Chic resorts - The very height of luxury

In the resort of Mont Tremblant, in Quebec, a chalet costs between c$1.7 million and c$2.2 million.

It’s not only in France that ski resorts seek to outdo each other when it comes to prestige and innovation. In this special report we look at this highly fashionable international property market.

Chalets the size of mansions with Jacuzzis, swimming pools, limousines, and private planes - just like 5-star hotels. In some resorts you would think yourself somewhere on the French Riviera or in Monaco were it not the mountains. The Alps are still out in front when it comes to destinations for gilded après-ski festivities, but other resorts are not far behind.

ASPEN, COLORADO. If you're looking for the most expensive property per square metre in the United States, or in the world for that matter, don't bother looking in Manhattan or Palm Beach. You will find it in Aspen, a former mining town in the State of Colorado, in the rugged setting of the Rocky Mountains. "The average price at which we take on a property is $4.5 million, and the average sale $2.6 million. For that all you get is a two-bedroom apartment of 100 to 150 square metres. Genuine chalets start at $5 million and go up to 10 times that amount," observes Alexander Kraft, CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty. Prices slumped by up to 50% after the financial crisis, but they staged a spectacular recovery last year, rallying by 30%. Fifty billionaires on the Forbes 400 list have chosen to live near the slopes here, with an extraordinary concentration of energy magnates, investment managers, and wealthy heirs. One of the best known is Roman Abramovich, who bought a property above Snowmass in 2008 for over $36 million, setting off a wave of Russian visitors. Leonard Lauder, the son of Estée Lauder, owns three properties here with a total value of $23 million, whilst self-made man Graeme Hart, the wealthiest tycoon in New Zealand, bought a property in Aspen for $16 million in 2011. For a while he sought to double his outlay, valuing his mountain hideaway at $32 million instead of the $16.6 million that local real estate professionals reckoned it was worth. It was in 1950 that Aspen first came to the attention of the world when it held the Alpine World Ski Championships. This competition, which had been fashionable since 1931, had previously only ever been held in Europe.

TELLURIDE, COLORADO. Telluride is a smaller and somewhat more bohemian version of Aspen – and far less often in the pages of the gossip magazines. When the silver mines in this Western outpost closed – where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank – the town went hippie. Nowadays it is a chic resort, a bit like Ibiza, with a string of music and cinema festivals, and a 800-hectare ski area that appeals primarily to expert skiers. This means that property prices are not as steep as in Aspen, with the average price a property is taken onto an estate agent's books standing at $2 million, and the average apartment or small chalet selling for $900,000.

MONT TREMBLANT, QUEBEC. Quebec was the cradle of French culture in Canada and in many ways resembles France. The Quebecois speak a pure form of French largely devoid of any English borrowings. The Quebec Federation of Real Estate Boards predicts that "prices will remain relatively stable in 2014." The increase in the number of properties coming onto the market should tail off, after jumping significantly over the past three years, “mainly because of stricter mortgage rules." Near the resort of Mont Tremblant, “Canada's answer to Courchevel”, prices remain reasonable, where a cosy early 20th-century property with eight bedrooms, all with en suites, well set you back C$1.8 million. “And you can acquire a remarkable chalet for the price of an apartment in Switzerland," states property developer Emmanuel Glaize, head of Glaize Immobilier. He is currently marketing chalets with private lakes at prices ranging from C$1.7 million to C$2.2 million.

GSTAAD, IN THE CANTON OF BERNE. Without a doubt the most upmarket resort in the world. As well as being a fiefdom open only to the cognoscenti. It is very rare for a property to come onto the market, and any that do are like gold dust, being discreetly sold by word of mouth. Madonna recently bought a chalet here for over CHF30 million that she is currently renovating. It stands just a stone's throw away from properties belonging to Johnny Hallyday and to Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples.

VERBIER AND CRANS, IN THE CANTON OF VALAIS. Verbier is famous for its 4 Vallées ski area and is favoured by distinguished visitors, including monarchy such as the royal families of Belgium and the United Kingdom. Britons account for 60% of the transactions carried out here by the Sion de Barnes Suisse agency. “The lifting of bank secrecy and the current economic context in Europe have impacted on the market," states Marc d’Andiran, who runs the agency. “Previously people bought a property because they fell in love with it. Now buyers think carefully and visit a property several times, whilst the Swiss are looking for lower prices than in other resorts." The prime criterion for an outstanding property is a central location with views out over the mountains. For instance a recent 1,000 m2 chalet with spa, swimming pool, cinema room, fabulous cellar, and billiards room was marketed for CHF35 million to CHF38 million. The ultimate in luxury! In Verbier people speak English, whereas Italian predominates in Crans Montana. This famous resort, where Gina Lollobrigida has stayed more than once, is home to numerous loyal jetsetters, including Roger Moore. It lies on a high plateau that is less steep than Verbier, and the resort remains busy all year round with famous golf tournaments and other events. "The clientele is mainly family-based," observes Patrick Espinasse, who runs the Agence du Golf. “But it is still elitist for all that, often based in Geneva or London and already owning three or four properties around the world.” Apartments here with wellness facilities in the building reach €10,000 to €15,000 per square metre. Outstanding chalets – of which there are fewer than in Verbier – go for about CHF15 million to CHF20 million. For CHF5 million you can buy a 350 m2 to 500 m2 property a few minutes from the centre, with views over the mountains, home automation, and Minergie low energy consumption certification. Amongst the various other Swiss resorts, Saint Moritz will be hosting the 2017 World Ski Championships - for the fifth time. Its village is larger than Gstaad, with a fairly wide range of apartments available for half a million Swiss Francs.

CORTINA, VENETO. The Pearl of the Dolomites, as Cortina d’Ampezzo is known. The resort, lying at the heart of this rocky mountain chain, has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is proud of its historic character. Demolishing a chalet to rebuild it elsewhere, as in Courchevel, would be regarded as sacrilegious. A house to refurbish will set you back about €12,000 per square metre, or €18,000 per square metre for a recent refurbishment. Outstanding properties go for around €25,000 to €30,000 per square metre. “Right in the middle of the economic crisis I negotiated a deal at €65,000 per square metre," states Giorgio Ciarrapico, who runs the Era agency. “That's quite something when you remember that the owner will only spend three or four weeks a year in his chalet!" The purchasers include a few French, a fair smattering of Belgians, and a healthy number of Britons. Many of Italy’s leading industrial families own property here, including the Barillas, the Zanussis, and the Benettons. The ‘Pearl’ held the Winter Olympics in 1956, and it was this sporting event which gave it its opening. Nowadays, however, it is less about sports and more about luxury boutiques and nightlife.