It’s a glorious day for spring skiing in the Colorado Rockies.

And at lunchtime in Vail Village, blinded by the sun and snow, you barely notice the usual suspects – the teenage snowboarders, wealthy Latinas in fur coats and Caribbean nannies with babies in strollers.

But here’s one thing you do notice: construction workers. Dozens of them – small crowds of fluorescent yellow vests and white hardhats – on the streets and in the scaffolding – putting up hundreds of new units for Vail’s luxury condo market.

Across America, high-end real estate is in a deep funk. The asking price for William F. Buckley’s Park Avenue duplex was just cut by more than half to $12 million.

But in this resort town of less than 5,000 full-time residents, developers are putting the finishing touches on a new Four Seasons hotel and ‘residence’, a new Ritz-Carlton ‘residence’ as well as Solaris, a huge new mixed-use development.

That’s 229 pricey new ‘residences,’ marketing-speak for ‘expensive vacation condos.’ The 6,500 square foot penthouse at the Solaris will run you $19.5 million. At the Ritz-Carlton, a three bedroom is a mere $3.6 million. Then again, the Ritz backs onto the frontage road of busy Interstate-70.

In all, it’s more than $1 billion in new real estate inventory for Vail. And there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell, most of this inventory will be moved anytime soon.

But for a one-of-a-kind world-class resort like Vail, it may not matter. Judging from my family’s recent trip there, old habits like expensive vacations and real estate speculation die hard for America’s well-to-do.

Certainly, the stock market has great faith in the rich. Over the past year, Tiffany’s shares are up 120%, Sotheby’s, up 250%. No big surprise then that the shares of publicly-traded Vail Resorts are up 100%. Luxury goods, luxury sports and luxury real estate make for a tidy package of good old-fashioned American materialism.

Of course, Vail isn’t immune from our nation’s economic woes. The post-Lehman winter season was a bad one for America’s ski resorts. And this year all the overpriced eateries on Vail Mountain were flogging a $9.95 ‘lunch for less’ special.

But really, once you’ve spent thousands to get you and your family atop that mountain, lunch is a mere rounding error. I go ahead and buy the $3.50 Gatorade just to complain about it.

This is how a pricey place like Vail Valley gets you. Our family has skied here for the last eight years. And if you love skiing as we do, Vail is near nirvana – 5,289 acres of beautiful wooded and open ski terrain. A $98 daily lift ticket seems a small price to pay for the happiness of skiing fresh powder in its magical Back Bowls.

So it’s easy to see why we and other well-to-do families come back year after year. And it’s also easy to see how America’s rich can mix up their love for skiing with their love for real estate speculation.

Last week after dinner, I was walking with a friend through the village, explaining to him how the real estate bubble had burst in Vail.

High-end properties had gone from $1,000 a square foot in 2003 to a peak of $3,000 in 2008 back down to $2,000 today. ‘That’s a big drop,’ I said.

But, here my friend interrupted, ‘Why do you look at the decline? The better question is: Why are prices still double what they were in 2003?’

An excellent point. How could I have missed it? The stock market certainly isn’t up 100% over the past seven years. So what says that luxury real estate, be it in the Hamptons or Aspen or Vail, should still be up two-fold?

Consider the following: The Vail Ritz-Carlton is pricing a new 3,091 sq. foot condo at $5.965 million. That works out to $1,930 a foot – which is actually higher than the average prices paid in Manhattan’s luxury apartment market.

And it’s for a second or third home in the mountains crammed next to I-70!

Amortize the Ritz condo’s all-in cost over the days it’s in use and you’ll get numbers of $10,000 a night for the privilege of sleeping in your own bed. That same money will get you the finest hotel suite in Vail plus a few dozen daily lift tickets.

Such crazy, almost senseless economics can mean one of two things. Either America’s well-to-do can’t shake the real estate bubble mindset. Or enough of them are so rich, they just don’t care about the money.

If the stock market continues to spiral higher, we may never learn which explanation is truer. Unless of course, Vail’s developers can’t unload the new luxury ‘residences’ and start slashing prices.

Vail may tout itself as ‘Like nothing on earth.’ But that doesn’t mean it isn’t subject to the basic economic laws of the rest of our planet.

