5 Places to Buy Ski Houses on the Slopes

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Ski season has vacationers searching ski-in/ski-out winter hideaways, but the savvy ski bums with stellar credit can call their slope-side apres ski spots home this season.

About three in 10 Americans are hitting the road this holiday season, according to the American Express ( AXP) Spending and Savings Tracker, and spending more than $200 per person doing so. If they had an extra $500 to throw around, however, 19% of respondents told American Express that they'd put it toward having an outdoor adventure during their holiday trip, and 4% mentioned skiing specifically.

Those dreamers and travelers would only add to the accumulating demand the ski industry's experienced since the recession. After U.S. ski resorts saw skier and snowboarder numbers take a double-diamond slide from 60.5 million during the 2007-08 season to 57.4 million a year later, the industry saw a record 60.5 million people hit the trails last season, according to the National Ski Areas Association. That helped increase the ski industry's revenue 8.5% last year, to $2.4 billion, according to IBISWorld, and pushed the number of ski resorts in the U.S. from 471 in 2009-10 to 486 last season.

If skiers and snowboarders want a more permanent address than the local lodge or vacation cabin, however, now might be the time to make that happen in America's more popular ski spots. The Rocky Mountains account for more than one-third of all U.S. skiing and snowboarding after packing 20.9 million people onto the slopes last year. That's up from the 19.97 million who showed up at the height of the recession in 2008-09 but is still inching up to the Rockies' pre-recession peak of 21.3 million the season before.

Concurrently, the median home price in the West has dropped 3.1% since September 2010 and went off a cliff from $312,300 in 2008 to just $259,300 in September, according to the National Association of Realtors. Those fortunes vary from trail to trail, however, as Boulder, Colo., saw housing prices rise 5.1% during the same span and has an average median home price more than $10,000 higher than 2008 levels. Denver home prices, meanwhile, flattened out within the past year but are nearly $20,000 higher than they were pre-recession.

If a skier's credit is purer than fresh powder, Freddie Mac notes that a 3.94% rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage awaits out West this week. Those dreaming of getting a downhill to themselves at dawn, however, may place a bit more of a premium on ski-in/ski-out access. With that at stake, we consulted with the folks at real estate sites Zillow ( Z) and Trulia, aimed for the top of the mountain and found five ski towns where properties with prime access and amenities await:

Park City, Utah
Film geeks love this town when the Sundance Film Festival rolls around in January, but this is ski country pure and simple.

Park City gives skiers their choice of the Park City, Deer Valley and Canyons resorts, but also has a ski jump and bobsled, luge and skeleton track courtesy of the Utah Olympic Park built for the 2002 Winter Games. It's not only the home of the U.S. ski team and the training ground for some of Australia's ski athletes, but also the U.S. base of operations for French ski company Rossignol and sport-centric headphone maker Skullcandy ( SKUL).

Park City is also just inarguably gorgeous, and few places show off that beauty better than the 7,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home just beneath the town lift. At the convergence point of several Park City ski trails, the house offers a private gated driveway, floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the mountain and town below, fireplaces, heated patios, a two-car garage and little touches such as mosaic tile and a basin tub in the master bathroom. The cost of this 1995-vintage slope side estate: $4.6 million.

It's tough to make a house like that seem like a castoff in the bargain bin, but a Ski Magazine-featured winter dream home across town makes every attempt to do just that. Listed at more than 13,500 square feet, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and $21.9 million, this compound counts ski access among the least of its features.

That ski-in/ski-out access to Deer Valley's Mountaineer ski run is just a throw-in compared with the panoramic views, stone fireplace and chimney in the great room, heated outdoor pool and waterfall, wine cellar, custom elevator, full day spa, golf simulator, custom elevator and 550-gallon aquarium. The previous owners didn't skimp on the details, either. The 4,500 square feet of decks are all heated, the rec room has its own fully equipped DJ booth and the home theater isn't just some roll-down screen parked in front of oversized chairs with cup holders, but an actual theater with a gilded, ornamented dome ceiling and proscenium stage complete with spotlights, footlights and retractable curtains.

That the owners are selling it with all the furnishings but "some art excluded" gives some idea of exactly what company this place has been keeping since it was built in 2007. The skiing must have been a lovely distraction.

Big Sky, Mont.
The Gallatin River and its feeder rivers and ponds make this a prime spot for fly fishing, kayaking and rafting during the summer, but the ski season is the big draw in this southwest corner of Big Sky Country.

The Big Sky Ski Resort and Moonlight Basin pull in most of the skiers and snowboarders, but Lone Mountain Ranch's Nordic courses throw a bone to cross-country skiers while the tony Club at Spanish Peaks and Yellowstone Club -- which cost $250,000 to join, $20,000 a year to maintain a membership and $5 million to nearly $40 million per home -- bring out the big spenders. Those high rollers don't make Big Sky as expensive as Park City, but they don't exactly keep things cheap, either.

A ski-in/ski-out home on Moonlight Basin's Diamond Hitch puts three bedrooms and three bathrooms in 3,000 square feet of space on a full acre. The wall of windows beside the living room fireplace, the pop-out window bench in the same living room and the hot tub on the deck overlook three different peaks. Those are about all of the luxuries the $1.4 million asking price covers, however, as the trail access and proximity to fresh, untouched powder is this place's key selling point.

