A-Z of Skiing: L IS FOR LINKED AREAS

BRITISH SKIERS have quite simple tastes. They like huge, linked ski areas - the bigger the better. But the slopes are no use without snow, so size isn't everything: the ski areas must be high, too.

There's nothing surprising about this. Since we don't have the Continentals' luxury of popping up to the local slopes when there's a big snowfall, we want the guarantee of being able to cover as much ground as possible on a trip abroad.

It's no surprise, then, that the most popular Alpine destinations for British skiers are L'Espace Killy - linking Val-d'Isere with Tignes, it provides 300km of pistes and a vast amount of off-piste skiing in an area which climbs from 1,550m to 3,500m - and the Trois Vallees, whose 600km of snow-sure pistes are linked to the resorts of Courchevel, St Martin- de-Belleville, Les Menuires, Meribel, La Tania and Val Thorens.

Across the Atlantic it's the same story: the big attraction for Britons is Canada's Whistler/Blackcomb, with the highest piste-mileage of any ski area in North America and a great snow record.

With more reliable snow cover and better connections (lifts and pistes) the Italian/French Milky Way (400km of pistes), and particularly the French/Swiss Portes du Soleil (650km,) could rank with the most popular linked ski areas.

But the conjunction of two high-altitude French resorts for the 2001/2 season is guaranteed to create a major draw for high-mileage British skiers.

Les Arcs and La Plagne (with, respectively, 200km and 210km of pistes) have won permission to build a cable car between Vallandry and Montchavin; and with the extra runs associated with the cable car, the linked ski area will easily be the third biggest in France - and the world.

What will the new ski area be called? That is now the subject of what promises to be a long discussion between the two resorts. Send any suggestions on a postcard to me, Stephen Wood, Travel Desk, The Independent, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL - and I'll pass them on.

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