美国富人难改奢侈旧习

这样一个晴朗春日,在科罗拉多州的洛基山脉滑雪再好不过了。

而且,维尔村(Vail)的中午,由于阳光和白雪晃眼,你基本上不会注意到通常那些令人生疑的景象──玩滑雪板的十几岁少年,穿着毛皮大衣的拉美贵妇,还有推着婴儿车的加勒比保姆。

不过有一样你肯定会注意到:建筑工人。街头和脚手架上,穿着荧光黄色马甲、头戴白色安全帽的工人成群结队,为维尔的豪华分户公寓市场添砖加瓦。

美国各地的高端房产都深陷低迷。威廉•巴克利(William F. Buckley)位于公园大街的复式公寓开价刚刚降了一半多,至1,200万美元。

不过,在这个常住人口不足5,000的度假小镇,开发商却在为一幢新建四季酒店公寓(Four Seasons)、一幢新的丽思卡尔顿(Ritz-Carlton)公寓和一项巨大的多功能新建项目Solaris做最后的修整。

这是一项有229套公寓的新建住宅项目,营销口号是“豪华度假公寓”。 Solaris面积6,500平方英尺(约604平米)的顶层公寓售价为1,950万美元。在丽思卡尔顿,一套有三间卧室的公寓只要花360万美元。此外,丽思卡尔顿的后面就是车流熙攘的70号州际高速公路。

总计算下来,维尔的新建房地产项目规模达10多亿美元。其中大部分都不太可能会很快售出。

不过,像维尔这样一个无与伦比的世界级度假胜地,这可能并不重要。通过我和家人最近的维尔之行判断,豪华度假活动和房地产投机等仍是美国富人难以改掉的老习惯。

当然,股市对富人坚信不移。过去一年中,蒂芙尼(Tiffany)的股价上涨了120%,苏富比拍卖公司(Sotheby’s)涨了250%。相比之下,上市公司Vail Resorts的股价涨了100%就不足为奇了。奢侈品、奢侈运动和豪华房产是美国老式物质主义的典型代表。

当然,维尔在美国经济困境中也无法幸免。雷曼兄弟(Lehman Brothers)倒闭后的冬天对美国滑雪胜地来说是个“寒冬”。今年,维尔山上所有价格不菲的餐馆都推出了9.95美元的“特价午餐”。

不过,其实,一旦你花了数千美元把你和家人送到了山顶,午餐的花费就只是一个零头了。我还是花了3.50美元买了一瓶味道不怎么样的佳得乐(Gatorade)。

像维尔这样的豪华度假地就是用这种方法让你掏钱的。过去八年来,我和家人都是到这里来滑雪。如果你和我们一样热爱滑雪,维尔就像是滑雪天堂一样──有5,289英亩树林覆盖或空旷的滑雪场地。每日的缆车票只要98美元,这看起来价格并不高,却可以在魔幻般的Back Bowls享受在新鲜松软的雪地上滑雪的乐趣。

所以,我和其他富裕家庭年复一年地来这里滑雪的原因就一目了然了。同时,也很容易明白美国富人是如何把对滑雪的热爱与对房地产投机的热爱结合在一起的。

上周的某一天,晚饭过后,我和一个朋友在村子中漫步,我一边向他解释维尔的房地产泡沫是如何破裂的。

高端房产从2003年的每平方英尺1,000美元涨到了2008年3,000美元的峰值,如今跌到了2,000美元。我说,这个跌幅很大。

不过,我朋友打断我说,你为什么要看跌幅?你最好是问:价格为什么仍然比2003年的水平涨了一倍?

此话妙也。我怎么会没有注意到这个问题?过去七年来,股市当然没有上涨一倍。所以,豪华房地产──无论是在纽约州长岛的汉普顿(Hamptons)、科罗拉多州的阿斯彭(Aspen)还是维尔──为什么仍涨了一倍?

想想这个:维尔的丽思卡尔顿一套3,091平方英尺(约287平米)的新公寓总价为596.5万美元。相当于每平方英尺1,930美元,实际上比曼哈顿豪华公寓市场上的平均价格要高。

而这是富人在70号州际高速公路附近山里的第二套或第三套房子。

把丽思卡尔顿公寓的全部成本分摊到使用期限内,你会发现住在自己的房子里,每晚还要花上1万美元。这笔钱足够你住维尔最豪华的酒店套房,再加上几十天的滑雪缆车票。

如此疯狂、几乎失去理智的经济形势意味着:要么美国富人无法摆脱房地产泡沫的思维定式,要么就是有足够多的美国富人非常富有,他们对钱毫不在乎。

如果股市继续上涨,我们可能永远无法知道哪种解释更加接近事实。当然,除非维尔的开发商无法卖掉新建豪华住宅、而开始降低价格。

维尔可能自诩为“地球上独一无二的滑雪胜地”。但这并不意味着它不会像地球上其他地方一样受到基本经济规律的制约。

Evan Newmark

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