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Let it Snow!!

I want to talk about my holiday vacation week if I may, since I spent much of it considering and talking about the real estate market (so much for getting away from it all). As I sat in my mother-in-law’s condo in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, staring at the not-so-white White Mountain range and glowering at the pile of snowsuits, boots, ski equipment, goggles, and gloves sitting dry in the corner, thoughts and conversation turned to housing.

Here it was, Christmas week, and aside from the “Mini Moguls” kiddie ski school bunny slope, there were barely a few trails open, and from the looks of some frustrated, baggy-legged snowboarders clomping around the one open chairlift, even those were barely passable. And yet, real estate development in the area appeared to be hopping. We passed several signs for open houses on the main road, and one development right near the village (which is down the mountain) is apparently sold out of lots.

My mother-in-law claims that her condo (3 beds, 3 ½ baths + loft) which is walking distance to the village and a short drive to the slopes, has doubled in price since she bought it about 7 years ago. She was considering a step up to a bigger home last year but found there wasn’t much inventory from which to choose.

Waterville Valley is still something of a sleepy ski resort, where everyone nods hello and no one locks a door. I know this because my mother-in-law insisted on showing me a house she had considered a while back that was now undergoing the final stages of renovation. The door was open, so we took a little walk through. The space was huge, the amenities high-end, and the price just slightly under a million. It’s been on the market for a bit with no bites, but she doesn’t expect it to sit long.

Despite the fact that ski resorts in Colorado and Utah had absolutely nothing to complain about last week, New England was another story. We saw plenty of rain and temps in the 40s. Since the 1970’s, the state’s average temperatures are up about 4 degrees. In New Hampshire alone, 10% of the state’s wintertime jobs are related to skiing, but the state has lost about 60% of its downhill ski areas since 1975. A study by University of New Hampshire Professor, Cliff Brown, finds that while the state used to boast small family-run resorts, the surviving slopes “typically offer snowmaking, trail grooming, chairlifts, lodges, real estate development and off-season activities like skate and water parks.”

This is absolutely the case with Waterville Valley. The village has a large indoor ice rink (where we spent way too much time), as well as endless cross-country ski trails, a full golf course, athletic club with indoor pool and hiking trails. In fact, when you look at travel sites on the web for the White Mountains, the bulk of the stuff they’re selling is non-ski related.

Housing in the area is therefore in something of a transitional phase. Much like in Europe, where insurance companies have dropped ski resorts from coverage, Waterville Valley seems to be undergoing something of a personality change. As the ski business on the mountain continues to lose money, the area is selling itself as more of a summer destination. The pricey plots of land I saw that are quickly being developed are nowhere near the chairlifts. The mountain views are plentiful, but the mountain doesn’t beckon, at least not in the winter.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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