If buyers are looking for just a bit more pampering for the price, a 5,900-square-foot home with five bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms and a view of the Spanish Peaks may be the answer. A ski run right next to the house provides a quick path to Moonlight Basin's high-speed lift, but panoramic views from just about every room in the house, five fireplaces (including one on the covered deck), a sprawling chef's kitchen and two acres of surrounding property are fairly plush, even at their $3 million price tag.

Whitefish, Mont.
It's hard to imagine much recreation or luxury coming out of a place with the same name as a bagel topping, but Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort helped bring in big celebrities and even bigger money.

Whitefish Mountain Resort and its three-mile Hellfire Trail and challenging Hell Roaring basin run of cliffs, chutes and tree-laden routes paved the way for residents such as Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and E Street Band bassist Gary Tallent, but also brought Whitefish from relative anonymity to well-heeled infamy. Much of its notoriety dates back only four years or so to when the name of the resort was changed from Big Mountain and wealthy investors including Fidelity National Financial Chairman William Foley began pouring money into the area.

Not surprisingly, that's about the same time a 6,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-bathroom "Snow Ghost Chalet" was built on 1.1 of the resort's acres. That home is selling for $3.8 million and offers its potential buyer vaulted ceilings and beams, plenty of stone tile and sinks, televisions in its walls and ski-in/ski-out access to the resort. More importantly, the homeowner would have lift access to the slopes, which is a rarity at even the toniest resorts.

Jackson, Wyo.
Just call it Jackson Hole. Nobody's going to correct you.

Often a summer stop for vacationing families on the way to the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone National Park, Jackson is primarily a ski mecca. The massive two-mountain, Alps-inspired Jackson Hole Ski Resort is right nearby and a big favorite of skiers who like their drops steep and their runs fast. A little farther off, but a lot less intense, is the Grand Targhee resort with its fine slopes but even better spas and shopping. Even if your skiing is restricted to bunny slope-style skidding, Jackson's Snow King runs right in town offer a gentle drop and lift tickets about half the price of those at the bigger resorts.

All that said, Jackson seems fairly laid back but definitely has its own approach to luxury living. A 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom home at the Amangani Resort, for example, has the elk-antler light fixtures, timber rails and stone fireplaces of a remote cabin. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountains, private library, sprawling kitchen and expansive deck with hot tub and infinity edge reflecting pool hint at exactly why this place is priced at $4.5 million.

The biggest amenities behind that big number, however, come courtesy of the neighboring Amangani Resort. By buying the home, buyers get access to the resort's swimming pool, spa, tennis courts, horseback riding and private ski lodge. If that's still not convincing enough, the seller's willing to throw in some of the furniture as well.

Aspen, Colo.
The town is known as much for its celebrity residents as its skiing, its downtown shopping is Rodeo Drive on Mountain time and its median home price settles is just above $4 million. Ski-in/ski-out access is just another line item on an extremely large price tag, and the term "discount" has its own meaning in this place.

There's only one real resort here -- Aspen/Snowmass -- and it includes four mountains. If you're lucky enough to score a spot on an Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk or Snowmass run, prepare to part with eight figures for the privilege.

Want to see what a deal looks like in a town where trailer park properties go for half a million? Check out the 13,700-square-foot, six-bedroom, seven-and-a-half bathroom behemoth on eight acres abutting Buttermilk. Those six bedrooms include the caretaker's apartment. The master suite has a walk-in closet the size of a room. One of the guest bedrooms is basically a glorified hotel room with a full-stove efficiency by the bed. Floor-to-ceiling windows are offset by stone pillars, the library is separated from the rest of the house by glass walls, the outdoor hot tub and infinity reflecting pool are embedded in stone.

Neither those items nor the three-car garage, circular driveway entry and fireplaces in seemingly every room exactly scream "discount," but in this real estate market the $15 million price with furniture included does -- if only when considering the house's original $19.9 million cost.

For those who consider bargain hunting to be in poor taste, may we suggest the 18,000-square-foot, $39.9 million, six-bedroom, six-and two-half bathroom hovel known as Elk Crossing. Sitting on five acres next to more than 300 acres of open pastures, the estate boasts mountain views and private vantage points as well as ski-in/ski-out at the front door to Two Creeks and Snowmass Mountain via a cross-country trail.

The six bedrooms each have bathrooms, walk-in closets, sitting areas and patios. There are three full kitchens, two libraries -- including one with a billiards room, gas fireplace and 71-inch television -- and a dining area with seating for up to 30 people and an adjoining temperature-controlled limestone wine room.

The "media area" has a fireplace, three televisions and full projection system. The exercise room has its own steam room, television and workout equipment. The master suite, meanwhile, is in its own wing on the main level and includes a gas fireplace, his-and-her vanities and toilets, oversized shower and separate spa tub. Even the laundry room has its own mud room and wiring for high-speed Internet, satellite and cable to go with the double washer and dryer.

Worried about the 99% coming after your 1%? The entire grounds are self-contained with their own well, water system and five-kilowatt solar electric system.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.