'Bargain priced' is a relative term for real estate in Vail, Aspen and Tahoe

Tahoe. Aspen. Vail. Sounds like locales where if you have to ask how much the homes cost you shouldn't be buying there. But guess what? They're suddenly more affordable ... depending on what you call "affordable."

First, Lake Tahoe. Home to the fabled Heavenly and Squaw Valley ski resorts in California and Nevada's Sierra Nevada mountains, buyers suddenly have snapped-to after a long vacation from purchasing vacation homes. Following drops as steep as Heavenly's 3,500-foot vertical slope, sales of all units in the resort area climbed 22% in 2009 from 2008, according to data released by Chase International, a real estate agency specializing in the Tahoe-Reno market. The median price of a single-family home sank 22% in 2009 to $576,875, from $744,124 the year before.

"It's the first time in over a decade that we're seeing first-time buyers," said Sue Lowe, vice president and corporate broker for Chase International. "We're seeing lots of second-home buyers back now too. They finally can afford to buy."