Imagine being able to live and work with a view of the mountains. Fresh air, open skies, a quick ski run or bike ride at lunchtime, anyone? Do you have a business meeting scheduled? No problem. High-speed broadband is available for your Zoom meeting. You are also only two hours away from Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and international airport.
Well, Andermatt offers all that and more.
The Andermatt Ski Alps
Andermatt is situated in the Urseren valley at 1,440m with reliable snow during winter. It is linked by three passes: the Oberlap Pass, St Gottard Pass and the Furka Pass, which was an important crossroad for people wishing to cross the Alps. The Gotthard massif to the south is the source of four great rivers in Europe that includes the Rhine, Ruess, Ticino and Rhone.
With trade and commerce came tourism in the mid-19th century. However, when trains started to run and the Gotthard Railway tunnel opened in 1882, travel through the Gotthard Pass dwindled and Andermatt’s economy suffered. Even when the first ski lift in the valley was opened in 1937, development was slow. After World War 2, the region was threatened to be inundated by plans for a hydropower station which would have flooded the entire valley. The fiercely protective local community opposed the project and it was eventually abandoned. It took decades before tourism started to compensate for the loss of trade revenue.
The 1960s saw a second ski lift being built and domestic ski tourism started to kick-off. However, it was not until Egyptian businessman Samih Sawiris came in as a consultant in 2005 for the “Andermatt Swiss Alps” Tourist Project that development took off in earnest.
Since 2005, CHF1.2 billion has been invested in developing Andermatt.
Development means modernisation. This comes with all its advantages and disadvantages. Despite taking environmental and local wildlife needs into account, one of Switzerland’s oldest and picturesque town has grown to include highrise modern buildings. To be sustainable, Andermatt has opted for high-density and ecological development, using renewable energy sources.
The advantage of the size of its development meant that the resort is open to foreign property ownership. The Andermatt Swiss Alps has been exempted from the “Lex Koller” law, restricting foreigners who do not have a residence permit to buy property in Switzerland. Upgrades in technology mean there is no need to compromise work with living at a ‘remote’ ski resort.
Changing Up the Health and Wellness Mindset
According to the UN, 55 per cent of the world population live in urban areas and before the pandemic, this was projected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050. The shift towards urbanization has been largely influenced by where we can find work. In Asia, especially in Singapore and Hong Kong, the population lives entirely in urban areas. Social distancing and restrictions on travel have impacted leisure activities and social lives.
So it isn’t surprising that the persistence of the pandemic has led to a prioritisation on health and wellness.
The last year has therefore seen an increase of homeownership in the ski resorts of France and Switzerland and those in Switzerland have become a top choice for many Singaporeans and Hong Kongers. The market includes expatriates who have been residents in Asia looking for an alternative back in Europe.
The most prominent change since Covid-19 entered our world has been how we perceive the work-life balance. Most of us commuted to work every day; home was somewhere to spend time with loved ones after a hard day’s work. Our home base needed to be at a realistic distance from work. Now, the WFH (work from home) acronym has entered our everyday language and the necessity of remote work has altered the way we interact with colleagues, bosses and clients.
Downtime has also changed. Spending evenings with friends in restaurants and bars is no longer a viable option; unwinding with a long weekend away has become impractical due to travel restrictions, quarantines and frequent flight cancellations.
No wonder then, that many are looking to turn their fantasy of spending more time in nature into reality.
Benefits of Living in the Mountains
Being in nature benefits our well being in many ways. Just gazing on the stunning landscapes improves our mood. Exposure to nature also bolsters our immune system. It has therapeutic effects on our hypertension and reduces inflammation, making us more resilient. Studies show that those who spend time walking in nature as opposed to urban areas have significantly lower heart rates and higher heart rate variability, indicating less stress. There is a correlation between longevity and living in high altitudes, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.
