the west. Thanks to the free bus system, skiing, shopping, and nightlife is just a short ride (or walk) away.
Discovered in the late 1860s, the area was a hub for silver mining in the west. After the first chairlift was installed in 1946, Park City became one of the most exclusive ski destinations in the U.S., even hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Today, Park City’s mountains are a part of Vail Resorts, and true skiers/ boarders can take advantage of the Epic Pass, which for one annual fee ($879 per adult; $459 per child) gives you unlimited access to the 15 domestic and 30 European partner resorts.
Located just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International airport, the region has two main ski resorts: Deer Valley, a skier-only mountain with an average of 300 inches of snow per year, and Park City Mountain Resort, which combined with nearby Canyons Resort, showcases 7,300 acres and more than 300 trails.
But Park City isn’t just about the snow. The town is a foodie’s paradise with over 200 restaurants, as well as luxury shopping and nightlife. It’s also replete with culture—theater, performing arts, and of course the annual Sundance Film Festival.
“Buyers are attracted to the healthy lifestyle, proximity to the airport, and low prices,” said realtor Chris O’Neill of Jess Reid/Christie’s International Real Estate in Park City. “Compared to other Rocky Mountain destinations, Park City prices represent great opportunity, especially in the over $2 million price point.”
“We are seeing buyers from our usual feeder markets—California, New York, Chicago, and Florida—with more and more coming from Texas and Mexico,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I attribute the increase to Vail's expanded presence in Utah skiing since Vail Corp purchased two ski resorts, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons resort here and combined them into the largest ski resort in the country.”
Buyer demographics remain mostly people 45 to 70, with a few younger families entering the vacation investment market. “We also see a lot of professionals in their 30s and 40s who travel for work and/or work from home and are relocating here from metropolitan areas around the country for a better quality of life,” Mr. O’Neill said
Celebrities who call Park City home include Michael Jordan, Will Smith and Cheech Marin.
New development is trending toward styles that are a bit homier than the very modern designs seen in 2015-16, Mr. O’Neill said. “Much of our inventory is older stock, so buyers need to envision a remodel to create the home of their dreams,” he said.
“The market is seeing stable appreciation while buyers begin to find opportunity in remodel projects. High-end development is also flourishing,” he said.
He also notes that many vacation/investment buyers are purchasing condos. “The amenities of the condo product drive strong rental revenue numbers helping to mitigate carry costs,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Second-home buyers are buying standalone homes that enjoy a more private setting and provide more room to entertain.”
While the most sought-after locale is Deer Valley with ski-on, ski-off access, where prices starting at $4 million, homes in town run about $1.4 million, while condos are available (studios to one-bedrooms) from $90,000 and up.
On The Market
Location: Park City, Utah
Price: $8.9 million
This six-bedroom, seven-and-a-half-bathroom in the gated neighborhood of Bald Mountain offers sweeping views of the Deer Valley.
Location: Deer Valley, Utah
Price: $3.15 million
Located in the St. Regis Deer Valley, this 1,964-square-foot, three bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom condo affords luxury resort-style living in Deer Valley.