Travel: You may be fit enough to ski, but will you survive the party?

Tour operators plan to capitalise on Italy's legendary apres-ski status by appealing to a lively young clientele and increasing the choice of resorts.
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The Independent Culture
ALTHOUGH ITALY no longer gives the value-for-money it once did, several of the big operators have increased the number of destinations they offer this season, and many have taken on extra accommodation in their existing resorts. Most of the expansion is in the Sella Ronda region of the Dolomites.

There, for the first time, Airtours has a choice of four resorts; Val Gardena, Cavalese, Campitello and Canizei. The same lift pass can be used in all the resorts, which cover a total area of more than 600 square miles. Thomson has also expanded into Canizei and the quieter Campitello, but its most interesting new destination is Cortina. This stylish town has traditionally been one of Europe's more upmarket resorts, but by including it in this season's brochure, Thomson seems to want to trying to make it more accessible.

Other new resorts include Bormio, offered for the first time by Panorama. This long-established ski town boasts a World Championship course and a thermal spa among its attractions, and is one of Italy's most charming ski areas. A free bus service takes skiers from here to nearby Livigno and Santa Caterina, although it is not actually possible to ski across from one area to another. Santa Caterina is included in the brochures of Airtours, First Choice Ski and Thomson.

Neilson's new resort is Cervinia, better for beginners and intermediates than expert skiers, but with the advantage of being one of the highest resorts in Europe, and so a fairly safe bet even at the beginning or end of the season. Inghams now has a hotel at Plan Maison, the gondola stop above Cervinia. This is simply a building in the middle of the mountain, with no access to Cervinia at night, but it could be the ideal place for anyone who really wants to get away from it all.

The most striking feature of the big brochures this season (and particularly noticeable in Italy) is the expansion of the youth market. The general idea is to provide holiday entertainment for those who need it 24 hours a day: skiing or snowboarding by day, and non-stop partying by night.

First Choice offers an add-on package called Snow Xcuses, which provides a variety of extras, most of which involve drinking, for a supplement of pounds 49 on top of the cost of the holiday. Club Freestyle, which has been a success for Thomson during the summer, has been extended to the winter, and has selected destinations suitable to the lifestyle and bank balance of a younger clientele. Airtours publishes a separate brochure, Escapades, that has been expanded this year. The resorts featured in these youth- market selections are limited, but all three companies have Sauze d'Oulx as their Italian choice.

A good way of trying the skiing without the humiliation of finding that you are far too old for the apres-ski might be to try the Airtours day trips to Sauze. These depart from Gatwick on 14 January and from Manchester on 18 February, and they cost pounds 149.

Equity Total Ski already operates in Sauze d'Oulx, but has taken on a new hotel right next to the slopes to increase its capacity. The company claims to be the market leader in Italy, and has 18 destinations on offer, many of them smaller, village resorts. It also has new hotels in the upmarket Madonna di Campiglio, as well as in Prato Nevoso, one of Italy's main snowboarding centres.

Although road transport tends to be an option mainly for holidays in France, Interski, another Italian specialist which concentrates on Courmayeur, La Thuile and Pila, transports most of its clients by coach, and this is encouraged with discounts on the brochure prices for departures most weeks of the season. There are also discounts for those who want to take their own car.

All the brochures continue to offer money-saving schemes in selected resorts - free drinks, free lift passes, free child places, free group places depending on the departure date and the number in the group - although working out where they apply can almost be more time-consuming than it is worth.

An interesting extra is included in the Inntravel brochure, and is worth considering if your sport is cross-country skiing. If you happen to be in the resort of Teseroin the last weekend in January, you can take part in the Marcialonga, a 70km cross-country marathon.

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