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Ski hills experience strong demand, but real estate softens

Royal LePage forecasts price declines of up to 10 per cent in Western Canada this year following lift from 2021
November 30 listing on Alta Vista Road, Whistler, at $5.9 million. Whistler home prices are up 15 per cent from 2021. | Whistler Real Estate Company.

Ski enthusiasts are set to hit the slopes in strong numbers this winter, but the outlook for ski hill real estate is softening, according to Royal LePage’s winter recreational property report.

Western Canada’s major ski destinations saw strong demand for real estate during the pandemic and the activity continued into the opening months of this year. Detached property values increased 45.5 per cent at Big White, 24 per cent in Canmore and 15 per cent in Whistler versus last year Royal LePage reported this week.

But price growth will moderate in 2023, led by the country’s most expensive market, Whistler, where  Royal LePage expects the median price for detached homes to fall 10 per cent to $3.3 million.

But Frank Ingham, associate broker with Royal LePage Sussex Realty and a resident of Pemberton, doesn’t expect the sky to fall.

The decline isn’t forecast to wipe out gains seen over the past year. The same holds true for Revelstoke, which is also set to see prices fall 10 per cent, and Canmore, which is on track for a 4 per cent decline.

“We’ve had some decreases but nothing that’s turning your head,” he said. “We are definitely switched over from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market to a certain extent but there’s no big deals out there.”

Six homes worth more than $10 million have sold in Whistler this year, Ingham said, noting that he’s been quite busy since summer ended.

“October and November have been quite busy for me,” he said. “There’s people out there.”

But they’re more cautious, scouting opportunities but largely keeping to the sidelines to see how things shake out over the winter. The federal government’s ban on foreign purchases isn’t targeting recreational properties, meaning even offshore buyers can afford to wait.

While prices will fall in Whistler as well as in markets closer to Alberta, the primary driver of this appears to be a moderation in demand rather than any shift in fundamentals. Inventories remain tight, many buyers aren’t dependent on financing, and the work-from-home trend continues to draw buyers away from more expensive urban markets.

Ingham says downsizing and cashing-out likely supports markets such as Big White, where Royal LePage forecasts prices to increase 7 per cent next year.

Mount Washington on Vancouver Island is also set to see prices strengthen, reversing a 6 per cent drop this year – the only major market in Western Canada that Royal LePage surveyed where values fell.

“There’s certainly been a lot of people moving to the Island, even from the Whistler-Pemberton area,” he said, citing retirement as the primary reason for the exodus.

The one market where a softer market will push prices into attractive territory is Invermere, where an 8 per cent decline will push the median detached home price to $580,438, 3 per cent below 2021 levels.

The sharp rise in interest rates this year is to blame, said Barry Benson, a broker with Royal LePage Rockies West Realty.

Young couples and retirees represent the largest share of buyer demand, with working-age buyers drawn by dreams of affordability and greater work-life balance.

But with the rise in interest rates, many recreational properties are now being offered for short-term lease to help offset borrowing costs.

“While Invermere will continue to see demand for recreational homes and short-term rental properties that offer access to year-round leisure, sales volumes are expected to trend back down to pre-pandemic levels over the next year from historic highs in 2021,” Royal LePage stated.