Skiing: A fanatic's guide: how to fill 24 hours with snow

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The Independent Online
Only dedicated enthusiasts might consider a day's skiing trip to the Alps. But, writes Richard Holledge, it's not as difficult or as expensive as you may think.

There's nothing worse than a ski bore. God, how they go on. Banging on about black runs and blue runs, ripping up the powder, cruising through the bumps. Then they get on to skis: the relative values of Salomon P Force 9 as compared with Volkl P 30 Race Carvers, and the sheer excitement of slipping into rear-entry boots.

But they are a mere sub-class compare with Fanatics. The only time they talk is when they are on a chair lift. In the evenings they are busy sharpening their skis and dulling the conversation. So this is for them: the Ultimate Day Trip.

It works like this: depart London Heathrow at 6.30am (or Manchester at 6.35am), arrive Zurich, take the bus to Engelberg, get your gear, grab the lift pass, ski like a lunatic, get the bus, catch the plane and be back in time for bed. Cost: pounds 160.

It's a clever bit of marketing for us bores and fanatics and will no doubt sell comme des gateaux chauds, particularly as the snow conditions this year are spectacular.

Engelberg is a nice place - it has a revolving cable car, which must be disconcerting for those who tend to suffer from vertigo - but there are other places just as easy to get to for a quick ski. Take the Portes du Soleil. This vast area, with 13 or 14 resorts and infinite kilometres of pistes, straddles France and Switzerland and is as little as an hour and 20 minutes from Geneva.

There's a quartet of Swiss resorts which fit the bill: Champery, Champoussin, Les Crosets, Morgins and Torgon. The drive is mostly by motorway - and fast. They all have their qualities. Champery is pretty, Les Crosets and Champoussin more functional and Morgins slightly more cosmopolitan. Certainly the bar next to the chair-lift car serves a very potable house Fendant, the local wine, in elegant, fluted carafes. Torgon is stuck out on a limb, but links, as they all do, with other resorts. The skiing you see from your front door bears no relation to the huge variety that lies up the lift, over the mountain and down the next valleys.

To get the most skiing on your one-day jaunt, head for Les Crosets. It links with the neighbouring communes of Champery and Champoussin and, more important, with the area's biggest ski domain, Avoriaz.

So this is how it goes for bores and fanatics. Take the 8am Swissair flight from Heathrow, arrive Geneva at 10.30am, pray for fast baggage reclaim - better still, keep everything in your hand luggage and leave the skis behind - pick up the hire car, which was booked in advance, and reach Les Crosets by 12.30pm. Pick up the gear from the hire shop in Hotel de la Telecabine, and you'll be up the cable car and away by 1pm. If you don't make a stop for lunch you can ski solidly until about 4.30pm, including a bracing challenge down the very steep run known as the Chavanettes. Plenty of time to catch the 8pm home.

Frankly, all this is a bit rushed. The fact is that a little lunch in a mountain restaurant is one of the pleasures of life. It seems a shame to whiz past La Cremaillerie in the Lindarets area without stopping for its plat du jour. All blanquette de veau, rosti, tarte aux myrtilles and the local red.

There is a solution. Don't just go for the day. Go for 24 hours. And don't just ski in the day. