Ski resorts have always been popular vacation-home destinations, but the past two decades have seen a dramatic surge. The number of hotels, condos and second homes at resorts has grown significantly. And increasingly, these options are found under one convenient roof.
Though the once red-hot concept of condo hotels has cooled nationally, it remains strong at ski areas, where it has been joined by ownership variations such as hotel residences and fractional ownership clubs (time shares).
Why so popular in ski destinations? First, because of the formidable weather, condos and other such maintenance-free choices are particularly attractive. Also, because they're in areas with high rental demand, they can generate income for owners.
"It makes life simple. Owners tend to not use ski homes frequently, so they can get back some rental income to help cover costs, and they don't have to worry about the heat when they are gone or deal with snowplowing or leaky roofs," says David Kelsey, real estate investor and president of Hamilton Capital. "With a hotel residence or condo, the process of renting it out is much, much easier than if you owned a normal condo or a house. The hotel does it for you."
But ease of rental is not the only selling point. Hotels offer services few other ski homes can, from fully equipped gyms and pools to maid service. Moreover, units almost always come fully furnished.
"Unlike normal condos, it is not run by a condo board made up of your neighbors," Kelsey says. "Management is likely to be more professional and less likely to run into the kinds of problems no-name developments often do.
"When your 'home' is associated with a brand-name hotel, whether it is Four Seasons or Marriott or Sheraton, there is a real comfort level. If something goes wrong with a Marriott-sponsored residence club, Marriott is more likely to step in than a random developer."
A look at three popular ski hotel ownership formats
•Condominium hotel. These look like normal hotels, except the rooms have been sold to individual owners. Though generally easy to rent (and, thus, to generate income for owners), units sometimes lack facilities associated with vacation homes — kitchens, for example. Condo hotels tend to be the least expensive full-ownership option. In notoriously expensive Jackson Hole, Wyo., for example, condos in luxury hotels such as the Terra and Teton Mountain Lodge begin at $475,000.
•Hotel residences. Typically the most expensive option, these are larger, more traditional apartments or houses, with kitchens and living areas, located usually in luxury hotels and generally on the top floors. Included, too, are hotel services. The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, at Lake Tahoe's Northstar ski resort in California, opens next fall with residences priced from $3 million to $7 million. Similarly, the new Four Seasons in Vail, Colo., also opening next year, has offerings from $5.3 million to more than $16 million.
•Fractional clubs. This less-expensive option involves purchasing just a certain number of weeks each year, usually three to five. A caveat: Fractions can be misleading. For example, a one-twelfth share is often three weeks, not the implied month, so be sure to focus on the actual number of nights. A major plus: Weeks usually can be traded for other destinations. In skiing, the high-end leader has been Ritz-Carlton, with residence clubs at its hotels in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colo., plus free-standing clubs in Vail and Aspen, Colo. Ritz's 21-day deeded, equity offerings begin in the low $100,000s. Hyatt has a wider range, from its lower-end Hyatt Vacation Clubs (Breckenridge, Colo., and Aspen) to its deluxe Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.