Imagine spending weeks or months on the slopes, not days or hours. Live the life of a ski bum, getting to know all the trails and the off-piste secrets, not to mention the après-ski good life.
There are many options for long-term snowy adventures around the world, from single-family chalets to ski in-ski out condos.
Park City, Utah
It is a well-known secret among the locals that January's Sundance Film Festival is the best time to hit the slopes - all of Hollywood is down in the village schmoozing and the trails are deserted. Less of a secret is the spectacular powder for which Park City and nearby Deer Valley are known. The snow comes across the Great Salt Lake Desert, hits the Wasatch mountain range and gets pushed up and turned into light, but consistent powdery snow.
There are a wide range of properties available, says local real estate agent Sean Railton, "from $250,000 condos to $4 million residences at the Montage Deer Valley". The Montage, the St Regis and Waldorf Astoria all opened in the last two years, and all have private residences, but with the perks of a five star hotel. That option means you do not have to hire staff or housekeeping or worry if your pipes burst during a cold spell.
"The real cliché here is that everyone comes for the winter and stays for the summer," says Railton. "Many people feel that being closer to town is where you want to be, not isolated up on the hill." All the resorts have private shuttles and the town has taxis and buses, and you are only 45 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport, not to mention the nearby Utah Olympic Park and museum.
Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
The clear blue water of Lake Tahoe has been a draw ever since European settlers first glimpsed it, and it is more accessible and affordable as a second or weekend-home option than Aspen or Vail. About a dozen ski resorts (some large, some small) ring the lake on both sides of the state lines.
There is a clear division between North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe and the east/west dividing line between California and Nevada, not only in attitude, but in property prices as well. South Lake Tahoe has casinos and is more of an actual city and better for nightlife, while the north lake is still considered a mountain community for the quote-unquote real skier who prefers Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley to South Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Resort, which spans the state border.
Property prices are through the roof on the California side, with north lakefront property going for the multi-millions. There are more bargains to be had on South Lake, and Nevada has lower property taxes. Some homes in private communities also come with access to private beaches on the lake, discounts on the slopes and on the golf course. It is worth considering one of these, like Incline Village, on the Nevada side, only 15 minutes from Squaw Valley.
How does woodsy trails with feet of fresh powder near ancient Japanese onsen (hot springs) in a pristine setting on the island of Hokkaido sound? It is no wonder many Australians and some Chinese have made the island their winter base. There are four main villages clustered around Mt Yotei: Hirafu, where much of the shopping and nightlife takes place, and where the majority of hotels, condos and lodges are located; Niseko Village, home to the new luxury Greenleaf Resort and the planned residential development Hinode Hill, from the village's new owners YTL Hotels; Annupuri, the quietest, with the biggest and most expensive houses; and Hanazono, where a master-plan for a resort and community is in place, sure to drive up property values. All of these villages have access to the slopes.
The local Japanese population does not ski much, but when it does it tends to stick to resorts near the island's capital city, Sapporo. On the slopes near Niseko, you will find many Australian families up from Sydney and Melbourne spending their summer on the slopes, and recently wealthy Chinese have been buying property and building large chalets. Visitors can get by with English, unlike the rest of Japan, as many ex-pat Aussies work in the shops and restaurants.
San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
With daily flights from Buenos Aires and Mendoza and the views of the stunning Nahuel Huapi lake that is even bigger than Lake Tahoe, Bariloche is Argentina's popular and gorgeous gateway to Patagonia. With two high seasons, winter and summer, and untold activities (hiking, rafting, boating, horseback riding, etc.) many Portenos have houses here. Between July and October, thousands come to ski at Catedral, about 20 minutes away, or Cerro Bayo and La Hoya farther away but still in easy driving distance.
"The skiing is family oriented at Catedral," said Jamie Schectman, owner of Bariloche Vacation Rental (www.barilochevacationrental.com), "while Cerro Bayo is more of a boutique resort with access to the back country." The lower mountains have trees while upper ranges are alpine. If you are looking for nightlife, stay in the city centre, but Schectman recommends families and couples base themselves about 20 minutes away in Llao Llao Parque. "It's where all the beauty spots are and the best restaurants," he says. While the dollar, pound and Euro are strong against the Argentinean peso, he warns that there are no mortgages available, so most properties are bought in full and in cash.
However, Bariloche, 20 minutes from Catedral, where an entry-level home is $125,000, provides incredibly good value, with alpine views, crystal streams and mountain living, "for a third to half of what a house would cost in Lake Tahoe," according to Schectman. Not to mention access to some of the best steaks and red wine in the world.
There is no denying that the Alpine resort of Gstaad still holds sway over a certain type of skier who likes their luxuries, grand hotels, high end après ski nightlife, and the wondrously-named Mt Eggli to stand around looking glamourous on. And the town is catering to them with a new iPhone app from Gstaad Tourism, complete with an interactive ski map, alerts for upcoming events and a place to share your personal tips.
There has been some controversy in the town about overdevelopment and recent construction, as well as the sale of old chalets near the Promenade to wealthy outsiders who tear them down to build out-priced apartments. The local and the guest communities are considered two entities: for example, a set of 15 new chalets are planned with just one-sixth of them set aside for locals, not nearly enough to deal with the local housing crisis. And Swiss locals also fear that rich chalet owners will sell up and the town and local economy will lose out.