Over Aspen? Here Are Five Trending Ski Towns With a Little Less Sticker Shock
A number of upscale mountain resorts across the U.S. offer Aspen’s level of luxury and top skiing at gentler prices
They don’t outnumber locals—yet—but celebrities have made Aspen, Colorado, their playground for decades, and their numbers ramped up through the pandemic.
Mariah Carey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dakota Johnson, Elton John, Katy Perry, and multiple Karadashians have been spotted in this mountain town of about 8,000, a ski destination for the ultrawealthy.
The A-list mystique has also propelled Aspen’s property prices to high altitudes. Example: A 10-bedroom, 18,000-square-foot home sold last month for an eye-watering $69 million.
But Aspen’s not the end-all of exclusive mountain living. A number of upscale ski resorts across the U.S. offer Aspen’s level of luxury at gentler prices—and without the wild scenes, hangers-on, and prowling paparazzi that celebrity guests can bring. To boot, some locals say, the skiing at these resorts leaves Aspen’s mountains in the powder. Here are five ski resort alternatives to Aspen:
Park City, Utah
Settled in 1858 by soldiers searching for silver, Park City is one of the few Utah cities not founded by Mormons. Since then, it’s also been discovered by ski fanatics and nature lovers, who’ve turned Park City into a year-round destination. The annual Sundance Film Festival, still a powerhouse after nearly 40 years, also draws a major celebrity contingent every January.
For the outdoors crowd, “we compete with places like Aspen on ease of access,” according to Ben Fisher, co-owner of the Fisher Group at Summit Sotheby’s in Park City. “It’s easy to get flights to Salt Lake City, then drive 30 minutes to get here, which is a huge selling feature.” Unlike Aspen, “which is more of a second-home market, Park City has more of a primary-community vibe,” he said. While visitors predominate in Park City’s picturesque downtown and ski destinations like the upscale Deer Valley Resort, full-time residents prevail in areas like Snyderville Basin, about nine miles north of downtown, Mr. Fisher said.
According to Realtor.com, the median Park City home price was $1.85 million in September. “On the outskirts of Park City, the entry price for a single-family home is about $1 million, and about $2 million in Park City proper,” Mr. Fisher noted. The upscale Deer Valley Resort practically forms its own property market, with its median home price climbing to $2.297 million, according to Realtor.com. During the pandemic prices doubled in some areas, Mr. Fisher said. “Now, things are slowing, but prices are remaining mostly level.” Park City listings include this castle-like 9,390-square-foot home with panoramic views for $11.5 million.
Big Sky, Montana
Though Aspen is known more “for chic couture shopping, and skiing maybe second, Big Sky still feels like the authentic mountain West,” said Martha Johnson, founding broker and vice president of sales at The Big Sky Real Estate Co. “Shopping here is geared more toward a new fly-fishing shirt.”
Big Sky’s property market “went bananas” during the pandemic, Ms. Johnson said. In January 2020, the median home-listing price was $1.1 million; by September 2022, it had doubled.
“People either moved into their second homes here, found places to rent or got Airbnbs,” Ms. Johnson said. “Then they discovered we have great air service through Bozeman [Montana] and fiber-optic throughout town, so reverse-commuting could be a reality.” The twin results have been “pressure on prices and virtually no inventory,” though sellers have started negotiating “in certain segments,” she said. Ms. Johnson’s Big Sky listings include a four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom, 5,641-square foot Spanish Peaks home for $10.5 million.
Big Sky’s walkable town center “is mostly a condo market,” Ms. Johnson said, close to bars, restaurants, cultural venues and a farmers’ market. Just outside the center, resorts like the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and Moonlight Basin boast listings “from $5 million to $25 million,” Ms. Johnson said. In nearby neighborhoods like Meadow Village, “there’s a little more inventory, with prices from about $700,000 to more than $3 million,” she said. “The market’s stabilizing, because buyers don’t want to overpay. But we’re not seeing a softening at the luxury end.”
Case in point: New residences from the Montage and One&Only Resorts hospitality brands are selling out, Ms. Johnson said.
Both Aspen and Ketchum “are relatively remote, nestled in the mountains and have a historic feel,” said Kirsten DeHart, associate broker at Wood River Properties in Ketchum. But the similarities end there.
