Mountain Marvels

Mountain Marvels

As the impact of global warming and climate change on the mountain scene has gained a higher profile, we thought it timely to present the case for a base at altitude, and look at why the right property may be a rewarding investment.

The ski industry has grown exponentially since the first boom in the 1950s and ‘60s after the introduction of the metal ski. France is at its heart, with some 300 ski resorts and 6,000 slopes – mainly in the Alps, and often at high altitude.

According to 2021 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, there are around 400 million skier visits worldwide in a regular year, with movement within location, as less established resorts mature and others, like China, emerge.

Of the 52 major ski resorts in the world, 79% are in the Alps. Top French resorts for visitors include La Plagne, Les Arcs, Val Thorens/Orelle, Les Houches/(Chamonix), Tignes and Val d’Isere.
Worldwide, the 2018/19 ski season was the best overall of this millennium.

Then came the pandemic, but after the first lockdown, demand for property in the Alps started to boom, with interest as far afield as USA, the Middle East and Asia. Pent up demand, a focus on space, lifestyle and wellbeing, and the ability to work remotely or hybrid, all contributed to renewed interest and investment.

There is capital growth in the French Alps, helped by the limited supply of chalets, as many resorts have strict building restrictions in place – some permitted works continued during the pandemic, while resorts were closed to visitors.

As travel opened up again, the choice of new or renovated property in the market grew, some included old hotels which were converted and updated to residential use, offering attractive communal areas and facilities whilst using energy efficient materials.

For an increasing number of investors buying new, or off-plan makes sense. From higher energy efficiency ratings, modern design, materials and comforts, to low maintenance, 10 year warranties, and off-plan options to personalise and spread payments, making them very appealing.

In the French Alps there is the benefit of lower purchase costs (around 2.5%) and the option to claim back 20% VAT (TVA), if the freehold property is commercially managed (leaseback) for an approved time period, and let for an agreed number of weeks a year offering specific services. This initiative aims to increase occupancy in resorts, supporting the local economy and preventing ghost villages out of season.
Changes in climate have brought reduced snowfall to lower altitude resorts and less ‘guaranteed’ seasons across the mountain range – according to Nature Climate Change 2023 article ‘the Alps experienced a 5.6% reduction per decade in snow cover duration’.

The later traditional ski season from November to April no longer applies to resorts in lower elevations, with the best snow now typically lying on slopes above 2,500m, and most reliably on north facing slopes.

Val Thorens in the Three Valleys, for example, is one of the highest resorts in Europe with slopes reaching 3,200m and a winter sports season running late November to early May, enjoying 150km of slopes and two small glaciers on its north facing terrain.

However, there is investment in snow-proofing, and despite being energy and water intensive there is an emphasis on using snow making machinery and snow farming, whilst renewable energy use also grows in the Alps.

In 2011, French environmental group Mountain Riders created ‘Green Snowflake’ and ‘Flocon Vert’ awards, recognising environmental and sustainability efforts to preserve mountain resorts for future generations. Les Arc was the first in Savoie be awarded this recognition, while Chamonix was awarded the Flocon Vert in 2015.
With or without snow, the mountains have year round appeal.

The clean air, stunning scenery, challenging roads and trails open up opportunity for alternative seasonal pursuits too, such as hiking and road cycling, trail running and mountain biking – with the Tour de France routes prove popular amongst amateurs.

Leisure, wellbeing and spa facilities are increasing, and more shops and restaurants, bars, ice rinks, and indoor activities are on hand than ever creating a family friendly appeal.

Some resorts still choose to focus on enticing wealthy visitors, by having Michelin starred restaurants, glamourous bars, five star plus accommodation and high-end shopping available to their clientele – none more so than Courchevel 1850, claiming two out of the eight recognised six-star hotels in France.

So in a nutshell, why buy in the Alps?

It offers a passive income, with long-term capital growth, while providing an all year round indulgence from winter sports, to a base where you can explore the mountain range in all seasons and enjoy a huge range of outdoor pastimes with great health benefits. And it comes with easy road and rail access to Lyon, Grenoble or Geneva airports, or the option of the Eurostar ski train from London to the Alps.

The popularity of hybrid working also allows opportunity for more frequent, long-weekend visits to get away and recharge. Plus, with more people booking through independent travel platforms such as Airbnb and, it has increased the competition when it comes to accommodation, pushing standards to rise, making way for higher rents to be achieved.

*Buying a property in the Alps involves a notary and a deposit usually around 20-30% with notary costs around 8% for a re-sale property and 2% + VAT for new or off-plan.