Travel Skiing Austria: New deals for the salopette classes

Planning a holilday in St Anton or Ischgl? Cathy Packe on the best offers this season
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The Independent Culture
THE SEASON is already under way in several of the highest resorts in Austria, with Crystal, Inghams and Thomson departing today for Obergurgl, and Neilson to Zell am See and Kaprun. There are still 12 skiing days between now and Christmas, so if you want to take advantage of some early snow, try Ski Val, leaving tomorrow for a week in St Anton, or APT Holidays, departing next Friday for a four-night trip to Rauris, not far from Kaprun. And among the many Christmas deals, InnTravel, whose only Austrian resort is Leutasch, is offering eight nights for the price of seven leaving next Saturday, and a 12-night special leaving 22 December.

The brochures could leave you with the impression that if you want to go to Austria, St Anton is the only place to be. It is the only resort offered by some of the smaller operators; these include Mark Warner, which this year has added the four-star Schweizerhof to its existing chalet accommodation. Airtours has some new chalets in the resort. White Roc has new hotels in St Anton, as well as in Lech.

The amount of accommodation available has increased for this season in other resorts, too. Equity Total Ski has several new hotels in Mayrhofen, and one in Schladming; Neilson is increasing its selection of ClubHotels, and now has one in Kaprun; and Thomson has new accommodation, ranging from pensions to a 14th-century castle.

There are several all-in deals on offer, which are an attractive way of minimising the inevitable extras which can send the cost of a skiing holiday soaring. In the small resort of Itter, near Soll, Neilson is offering an all-inclusive deal, in which the published brochure price covers not only the flights, transfers and accommodation, but also ski and boot hire, and a lift pass. The deal at Snowcoach's new club chalet in Mayrhofen includes a packed lunch, as well as afternoon tea and drinks. First Choice has two new All-In Club Hotels, at Kitzbuhel and Badgastein. These offer the informality of a chalet combined with the privacy of a hotel.

Most of the special deals apply across the whole of Europe. But noteworthy among the Austrian offers is the First Choice offer in Hopfgarten, where lift passes are free all season; and with an upgrade, for about pounds 15, you can get a pass for the whole Ski Welt area.

The number of resorts available has increased this season. Thomson has added St Wolfgang and Wagrain, Neilson is going to Seefeld for the first time, and Equity Total Ski has chosen Saalbach. Crystal has added four new ones this year - Katschberg and St Michael in the south of the country, as well as Brand and Burserberg.

Journey times have come down. Equity Total Ski is using Salzburg airport this season, which means that the transfer time to Schladming and Saalbach is only an hour and a half, and using Saturday flights to Innsbruck, Mark Warner has shortened the journey time to St Anton by an hour. Thomson has added flights from Stansted to Salzburg, and from Birmingham to Innsbruck.

Weekend skiing at various of the Austrian resorts is an increasingly feasible option. Airtours ran two three-night trips last weekend, to the resorts of Kaprun and Zell Am See, which allowed for two full and two half-days' skiing; prices started at pounds 199. Top Deck has introduced a full programme of weekend skiing in Kirchberg. Departures to the resort are on Friday night, returning at the end of the day's skiing on Sunday. Travel is on scheduled flights, usually from Heathrow to Innsbruck, and prices start at pounds 219.

For people who find that a whole week of skiing is too much like hard work, First Choice is offering a Ski Culture trip. This involves staying in either Mayrhofen or Saalbach, and combining four days' skiing with two day trips. The extra cost of pounds 115 or pounds 125, according to which resort you stay in, is added on to the basic cost of the holiday. Thomson also has non-skiing activities, although these are all resort-based in St Wolfgang and Seefeld; there are walks, train rides and operetta evenings, for an extra pounds 37 or pounds 45 respectively.