Our property correspondent takes to the mountains to see what Chamonix property has to offer.
Words Nigel Lewis
The day I visited Chamonix the skiing conditions did not look good. The snow was mostly cannon-created, thin and there were rumours in the nearby Three Valleys of resorts being partially closed as water reserves ran low – but at least I would have to time to look at the Chamonix property scene.
And then the next day the clouds gathered, darkened and dumped. Chamonix’s pistes were transformed into a powdery heaven and for a time the volume of snow – ironically – closed one of its ski stations.
Such conditions, in which my skis disappeared into huge drifts even on the main pistes, are manna from heaven for Chamonix regulars. It’s where serious skiers go to test their skills and, rather than being a ski resort, it’s more a winter sports wonderland.
Who are the Chamonix crowd?
Ski touring enthusiasts, ice climbers, back-country boarders and couloir-tackling maniacs flock to it, and the town describes itself as the best ‘freeride resort’ in the world.
Walk down Chamonix’s high street on a late January afternoon and you’ll see who the resort tends to attract; weathered Nordic types clutching long, fat skis with plenty of technical bits hanging off carabiner clips as they clump merrily down to their après dens.
It’s also got an unusual layout. Chamonix has two ski areas directly above the town but the other ski areas are outside it.
What’s the skiing like?
The skiing in the two nearest areas – Le Brevent and Flegere – can, in places, be hairy although there are some blues. But both require a black run or a bubble to get you back to town.
There’s also a cable car on the outskirts of town that takes you to the famous Aiguilles du Midi viewpoint, from where you can ski the 20km-long and world-famous off-piste Vallee Blanche routes.
You’ll need to hire a guide and be a good skier to navigate them, as the area is peppered with crevasses. For the safety of more familiar blue or red pistes, you must either take a bus or drive up or down the valley.
Up from Chamonix is Argentiere which, once you’re up on its pistes, you can only return to via a red or the bubble and it offers mostly blacks and reds with a handful of short blues.
But further up the valley is Le Tour, which has a better mix of blues and reds but again, to return to your car of the bus means navigating a red.
For less proficient skiers or those who just want an easier day’s skiing then down the valley and ten minutes along the motorway is Les Houches.
It is a nice mix of blues and easy reds and offers stunning views over the Chamonix valley on a clear day, and has a pretty village below it where you can have lunch, as well as several piste-side eateries too.
Property in Chamonix
The property market in Chamonix is comparable to other high-profile Alpine resorts, but on average it’s less expensive, partly because demand is lower. It’s not somewhere you own a property for the caché so much, but rather because you’re a serious skier.
It’s a market heavily dominated by apartments; studios kick off at €250,000 while two-bedroom flats start at €450,000 and three-bedroom apartments at €600,00.
Four and five bedroom chalets do come to the market in the town centre, but are usually on the outskirts and range from €1.2 million to €3.5 million. Some big, seven and eight-bedroom luxury chalets are also built outside Chamonix occasionally, and can fetch up to €7 million.
The region’s largest house builder, MGM, is also busy in and around Chamonix. It has a large ‘hotel-apartment’ style development called Le Crystal de Jade recently completed next to the Aiguilles du Midi cable car.
It’s a five-star development of 56 luxury one to four-bedroom apartments in chalet-style, four-storey properties. Attached to them is hotel-style reception with a resident’s lounge, a small bar as well as a sauna, spa, indoor pool, ski lockers and underground parking.
The remaining available properties within the development are being sold via the French leaseback system and start at €391,667 for a two-bedroom apartment.
“Leaseback means that you own the freehold but lease the property back to MGM; in return the French government gives you back the 20% VAT it charges on new apartments, if you agree to rent it out,” says Richard Deans of MGM.
“Leaseback options are either three, four or six weeks usage for the owner, and in return you get an income which, after its running costs are deducted, would be €4,600 a year for a two-bedroom apartment.
“The three and four week options give you the same income, while the six-week option is slightly less.”
MGM also has two other development under way near Chamonix. These are the Residence Alexane in Samoëns, 60 km north of Chamonix where leaseback prices start at €245,833 for a one-bedroom apartment, and in Les Houches, where prices at Les Chalets Elena start at €220,000 for a one-bedroom apartment.