The High LIfe

A mountain of memories, not to mention plenty of surprises, awaits vacation-home buyers in New York’s “Aspen of the East”

Diane couldn’t mask her disappointment when her husband, Joe, broke the news just before this past Labor Day weekend: “The vacation home we wanted in Ellicottville is off the market,” he told her.
For more than a year, the Buffalo-area couple had been in hot pursuit of a mountain retreat that would get them and their three children — Nick, 11, Olivia, 11, and Bella, 10 — closer to the outdoor recreational activities they enjoy in the Western New York vacation town. They thought they’d found the perfect place — a luxury chalet perched on a quiet wooded lot overlooking Holiday Valley, the ski resort that put Ellicottville on the map more than 50 years ago.
“It’s a great area,” Joe says. “I’ve been coming down all my life to go skiing, and now it’s become more of a year-round place. We take advantage of it in both winter and summer, and it just made sense to buy a home here.”

Despite being back to square one, the family made plans to spend the holiday weekend in Ellicottville, but when they pulled into the parking lot at Holiday Valley, Joe suggested a brief detour.
“The Realtor said we could look at that house one last time,” Diane recalls her husband saying.
Diane thought his notion was a bit strange at the time, but she and the kids went along with it. Soon after they set foot in the house for what they thought was the last time, Nick spotted framed photos of the new homeowners. He recognized some familiar faces, including his own.
“We all asked, ‘Is this our house?’” says Olivia, Nick’s fraternal twin. “Then Dad said, ‘Oh, yeah . . . I bought it!’”

It wasn’t the first — or last — surprise Joe has sprung on his family, but it’s certainly the biggest and most expensive. Worth more than $800,000, the 6,100-square-foot, five-bedroom chalet has a spacious great room with a huge stone fireplace and a wall of windows with commanding views of the ski slope on the other side of the valley. It’s there that the family congregates most often, sinking into overstuffed chairs and a distressed leather couch left behind by the former residents.
According to real estate agent Cathy Pritchard, who negotiated the home’s purchase, most vacation properties purchased in the Ellicottville area come fully furnished. “The home I sold to Joe, in particular, has exquisite décor,” Pritchard adds. “The former owners traveled the world and would find incredible pieces that they incorporated into the home.”

All together, the house exudes a cozy mountain lodge look and feel, accented with custom-made drapes and bed coverings in high-end fabrics with Western-themed patterns, cowhide rugs, kilim pillows and Native American art. 

“I really love it just the way it is,” says Diane. “The pieces remind me of being out west. It’s very dressy, but comfy at the same time.” 

It will take a little time before the house feels completely their own, but, little by little, the family has started adding their own touches to the house alongside the family photos. A stuffed toy rabbit sits on a side table in the “Kid Cave,” the name given to the walk-out basement that the kids share. It has two bedrooms — one for Nick and one shared by Olivia and Bella. The rooms open out onto a common area where the kids watch television, play games like Battleship and dote on their 9-month-old Labrador puppy, Colby Jack. 

Perhaps it won’t be a shock to learn that the dog came as a complete surprise to the kids earlier in the summer. Joe’s full of surprises, including his latest, which he carefully unloads from the back of his truck. 

“It’s a cowboy-style fire pit,” Joe explains while setting it up and prepping it for dinner. “I have every kind of outdoor cooking device known to man, but this one is smokeless. It has a grill deck, a winch for holding a kettle and a griddle for making breakfast. You can use this for everything.”

Tonight Joe will make steaks on the grill for the family, but he looks forward to cooking and entertaining friends and extended family on the expansive deck stretching along the front of the new house.

“Joe loves to cook for the masses, and we entertain a lot,” says Diane. “Since he comes from a huge family — his mother is one of 10 — it’s nothing to have 30 to 40 people over. I have a feeling we’ll be entertaining often in this great chalet.” 

While they have yet to throw a party, yet to curl up by the fire with hot cocoa on a snowy day and yet to soothe their achy muscles in the outdoor sauna after a day of skiing, the home holds the promise of many memories to come. There will surely be a few more surprises, too.


Lay of the Land

Considering Ellicottville has one of the finest ski resorts in the East, it should come as no surprise that the quaint, laid-back village has a robust vacation-home market bolstered by rising consumer confidence and a growing reputation as an all-season destination.

“Ellicottville continues to be a popular spot to buy,” says Catherine Pritchard, one half of a top-selling mother-daughter real estate team that handled more than $11 million in residential sales last year. “It’s always maintained its allure and, now that the area has blossomed into an all-season destination, more and more people want to own a home in Ellicottville.”

About 750,000 people hit the slopes at Holiday Valley and Holimont each winter, but warm-weather activities, such as the immensely popular aerial adventure park and mountain coaster, are luring them back. The town’s rising status as a year-round draw is a huge selling point for prospective buyers, most of whom have primary homes within a three-hour drive.

It also doesn’t hurt that consumer confidence in the second-home market is on the upswing since hitting its lowest point in 2009. According to the 2014 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, the number of vacation home sales increased 29.7 percent in 2013 over the previous year. Meanwhile, deals in Ellicottville were up 22 percent by the first quarter of this year.

“We’ve always had a good market in Ellicottville,” says daughter Melanie Pritchard. “Even during the economic downturn, we held steady. Even so, it seems people’s confidence is up more for a second home."

Team Pritchard has successfully converted hundreds of daytrippers and weekenders into proud owners of rustic cabins, ski-in, ski-out condominiums, hilltop chalets and countryside estates. And with sales prices that have ranged from $35,000 to $1.4 million this year, they’ve proved that those who have fallen under the spell of Ellicottville’s charms can afford to call it their home away from home.