Cradled by some of the world's most inspiring mountains and close to three ski resorts, the picturesque Canadian hamlet of Banff, Alberta, with its hot springs, fashion boutiques and upscale restaurants, would be a tantalizing place to own a vacation home-if only you could. But since the town is located entirely within Banff National Park, property ownership is off-limits to all but park employees and business operators, who can acquire real estate only through renewable 42-year leaseholds.
Not to worry. Fifteen minutes east on the Trans-Canada Highway, the town of Canmore has rolled out the welcome mat. A former coal-mining community founded in 1883 and blessed with worldwide exposure as the nordic venue for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, Canmore is suddenly the sleeper real estate opportunity of the eastern Canadian Rockies. With its location next to the national park and its reputation as an easy-to-reach temperate climate zone on the doorstep of the mountains, Canmore has doubled its population over the past decade.
Although you can easily buy a modest house near the recently spruced-up downtown-home to new restaurants, inns and shops-the big news here is a pair of elaborate resort communities sprouting in the foothills that line the Bow River and Highway 1 from Calgary. Skiing is down the road-Banff in one direction, and Nakiska and the Kananaskis in the other.
By American standards, Canmore prices are bargain-basement. One caveat: There isn't much of a rental market-yet.
Three Sisters Mountain Village Nine builders are at work on this 1,800-acre subdivision, 1,000 acres of which will remain as open space. One golf course, Stewart Creek, is already open, and a second is on the drawing board. In the third phase, a resort village with restaurants, shops and a spa will follow. Options run the gamut from 1,000-square-foot condo apartments to luxury duplexes, townhomes and custom home sites. At recent exchange rates, prices in U.S.dollars range from about $300,000 to $380,000 for the smaller condos, and up to about $825,000 for 2,700-square-foot penthouses.
Silver Tip North of the Trans-CanadaHighway and set among sunny, south-facing slopes, this upscale residential project under development by Stone Creek Properties encompasses 560 acres, including the Silver Tip Golf Resort. Future plans include a village, hotel, clubhouse and additional neighborhoods. Right now condos start at around $295,000, and luxury homes are going for $845,000 to more than $1.6 million.
Eagle Terrace East of Silver Tip, this area offers condos and duplexes averaging about $420,000 and single-family homes that sell in the $550,000-plus range.
South Canmore Older two- and three-bedroom bungalows close to downtown sell for an average of about $380,000.
Population Canmore, 11,500; Banff, 7,500
Median home price (2004) About $271,000
Annual taxes on median-priced home About $1,855
Number of properties sold in 12-month period (Nov. 2003-Nov. 2004) 417
Listings at press time 177
Access Calgary International Airport, 60 minutes away
Information Coldwell Banker Banff Canmore Realty, 403-678-4848, banffcanmorerealty.com; Royal LePage Rocky Mountain Realty, 888-404-3471, royallepage.ca; Three Sisters Mountain Village, 403-451-1134, tsmv.ca; Silver Tip Resort, 866-678-3110, silvertipresort.com