Alpine real estate is getting more expensive at Australian ski resorts, despite concerns that climate change will diminish natural snowfalls.
Nearing the end of a solid snow season that has seen record crowds of visitors at many resorts, there is no chill in the market.
"It's probably a little bit surprising that values have risen again in 2019 — given the broader housing market conditions — but you're also seeing rents rising," said Cameron Kusher, head of research at property analytics firm CoreLogic.
"So I think that really does highlight there is growing demand for housing in those areas and it's not necessarily just people buying investment properties."
It does not seem to make sense — a pricey asset in a rugged environment, hours from the capital cities and heavily exposed to climate change. But investors cannot seem to get enough.
"They've been very good [years] actually," said Christa Smit of Zirky Real Estate, who is based at the Victorian resort of Falls Creek.
"The alpine [market] has definitely had a resurgence over the last three years.
"Skiing numbers are up and so is property buying. It's been fantastic."
The number of alpine home sales — properties changing hands — peaked in 2017.
During that year, 271 were sold in Victoria and 460 in New South Wales, according to CoreLogic figures.
It has dipped since then and figures, up to July, suggest this trend will continue in 2019.
That is similar to the broader trend across houses and apartments in Victoria and New South Wales, where the volume of property for sale has dropped significantly. Another similarity is the tight market causing prices and rents to rise.
Bucking the trend of declining house prices in the major capitals, median values in the Alpine shires of Victoria ($419,935) and NSW ($289,195) have surged by more than 25 per cent in the past year.
Cameron Kusher said it is all about supply and demand — and only one is present.
"There's not a lot of stock actually listed for sale," he said.
"But we are seeing more and more demand for these properties. So that's pushing up values and it's pushing up rental rates as well."
New skiers, new owners
It is a surge in visitors to the region that is driving this jump in prices.
Many resorts have surpassed their visitor records for this time in the season, with a few weeks still remaining.
They have been wooing groups who have never been exposed to snow sports — particularly newly-arrived migrants from India and China — and providing assistance to grow the pool of skiers and snowboarders.
"We hold their hand from the first cup of coffee in the morning to their après drink in the afternoon," said Belinda Trembath, Vail Resorts' general manager in Victoria.
"And by the end of the day, they're confidently skiing down our beginner terrain here.
"Giving them a great fun time and good experience initially is absolutely key to growing our market."
But the biggest boost is probably hidden in Ms Trembath's job title.
Two of Victoria's largest resorts — Hotham and Falls Creek — have been snapped up by Vail Resorts, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The global operator that purchased Perisher (NSW), in 2015, now operates a suite of resorts in the US, Canada, Japan and Australia.
"Vail's acquisition strategy is absolutely a key component of their climate change mitigation strategy," Ms Trembath said.
"And that is to provide skiing here in the southern hemisphere, also in Japan, in North America and in Canada."
Scarcity drives price rises
The vote of confidence in the local ski fields has hit the real estate market, with more owners holding on to their properties. With finite space for development, that is pumping prices.
"It's a limited market," Mrs Smit added.
"The resorts are their size, there's not the new land blocks that are available, so you exist with what stock you have in the village.
"Now with Vail Resorts buying Hotham and Falls a lot of people are holding stock to say, 'What's going to happen in the next few years?'"
Mr Kusher agrees.
"You have got that scarcity. Developers aren't going to be getting in there and building hundreds of additional properties and that's really driving the desirability of these areas," he said.
All of this flies in the face of the latest evidence about the impact of climate change.
Modelling from the CSIRO predicts average seasons will fall by between 20 to as much as 80 days in the next three decades, potentially all but annihilating the 112-day ski season.
In the worst-case scenario that would leave just a month of skiing by 2050.
Resorts say better management and snow-making is extending seasons, even as natural falls get lower.
"We talk about 'snow management'," Ms Trembath said.
"We're absolutely fastidious about catching every flake of snow that falls from the sky, using strategically placed snow fences throughout the resorts.
"And we've invested significantly over the last decade in snow making … of course we've been fortunate enough in the last three years to have some really strong natural snowfall."
The result being more people looking for a bed, even as climate change impacts places of fragile beauty.ABC