It’s been the worst European season opening since 2011. Little snow, higher than usual temperatures resulting in the closure of resorts at lower altitude. If you’re thinking of buying an apartment or a chalet in the Alps, it’s a daft investment. Right? And if you already own one is it time to sell? So I’ve taken a trip to my French bolt-hole to make a decision.
First things first, the sun is out and some practical fact finding is required. “Don’t bee layzee,” my ski instructor barked. My approach to skiing has lazy written all over it, but I still love it. I ski fast as it involves fewer turns.
I chose an apartment rather than a chalet: it’s more convenient to lock up and leave. I don’t let it out, that’s a hassle. There’s no de-skiing, it’s ski out and ski in. And there’s a car park, handy for the rental car. I don’t want to take a bus up the mountain or use my legs to fetch the shopping. Perhaps laziness underlines our planet’s problems too?
Will people stop using their cars? Curtail travel for holidays? Refuse to buy unseasonal food in supermarkets that’s wrapped in more plastic than there are contents? Or resist any of the other things that literally fuel climate change?
Probably not. If we continue to abuse our planet, will global temperatures rise further, making snow less abundant? I’m not a scientist or meteorologist, but if the beginning of this European season was anything to go by, it could be the future.
Four years ago in this column I questioned whether I should sell my alpine investment. Covid hadn’t happened and the cost of living crisis was a figment of no one’s imagination. My concerns centred around running costs and my increasing girth causing issues squeezing into a seat on a low-cost airline. Despite the costs, I concluded that my apartment in the French Alps was a worthwhile cash outlay and a decent investment. Since writing, it’s probably risen another 20 per cent in value.
Some things have changed for the better. I have lost three stone. My new size helps considerably when squeezing into an airline seat. Even a middle one.
But what’s changed for the worse is the availability of cash. Not because I am earning less, but the government seems happy to take more, mortgage rates have doubled and energy prices have tripled.
However, this is my alpine home. I’ve owned my apartment for 23 years. Laziness keeps me here. I can’t be bothered to sell because of the huge amounts of paperwork involved. And I’d have to clear the place of years of accumulated stuff. Even the prospect of tidying a cupboard sends me into a tailspin.
Climate concern doesn’t tally with the findings of Knight Frank’s Ski Property Report 2023. Not only have markets been resilient, but overall their price index has increased by 5.8 per cent in the year to June 2022 with a range of resorts showing stronger growth. Is this really the end of a boom?
With increased opportunities for hybrid working, it really is possible to relocate to an alpine retreat while continuing to work. I’m here now, for example. Taking a few hours off here and there for an essential ski and tasty mountain lunch.
Some buyers want to buy a property to rent out. But many want it for their sole use. Personally, I don’t want people rifling through my drawers, soiling my carpet or snaffling chocolate that’s left in position for my next visit. Perhaps that’s where the market bifurcates?
Head of Savills Ski (what a job!), Jeremy Rollason, concludes that at the top end of the market, where cash is generally more prevalent and suitable properties rare, price increases are likely to continue into 2023. The report also sees a “flattening of the curve” in lower- to middle-priced sectors. Not because of climate change, but the cost of debt.
Many reports focus on international resorts, such as St Moritz (St High Glitz) in Switzerland or Val d’Isère (Val de Sloane Square) in France. But I’m not a fan of such places, or Courchevel. The influx of Russian money distorted the market. I prefer a domestically focused resort with altitude, not attitude.
This is why my family and subsequently I settled on the French resort of Alpe d’Huez, one of the country’s oldest and highest. The town is at 1,800 metres and its peak is at Pic Blanc at over 3,360 metres above sea level. If there’s no snow here, there’s unlikely to be any anywhere else. The restaurants are varied and affordable. The outdoor swimming pool is amazing. There’s a wide range of winter and summer sports and festivals. Oh and the shops have plenty more stuff I don’t need, available to buy.
Surely after 40-plus years of coming back to the same resort, I’m bored with the place? I’m fortunate enough to have been to all the big resorts and some of the smaller ones too. And while I like to visit, those trips only reinforce that I like returning to the same place.
Laziness, again? I know which runs I like. I understand the mountains to set an itinerary that ends up at the perfect spot for lunch, while picking up the best snow for an epic ski. Yes, it’s fun rocking up to a new resort, staying in a fancy hotel and so on. But I’m getting too old for that. I want familiarity.
If the warnings are right, there will be no mountain glaciers in Europe by 2070. I’ll be 100 by then and probably won’t want to ski. But if I do make it that long, I’ll be relying on that familiarity. As I put the finishing touches to this piece, I’m looking out of the window at an uninterrupted range of mountains. They’re covered in snow. The sun is shining but it’s -1C degree outside.
And the snow is squeaky under ski at lower levels and crisp and powdery at altitude. In fact, the conditions are so good, I am going to cast off my laziness and wake up early to get the first lift up in the morning.
Perhaps I won’t experience such amazing conditions in the future. However, I like to take a risk and bet there will be more good years of snow and sun ahead. As long as others agree, it should continue to be a great investment.
James Max is a property expert, TV and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter @thejamesmax
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