Sunday, February 20, 2005

Original Photo - From Sunday Times

The original dream ...

The new ski frontier - Sunday Times

The new ski frontier

Fed up of overcrowded, overpriced European skiing? Eastern Canada offers bigger chalets and bigger investment returns than the Alps, says Clare Smales of The Sunday Times.

Chalets in Humber Valley start at £275,000 for a three-bed and rise to £785,000 for a five-bed home. While most European skiers are cramming themselves into tiny flats in the Alps and falling over each other in French ski-lift queues, one group of British homebuyers is heading the other way. Across the Atlantic, in fact, to Canada. Whistler, in the Canadian Rockies, has long been a favoured resort for keen skiers, but a Canadian property market closer to the UK is developing fast.

The Humber Valley Resort has just opened in Newfoundland, on the east coast, with smart wooden chalets on one-acre plots overlooking the west end of Deer Lake. Prices start at £275,000 for a three-bed chalet with 2,200sq ft of living space and rise to £785,000 for a five-bed, 5,500sq ft home.

The first phase of 312 chalets was mostly sold within nine months of the launch at the beginning of 2003, and those early buyers have almost doubled their money. An astonishing 54% of buyers have been British and 33% Irish, taking advantage of low prices and a favourable exchange rate.

“Prices in the Humber Valley are about 40% of those in the trendier resorts over in the Rockies, but it is quicker to get to from Europe,” says James Barnes, the British managing director of Newfound Property International, which owns Humber Valley. “I firmly believe prices here will catch up soon.”

Bill Blevins of Blevins Franks International, an expert on overseas property and investment, thinks eastern Canada could prove to be a smart buy. “The Humber Valley will do well against the traditional often overpriced European ski resorts, because they offer year-round sporting activities including golf,” he says.

“I think there will be significant price increases; I don’t think that prices will double in five years but they could in the next decade, especially if the number of charter flights from the UK to Newfoundland increases.”

Flying there can be quicker than getting to many popular Alpine destinations. A new charter flight started for Humber Valley residents, which costs from £394, takes 5hr 30min to get from Gatwick to Deer Lake airport, a 20-minute drive from the Humber Valley. The weekly charter runs until April 6. At the moment, non-charter options involve connections at other Canadian airports such as St John’s, which lengthens the total travel time to more than 10 hours.
With a population of just 513,000 in an area almost twice the size of the UK, it is possible to strike out into the backwoods of Newfoundland, with their bears and moose, and travel for hundreds of miles without seeing another soul.

However, some ferocious modernisation is already going on. Local ski resort Marble Mountain is just minutes from the new resort, spread along one wall of the valley, with 34 runs from the easy 3.75-mile Country Road to challenging double-black pistes. The resort averages 18ft of powder every year. Newfound Developers is taking over management of the resort from the government and plans to add at least three lifts and open up a new area of the mountain, doubling the number of runs.

The Humber Valley’s evergreen forests are roamed by caribou, moose and the occasional black bear. In the winter, snowy logging trails are used by cross-country skiers and snow-shoers, while tobogganists whizz down nearby slopes. The only noise breaking the crisp silent air is that of buzzing snowmobiles — there are 750 miles of snowmobile trails around the resort. In autumn and spring there is whale-watching, while in the summer visitors can hike, sail, windsurf and swim in the lake, or go bird-watching, caving or sea kayaking. Anglers can fish for salmon, while golfers will have the choice of two championship 18-hole courses.

The resort is due to expand from 600 acres to more than 2,500 acres. A thousand chalets will eventually be built at Humber Valley, but the developers are keen to keep it a “wilderness resort”, hiding chalets from the road and from each other as much as possible. Only 100 new properties will be made available each year, on plots ranging from one to three acres. Almost 100 chalets have been completed and the first owners came out to see them for the first time at New Year.

Chris Roase, 30, a commodity trader in London who saw an advertisement for the Humber Valley in The Sunday Times, was among them. After chatting about the resort in the office, nine colleagues decided to come out and see the development with him. “At first we thought we would just come for a fun trip,” says Roase. “Incredibly, all 10 of us have now bought a chalet each.

“I will probably spend four weeks a year here, golfing in the summer and skiing in the winter. I’m even going to buy my own snowmobile. This is not just an investment opportunity, although I’m sure it will be that, too.” Roase bought a five-bedroom chalet halfway up the hill from the lake, which he plans to let through the resort’s rental pool.

Ninety-five per cent of Humber Valley owners have joined the rental pool, which means they can use their chalet for six weeks of the year and the rest of the time it is let by the resort. Proceeds from every chalet go to a central fund that is divided 70:30 between the owners and the resort. The 70% is then split between the owners, according to their chalets’ size, amenities and location, so even if your property hasn’t been used that week, you will still get some income from the rental pool.

Owners’ weeks need to be arranged six months in advance — so no spontaneous holidays.
Because Humber Valley is both a winter and a summer destination, there is the potential for year-round rental income, although it is difficult to predict at the moment just how popular it will be at rates ranging between £150 per night for a three-bed chalet in low season and £480 a night for a six-bedroom chalet in high season.

High season is from December 23 to March 31, when temperatures average minus 5C, and June 24-August 30, when the weather is mild and temperatures average 24C.

The Humber Valley isn’t the only resort in eastern Canada that is attracting investors from the UK. Sixty per cent of buyers at the Côté Nord development in the large purpose-built resort of Mont Tremblant in Quebec are British, drawn by the prices which start at £185,000 for a four-bedroom cabin. With property values rising by an estimated 7% every quarter, the developer is expecting the remaining 38 chalets on Lac Superieur to sell quickly.

Intrawest, the company that owns Whistler and is the world’s largest ski-resort developer, has poured £345m into the area and is planning to increase that to £900m by 2011. With 94 runs on 660 acres of mountain, the skiing is already more varied than at Humber Valley and the summer activities are just as numerous, with more than 20 golf courses and water sports on the nearby lakes.

The variety of homes on sale is also greater than in Newfoundland, with several different types of development, including hotel-style apartments at Ermitage du Lac in the resort village, where prices start at £77,000 for a studio. Intrawest provides a 65% mortgage for buyers here and rental income is split 50:50 between the operators and the condominium owners.
Another Intrawest project, Tremblant-Les-Eaux, is a traditional clapboard-style development similar to Humber Valley, based around a golf course but with smaller properties available, starting from £155,695 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Mont Tremblant has an international airport, but most flights from Britain arrive at Montreal, a 90-minute drive from the resort. Flights from London take seven hours and range in price from about £270 return in low season to about £400 in high season. The nearness of a cosmopolitan city, with its French history, is an added bonus for those who might find Newfoundland too much of a wilderness.

Humber Valley Resort, 020 8605 9540,; Tremblant-Les-Eaux, Erna Low, 020 7590 1624,;; Côté Nord, Savills International, 020 7824 9030,

Government registration is typically £875 for a £220,000 property
The Canadian version of Vat is 15%, but can be waived if the owner puts rental income into the rental pool and becomes registered before the sale.

Capital-gains tax of 25% is liable on the sale of the property. There are no estate or stamp duties.

Annual running costs for a chalet: about £4,000

Canada’s cost of living is low. A litre of petrol is 38p and a quality three-course dinner about £18 per head

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