There you are standing at the top of the ski hill with snow flurries softly whipping about your face. You peer through your ski goggles at the calm, translucent world and ponder, "Wouldn’t it be great if I owned a home out here and I could ski all winter?"
Apparently, the fellow with the snowboard next to you is already thinking the same thing, as is that woman who just came off the lift and earlier in the day raced you to the bottom of the mountain.
After the recession, when the sales climate for mountain resorts turned frosty, the market for second homes or retirement homes in resort-centric mountain developments has heated up like a fireplace stoked with extra pine logs.
I checked in with three Western resorts, all relatively new and each with a different backstory, to see what was going on. The common denominator for each has been a resurgent market for homes and lots.
My first stop on the tour was Martis Camp, a private, 2,177-acre luxury community located between Truckee, Calif., and North Lake Tahoe. The four-season community, which includes a central lodge, golf course, ski lift that goes directly to the Northstar ski mountain, and plenty of amenities and activities for families, started selling properties in 2006, just before real estate investments were crushed in the financial market avalanche.
In some regards, Martis Camp’s location — driving distance from Silicon Valley — kept it a bit insulated from the problems elsewhere in the country. Although the economy slipped into recession in 2008, the tech business continued to click along and create new wealth.
"During the recession, we defied gravity in some ways," said Brian Hull, director of sales at Martis Camp. "We continued to sell at a good pace after the market crashed."
Due to uncertain times, lots were discounted 10 percent in 2009, and that year there were 40 properties sold. In the equally economically dismal year of 2010, another 50 lots were sold. As the economy recovered, things got even better with $90 million worth of lots sold in 2011, and then in 2012, 110 lots and 10 custom homes were transacted for a record sales volume year of just under $100 million.
At Martis Camp, no one has to build once a lot is purchased. The lot could be left as native forest, but there were just shy of 200 homes under construction and 75 in the design phase, which, Hull said, "is way above our pro forma."
The world is equally grand at the Montage Deer Valley in the Park City/Deer Valley, Utah, area.
The beautiful luxury hotel opened on Dec. 9, 2010, in the heart of the recession. What looked to be bad timing was just another snow day in one of the most well-known ski locations in the West.
Unlike Martis Camp, Montage Deer Valley is a resort hotel where the top floor units are for sale. The number of residences for the private market totals 81, with 32 marketed as unfurnished and the rest furnished.
Like most condo-hotels, owners can put their units into the rental pool of the hotel, but it’s not mandatory.
Obviously, skiing is a major attraction with three lifts to the nearest mountain, but Montage also boasts a 35,000-square-foot spa, four restaurants, a pool, and membership in a club for those who want to play golf in the warmer weather.
During the first year of operation, the resort sold 14 residences, said Ed Rehill, director of residential sales at Montage Deer Valley. Things have only gotten better, with the resort selling 10 more residences in the last 12 months for a sales volume of $90 million.
Who has been buying at Montage Deer Valley? The buy profile is fairly typical: couples in their 40s and 50s with children. They come mostly from California, the East Coast and a few from Mexico.
"We think mountain properties are looking at a comeback," Rehill said. "This is reflected by our six sales during this past summer, which is uncommon for a ski-in/ski-out luxury resort such as ours. It was an indicator that people are starting to come out of the woodwork, tired of keeping their money on the sidelines."
Pronghorn, an Auberge resort near Bend, Ore., is different from Montage Deer Valley and Martis Camp in that it is not located in the mountains, but in the high desert just as the land rises to become the Cascade Mountains. There’s no ski-in/ski-out, but homeowners do ski at Mount Bachelor, about 40 minutes away by car. With about 360 days of sunshine a year, golf is the major attraction at Pronghorn.
The major difference between Pronghorn and the other two resort programs mentioned in this column is that it was a development pierced by the recession. Originally, Pronghorn was intended to be a gated-residential community. The recession finished off those plans, and last year it was purchased by the Resort Group out of Hawaii, which recreated the property as a luxury Auberge resort.
"With new ownership, there are a lot of new plans in place," said Ed Jackman, Pronghorn’s director of sales and marketing. "We are looking at substantial resort development and the relaunch of the real estate product."
Despite the change in ownership and management, 2012 proved to be a turnaround year for the property, Jackman said. Last year, seven properties were sold, with two pending sales continuing into 2013. In addition, three parcels of land were sold.
People come to Pronghorn and Bend, as Jackman said, to "embrace the outdoor lifestyle, as access to outdoor activity is unmatched with rock climbing, hiking, skiing and biking. There are times here when you can golf, fly fish and ski all in one day."
Asked if better sales were due to the reorganization and shift in focus at the property or the economy, Jackman said it was a little of both, adding, "With a better economy, there’s more of a positive outlook, and people are getting back out there, looking at these types of properties all over again."