Country Life Magazine - United Kingdom

Country Life Magazine - United Kingdom

Aspen has cornered the limelight of the Rockies, but the $10-billion makeover of neighbouring Snowmass and lower entry points to properties promise a strong future for the resort, says Liz Rowlinson

Friday, 30 January 2009

Liz Rowlinson

It is the time of year when America’s high rollers converge on the glitzy ski town of Aspen in the Colorado Rockies. Cosseted within the private jets gliding into the town’s tiny airport will be a sprinkling of Europeans, but the bulk of designer-clad arrivals are from New York, Chicago, or California. They come for the unbeatable skiing, the avalanche of fine dining, and because when it comes to American resorts, it’s the place to be seen.

Encircled by tree-lined 14,000ft peaks for as far as the eye can see, the former silver-mining town has been popular for 60 years, and has gained a certain cultural cachet with its opera house and arts events. Its handsome Victorian red-brick buildings, which are built on a grid system, are now full of high-end boutiques, including Prada, Fendi and Ralph Lauren.

Skiers can choose between four world-class mountains: Aspen for people-watching, Highlands for adrenaline junkies, Buttermilk for beginners and Snowmass for a bit of everything. Although some stay at the best hotels—the Little Nell, St Regis and Jerome—many Aspenites have bought a home in town. There’s even a popular saying: ‘Came for the skiing, stayed for the summer’ (after the spring thaw, there’s the renowned music festival, golf and riding).

Many of the town’s 44 billionaires choose to reside in ranching properties on the fringes of Aspen, beside A-list celebrity couples such as Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Last year, the average house sold for £4 million, but you will have to pay £15 million to be in the ‘Hollywood’ neighbourhood of Red Mountain.

However, it’s a very safe place to invest, according to Gary Feldman, a local agent affiliated to Christie’s (00 1 970 205 2222). ‘Prices have softened, but historically, they never slump,’ he reckons. ‘This is because supply has been strictly limited since 1974, and demand is still high. It’s the best time for buyers in Aspen in 10 years.’

Watch out, Aspen: Snowmass property is booming, with buyers attracted by low  prices and new facilities Once a horse-ranching settlement, Snowmass now has 800,000 skiers a year and more runs than Aspen’s other three ski mountains combined. Its current $10 billion makeover will see the 1970s infrastructure of the base village given a facelift, plus new lifts, shops, restaurants, hotels and a vast children’s centre added. Permission has been granted for 600 ski-in, ski-out apartments, including a five-star condo resort run by the Kor Hotel Group.

Owners of 152 one- to four-bedroom apartments in the Viceroy— costing from £370,509—will have access to a concierge, a ski valet, four restaurants, a spa and a fitness centre. Each condo comes fully furnished, with high-spec oak and granite finishings. Knight Frank are also selling properties in The Little Nell Residences—which share the five-star branding of the eponymous hotel—from £2.08 million (020–7861 1737).

You can’t buy a one-bedroom apartment in Aspen for less than £700,000, so Snowmass acts as a lower entry point for those seeking access to all four mountains, and it will also ‘provide a familyoriented environment’, according to Scott Callihan, sales director of developer Related WestPac. However, according to Sotheby’s branch in Aspen, some Snowmass prices per square foot are now exceeding those of Aspen—at $23,000—and European buyers tend to spend more than £10 million on individual properties Despite this, many welcome the fact that the Russians don’t regard Aspen as the next Courchevel, although Roman Abramovich has bought two homes in Snowmass.