TRAVEL / SKI SPECIAL: Peaks and toffs: Money no problem? Good. Skiing is a joy for the rich. If you've got the cash, here are the places to cut a dash

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The Independent Culture
THE SKI season is about to begin. Now is the time to dream. Before wrestling with the reality of another winter waiting in the lift queues in Verbier and enduring excruciating transfers to Courchevel, take a moment to consider the ultra-ideal ski holiday . . . one where money would be no object.

Where in the world would you go skiing? Would it be your very own helicopter, a flight across the Alps in a hot-air balloon, or the olde worlde elegance of the Orient Express? Here's a guide to unashamed extravagance.


When time is more important than money, getting the best out of your skiing holiday means getting there fast and making the most of every minute. The motorway pistes of Courchevel are now linked directly to London City airport for the skiing weekend of the century.

Fly by private jet directto Courchevel's altiport on the pistes. Stay three nights in the Melezin suite at the minimalist and oriental- style Hotel Melezin, as private as it is posh. Three nights' bed and breakfast, flights and lift passes for two, a snip at pounds 10,326. Details from Ski Solutions on 081-944 1155.


Helicopter skiing in the interior mountain ranges of British Columbia in Canada has been the highest aspiration of normally earthbound mortals since it was invented by Austrian Hans Gmoser 26 years ago. The mountains are as steep and the powder as deep as the greediest powder-pig could imagine.

For those with thecash, Hans has set aside an entire range of mountains in the Valemount sector for one private group per week. For the all-in price of Cdollars 74,150 ( pounds 37,450), not including flight from London, you and as many as nine of your friends get the exclusive use of 14 flying hours in a Bell 212, and two fully-certified mountain guides. You can ski as hard or as slow as you want. Nobody else is waiting. Back home at the lodge, a personal chef awaits your culinary commands. (Bookings: Powder Skiing in North America, tel: 071-736 8191).


High flyers for whom skiing is secondary to getting off the ground might find hot-air balloons more romantic than helicopters. The aptly named Silencehotel Maximilian in Serfaus offers luxury accommodation at Austria's only car-free ski resort, and the option of daily balloon flights.

One-hour flights over the ski slopes and village, including insurance and return transport from the landing zone, cost pounds 125 per person for hotel guests. A four-hour crossing at up to 3,000m altitude of the Arlberg or Oetztaler Alps floats up to pounds 370. Half board in a suite at the Silencehotel costs pounds 850 a day, but the price you pay per week depends entirely on how much you blow in the wind] (Booking: Made To Measure Holidays, tel: 0243 533 333).


Getting there is more than half the fun when you're chugging in one of the world's most famous trains to one of skiing's classic venues. Travelling on the Simplon Orient Express is simply divine. Putting down in St Anton in Austria for a week's stay up on the Arlberg Pass at the five-star St Christoph Hospiz, a refuge for medieval travellers, is going back in history to the top of the class.

Orient Express carriages feature loos with mosaic floors and individual cabins. Meals in the vintage dining car are, of course, sumptuous. But consider too the practical advantages of a good night's sleep before pulling into St Anton, Bloody Mary in hand and ski-suit all zipped up, ready and raring to ski.

(Booking: Bladon Lines A La Carte Service, tel: 081-780 9994. Offers outward travel on the Orient Express, business-class Swissair return flight and half board for six nights for a modest pounds 2,398 per person).

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