A Winter Holiday Home
The Ski Club is proud to be welcoming Tom Clark into the blog family for 2016/17. He will be taking us through the trials and tribulations of buying a holiday home in the Alps throughout the season. In part 1 he takes us through the initial process of choosing when, what and how:
Method behind the madness
Each year, as summer rolls into autumn, my eyes are firmly fixed on the winter ahead. High hopes of an epic ski season loom large as I eagerly anticipate the first snowfalls in the Alps, praying that the snow gods are in our favour once more! For most, including myself, we may get away to the hills once or twice a year, but I am always left wanting more. Save throwing in the towel and becoming a ski bum, that desire to spend more time in the mountains has led to the decision to find a holiday home in the French Alps.
The truth is, it is actually much more than that. It is the search for something better. Not only skiing, but the mountains enrich my whole life, they imprint on you. Being stuck in the doldrums of a morose career that offers little satisfaction, compounds the summer blues as the snow line recedes and the rust builds on the edges of my skis. The desire to have a holiday home is part of a much bigger dream, to have a lifestyle in an environment that brings happiness to people from all walks of life, in a place that is so inspiring. While it may seem impossible for anyone other than the fortunate few, my search over the past couple of years has shown that it can be a reality.
The Idea Turning Into Reality
This all came about in summer rather than winter. My wife and I visited Chamonix for the first time and were blown away by it. It was also a completely enlightening experience as I saw that the Alps had as much to offer in summer as they do in winter. Chamonix screamed that you should live life to the full, doing what makes you happy. Unsurprisingly, this project began with extreme levels of naivety leading to some grandiose ambitions that short of a double rollover on the lottery are highly unlikely! Back to earth with a bump and a dash of realism, fortunately the dream is still intact and the search is on!
My initial vision was that of a beautiful chalet, glistening in the snow. That ideal can be far from the reality as I started to put my mind to this, particularly the practicalities. Imagine, back in the UK, struggling through yet another ‘critical business meeting’ and some minor disaster befalls your idyllic mountain retreat. Ambitions of waist deep snow are long forgotten as you contemplate the mechanics of ‘I need a new roof’ in French and far from a pathway to something better, your old foe ‘stress’ is staring down at you.
You can circumvent some of these problems through managing agents, although this may not be viable. What’s more, there are a number of leaseback opportunities in the French Alps that can certainly increase the feasibility of a ski pad, particularly with apartments. While I am not keen on this option, mainly because you are time restricted on the use of it (and I want that powder), it did make me think that an apartment both in terms of practicalities and cost, makes a great deal of sense.
Is the Three Valleys the place for me?
As my search unfolded, it drifted from La Clusaz, Morzine, a brief distraction of Kaprun in Austria and latterly to La Tania in the Three Valleys. I am a huge, huge fan of the Three Valleys. It is a vast ski area supplying no end of terrain. I have had some great times there and I am often drawn back to staying in La Tania. For those who make their annual pilgrimage there, you will know that along with offering good value, it provides fantastic access to all that the Three Valleys offers and on those days when the weather closes in, the beautiful tree-lined runs are an absolute stoke-fest when the snow is fresh. For prospective buyers, La Tania offers something right through the range, including apartments. It is to be accepted that you won’t have much floor space but it all depends on what you want from it, as it clearly offers fantastic access to the mountain, both in summer and winter and all that comes with it.
Rose tinted glasses aside, if committing to a purchase, I have to look as much outside the ski season as in it, otherwise will it really be worthwhile? Buying somewhere that only has a winter scene would certainly not justify the expense of a second home. While the Three Valleys does not have the year round vibrancy of Chamonix, it certainly does not sleep through summer. Despite that, there is a reason why this dream started in the shadow of Mont-Blanc and it is there where my sights are firmly set.
Or how about Chamonix?
The Chamonix valley is made up of a number of villages in addition to the town itself. This encompasses the ski areas of Les Houches, Brévent, Flégère, Argentière, Vallorcine and Le Tour. There is also limitless off-piste available and for those with a professional mountain guide, the options from the Aiguille du Midi are quite literally breath-taking. This of course fails to mention that a short drive through the Mont- Blanc tunnel reveals the charming ski area of Courmayer in Italy. It is also only an hour from Geneva and the AutoRoute Blanche makes it very accessible, something that has been central to my approach and can be easy to overlook.
While parts of the valley can prove to be expensive, there are apartments that offer good value, all on the doorstep of a place like no other, of where you have year round access to arguably the greatest mountain environment in the world, certainly unrivalled in terms of access to that terrain. With the question of location answered and the wheels in motion, what has been the next step? Aside from the usual ‘to-dos’ when buying a property, the process in France is a little different to that of the UK, but don’t let that put you off. I actually feel it is better in some aspects, but there are always some icy patches that are worth avoiding! Getting to know the various areas in my search has been exciting if a little daunting especially with a language barrier that my pigeon French does its best to overcome. Some assistance with language has been useful for the more pressing side of the search, mortgage applications etc. and social media groups have been great to learn about the hubbub of a community. While of course we are drawn to the culture of France, it is quite reassuring to see a thriving expat community that all seem there to help one another.
Some of the nuances of the process have also been revealing, from the role of the ‘Notaire’ to the pros and cons of taking a French or British mortgage, and while we have not yet found what we are looking for, there is an abundance of information available that really help you get to grips with it all.
All told, this is part of a much bigger journey. The search so far has provided some great insight and most importantly reaffirmed that skiing is more than just a holiday. The mountains offer a way of life; time spent enjoying yourself opposed to wishing you were somewhere else. While buying a property is not loose change by any stretch of the imagination, it is equally not completely out of reach for those who dare to dream. After all, what we really want is one more day on the mountain! For the love of the snow!