In contrast to the US, winter sports are a much wider part of Canadian culture, and the national ski participation rate stands at 12%. The Canadian market is reliant on a domestic and US customer base, although top-tier resorts such as Whistler benefit from visitors (and home buyers) from beyond North America.
Just 125 kilometres from Vancouver, Whistler played host to the 2010 Winter Olympics and is one of the world’s most exclusive ski resorts. With a permanent population of just under 10,000 residents, Whistler has a large second home market. Whistler’s residential market suffered during the global economic downturn as US buyers, historically a key purchaser group, were put off by a strong Canadian dollar.
In contrast to nearby Vancouver, prices in Whistler last peaked in 2008, falling by around 25% to a low in 2012. Values have since recovered, with sales volumes seeing a marked increased in the last year, but remain a third off their 2007 high.
The majority of home buyers in Whistler are Canadian, many hailing from neighbouring Vancouver. At the very top tiers of the market, buyers from the US, Europe, Asia and Russia are present in small numbers.
Challenges and opportunities
The North American market faces challenges. The US is host to 470 ski areas, down from more than 700 in the 1980s. The ski markets are highly domestic, and in spite of a huge population, the US participation rate is low (estimated at between 3% and 4%). This makes it particularly susceptible to changes in ski habits at a national level.
The USA and Canada’s resorts are spread over three main mountain ranges (The Rockies, Appalachian and Sierra Nevada) which together cover a total area of more than 3 million sq km. By contrast the Alps are 1/10th of the size, but host to more ski resorts than in any other part of the world. Closely packed and often interlinked, resorts in the Alps benefit from a position at the heart of densely populated Europe.
From a real estate perspective there are opportunities. US ski resorts are poised to benefit from a spill-over of demand after strong recovery in the residential markets of US cities. Land is more readily available than in tightly packed European resorts. North America (notably the US) is home to the largest number of wealthy individuals globally, so with the right product there remains a ready demand base to tap in the home market.