Nothing quite compares to finishing your last run in your back yard. Rather than enduring a long drive back to DC in the dark, you will soon be sipping a cold beer in front of a roaring fire. When you wake up the next day, first tracks will be yours for the taking. You will never again have to fight for a parking spot, or hike a half mile to the lodge in your ski boots. Instead, you will simply open your back door; throw your skis onto the 8 inches of fresh powder that fell overnight; and go. Life doesn’t get any better!
Surprisingly, buying into this lifestyle won’t cost you much more than a down payment on an expensive car. For example, Timberline is selling slopeside 1 bedroom condos for as little as $59,000. At Whitetail, one can purchase a studio for just $62,000. Even destination resorts such as Snowshoe and 7 Springs offer starter condominiums in the low $70,000s. Real Estate management companies will help you meet some of your costs by renting out your property when you are not using it. These companies will also clean and maintain your place for a portion of the rental proceeds. So what’s the catch?
The catch to ski real estate is that property values are directly tied to the fortunes of ski resorts. If a resort goes through hard economic times, property values can plummet precipitously. This is exactly what happened to condo owners at Whaleback, New Hampshire, when the resort suddenly shut its doors last year. On the other hand, one can make a killing in ski real estate. Just ask the owners who purchased properties in the 1970s in Vail and held on to those properties through the turbulent 80s. Even at some of the second tier resorts in Vermont, slopeside condos are fetching between $450,000 and $750,000. Many resorts make nearly as much money developing real estate as they do selling lift tickets and other services-especially in the nascent stages of a resort’s history. Few resorts can expand and improve their facilities without developing residential and commercial real estate.
Most Mid-Atlantic resorts will probably never see the kind of property value increases that certain areas of Vermont and Colorado experienced in the 1990s. On the other hand, this area is not as saturated with resorts as those other regions. In fact, the Mid-Atlantic is one of the few ski regions where skier visits are actually increasing. Last year, Pennsylvania sold more lift tickets than New Hampshire. In short, most of the resorts in this region appear financially healthy with modest year-to-year growth. You may not get rich speculating in Mid-Atlantic ski real estate, but you probably won’t loose much money either.
Skiers looking for the longest season and most terrain should probably look first to West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Snowshoe offers the longest, steepest runs in the area, the best snowmaking, and some of the fastest lifts. It also has a wonderful village full of restaurants and shops. During the summer, one can enjoy world-class golf and mountain biking, along with a plethora of other outdoor activities. As a Mid-Atlantic mountain resort, Snowshoe is tough to beat. The resort’s only negative is its distance from DC. However, with the Corridor H highway progressing, the drive from DC to Snowshoe will get shorter and shorter as the years go by.
Another well-run, well-managed resort is Seven Springs. Like Snowshoe, Seven Springs has numerous shops, restaurants, and other après ski amenities. The resort is also a golfer’s and biker’s delight during the summer. The nearby Great Allegheny Passage is one of the finest rail-to-trail conversions in the region. Expert skiers may gripe about the smallish, 750 foot vertical of the resort, but intermediates will find plenty of variety and challenge. What Seven Springs lacks in vertical, it makes up for in convenience: the resort is just 3 hours from DC and an hour from Pittsburgh.
Whitetail, at only 80 minutes from DC, is almost too close for a vacation property. Yet, some of the nicest real estate I have seen is at Washington’s newest resort. Most units are elegantly designed, and conveniently located to the slopes. Whitetail’s snowmaking team works tirelessly to ensure that trails remain white even during Washington’s terrible, monsoon winters. The resort also has high-speed lifts, a decent 935 foot vertical, and for next year, expanded night skiing. During the summer, Whitetail transforms itself into a golfing paradise. Ski Magazine recently rated the 6,950 yard, par-72 course as “one of the most attractive venues in the area.” Nearby state parks offer excellent mountain biking and the Appalachian Trail can be accessed just up the road at South Mountain.
The best real estate bargains in the region can be found at Pennsylvania’s Blue Knob. Here, one can buy a studio for as little as $13,000, and a 1 bedroom for just $22,000. Blue Knob has an impressive 1,072 foot vertical, and tempts skiers with some of the best terrain in the region. DCSki columnist Jim Kenney once wrote, “I’ll always be a fan of the natural potential of Blue Knob. You can actually get a feeling of exploration there when all their glades and more obscure trails are open. When it’s bad it’s bad, but when it’s good it’s very good.” Kenney, a former condo owner at Knob, also pointed out in the same article that the mountain “has never been run by an owner with deep enough pockets.” In short, its lift system and snowmaking could benefit from upgrades. The mountain also does not get as much natural snow as mountains further west. Nevertheless, with property values finally starting to rise, the resort recently improved its golf course and built a new convention center. At just two hours from DC, demographics are certainly in Blue Knob’s favor.
So where would I go? In fairness, I must confess that I own a property at Timberline, in Davis, West Virginia. My wife and I chose Timberline for a number of reasons. First, the resort has excellent skiing. It is west of the Allegheny Front, and therefore, much colder and snowier than the close-in resorts. Timberline also boasts a respectable 1,000 feet of vertical. There’s nothing on the mountain like Snowshoe’s Cupp Run or Shay’s Revenge, but Timberline generally offers decent snow and reasonably long runs. During the summer, I live for mountain biking and hiking. In those areas Timberline truly glows! The Dolly Sods National Wilderness Area is just a short hike up the Salamander trail, and the Davis area is a mecca for mountain bikers. Jim Parham, the author of the Off the Beaten Track mountain biking guides, claims that the area “offers some of the best mountain biking in the eastern U.S.” After a recent ride, my wife turned to me with a big grin on her face and remarked, “summers are more fun than winters.”
I guess the moral of the story is that given how short and unforgiving our winters are here in the Mid-Atlantic, anyone thinking about purchasing a ski condo needs to view it more as a four season vacation property than a winters-only affair. If golf is your thing, pick a resort with a good golf course. If you like boating, choose one near a lake. Whatever you do, don’t think of this as an investment. “Ski condos in the Mid-Atlantic rarely produce positive cash flow,” claims Nancy Forelines, a realtor at Seven Springs. “We’re selling a lifestyle, not an investment.” If you make money, great! But if you don’t, your mental and physical health will always benefit from many pleasant days spent with your friends and family in the mountains. Consider it capital appreciation for the soul!
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.