“Everyone says our prices have gone so high, but Aspen’s twice as expensive,” said Ms. DeHart, who visited Aspen in April, when her daughter competed in a ski race. “Aspen makes the Sun Valley look like a bargain,” she reported back to clients in an April email.
Ketchum boasts a singular character that’s “very Idaho,” Ms. DeHart said. “We get jetset people, but they’re a minority. You still see a lot of pickup trucks with dirt bikes or mountain bikes. There’s agriculture to the south, and one of the most remote mountain ranges in the U.S. You still see the element of rugged individualism. I raised my family here, and I wouldn’t have anything else.”
Ketchum’s small city center includes a mix of single-family houses, townhomes and condos, Ms. DeHart said, with entry prices about $750,000 for a one-bedroom condo and $1.5 million for a detached home. “But condos have gone as high as $7 million, and we’ve had detached-home listings for $15 million,” she said. The neighborhood of West Ketchum is highly desirable for its walkability to both downtown and skiing, Ms. DeHart said.
Median listing prices in Ketchum peaked at $2.172 million in March 2022, according to Realtor.com, more than double the $925,000 median price in October 2019. By September, however, median listing prices had softened to $1.2 million. “Things are calming down,” Ms. DeHart said. The luxury market remains strong; local listings include a five-bedroom, 6.5-bathroom, 12,624-square-foot mountain lodge on 4.6 acres for $16.9 million.
Nearly 75% of buyers in Stowe are second-home buyers from out of state, drawn by “what I call romantic nostalgia,” said Craig Santenello, managing broker at Vermont Life Realtors in Stowe. “It’s like America 30 years ago. School-board and town meetings are still civil.” Among the home shoppers are “wealthy tech people, city dwellers who want a slower pace, and people weary of climate issues—we don’t have forest fires, floods or hurricanes,” he said. Skiing is a huge factor in purchases, “but not the only one. Our summers are busier than winters, and there’s plenty to do.”
Stowe’s residential property market has seen a “stratospheric” rise since the pandemic, Mr. Santenello said. Most buyers acquire second homes “to rent when they’re not there, and 10% buy to rent and never set foot in their places. And the short-term rental market here can’t be overstated.”
The average selling price of a home in the second quarter of 2022 was $980,000, “down from a little over $1 million” during the same period last year, Mr. Santenello said. New York, Boston and Montreal are huge feeder markets for Stowe real estate, he added.
Stowe’s condo market has been “amazing,” with some units more than doubling in value through the pandemic. “But inventory is very low,” he said. And the price of land “has easily doubled or tripled” over a decade, he added. Among his listings: A two-bedroom, three-bathroom chalet on 230 acres for $17.5 million
While weak internet had been a longtime “sticking point” for buyers, “[Elon Musk-backed satellite internet company] Starlink has been a big boon since it launched here in February,” Mr. Santenello said. “I had a lot of prospective buyers who needed speed for longer-term stays.”
Ski access in Truckee-Tahoe, near the California-Nevada border, “is way better than anything Aspen has to offer,” said Christy Morrison, an agent with Corcoran Global Living in Truckee. “And prices are much lower.” In fact, the region’s home to the largest cross-country ski area in North America, the Royal Gorge resort in Soda Springs.
Easy access to Truckee-Tahoe also offers an edge over Aspen, Ms. Morrison said. “We’re about 25 minutes from Reno’s international airport, which is well-connected but small enough to be manageable. You have to take a commuter plane from Denver to get to Aspen,” she said.
Property values here “doubled” through the pandemic, Ms. Morrison said. Average prices now hover around $1 million, though a post-Covid rebalancing has curtailed prices by about 10%. In the luxury Martis Camp community, with its members-only ski facilities and golf courses, home prices soar to an average $10 million to $12 million “for very cool, mountain-modern homes of 4,000 to 8,000 square feet,” she said.
“But the community’s very eclectic. You have ski bums next to people who just sold a company and live in Martis Camp,” she said. “Downtown Truckee’s got terrific food and lively nightlife, and you’ve got great Mexican dining because we’re in California.” Ms. Morrison’s listings include a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,667-square-foot Mountain-Modern home for $2.995 million.
Via Mansion Global