Performance on memory tasks and creativity also improve. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests our prefrontal cortex-mediated processes such as selective attention, problem-solving and multi-tasking can be restored by spending time in nature. Cognitive psychologist, David Strayer of the University of Utah is a researcher who has been measuring neural effects from prolonged exposure to nature and its restorative effects. Results indicate that immersing ourselves in natural environments have a measurable cognitive advantage.
For those of us used to city life, there is the dream of freedom or a slower pace of life. No doubt, after being confined to small apartments and subjected to distancing rules, there is also a desire to escape. A desire perhaps for a new opportunity or a new beginning.
Are Ski Resorts a Good Investment?
One can always dream. What makes it a realistic choice is a stable economy/currency and the possibility of generating income from renting out your second home. Knight Frank’s Ski Property Report 2021 tells us that 90 per cent of their buyers opt to rent out their ski home. With rising demand and finite space to build on, rents have become competitive with major cities, and rental yields have risen in the last decade. We are seeing a redistribution of value from urban to resort areas.
Those with the ability to work from home for extended periods can make better use of their second homes. Many new developments are looking at improved technology and amenities to provision for the new WFH new trend.
The Andermatt resort in Switzerland has about 1,500 full-time residents and up to 15,000 skiers visiting each day during the winter season. Approximately half of the property owners are Swiss. The other half are international, from a wide diversity of countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Mexico and Russia. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen many residents in the region relocate on a semi-permanent basis to their second homes in the mountains. About 20 per cent of the community live in the village all year round. Others spend a few weeks to a few months in their second homes.
Real estate agencies can offer services that include managing rentals for their clients. For example, Andermatt Swiss Alps offers rental schemes to help their buyers generate income from their assets. One is a fixed program for hotel service residence apartments which provides the buyer with a guaranteed three per cent net rental yield during three years. Another other option offers a shared profit for renting family houses, returning 70 per cent of earnings to the owners. A two-bedroom apartment starts from CHF 950,000.
Ease of Living
Choosing your ski resort would depend on your wants and needs. Large local communities offer good international schools and recreational facilities all year round. A small charming village can offer the benefits of more privacy. You may prefer a location that regularly hosts sporting or cultural events. Or one with a good variety of restaurants, après-ski and nightlife. Higher altitude resorts will generally have a longer ski season. Lower altitude resorts may be more accessible and offer more activities for summer tourism. This means more opportunities for renting your property.
Accessibility and transfer time to an international airport are no doubt some of the most important factors. To be able to work, reliable WiFi with fast broadband speeds are deemed essential.
For skiers and snowboarders, Andermatt offers over 180 km of ski slopes up to an altitude of 2,960m, and a long season. For the summer, there is a choice of 155 hiking trails, 181 cycle routes and an 18-hole golf course. The Chedi Andermatt and Radisson Blu offer fitness and spa facilities should you feel like taking a day off to indulge. Regular concerts and music festivals are held at the Andermatt Concert Hall throughout the year. Restaurants range from the gourmet to rustic and of course, a vibrant après-ski scene.
Russell Collins, Head of Real Estate at Andermatt Swiss Alps gives some advice about buying a home in the Swiss Alps.
“Pick somewhere which has an all year round appeal and a resort that has invested in technology. A fully integrated development approach is a safer choice. If the owner and developer of the property are also responsible for operating other facilities in the resort such as infrastructure, restaurant outlets, ski and other sports, wellness and cultural facilities, you can be sure that the management is invested and motivated to keep everything well maintained and running smoothly.”
Globally, no country has escaped the outbreak of Covid-19. However, being in large open spaces helps reduce the risks of transmission, making mountain living more attractive. The reputation for good healthcare facilities in France and Switzerland has helped boost sales. Irrespective of the pandemic, Switzerland has distinguished itself a safe haven for health and safety, as well as financial security.
Perhaps we can no longer count on hopping on a cheap flight for a quick getaway. We could consider however locating ourselves in a different environment. By surrounding ourselves with what we enjoy, we could stay a little longer.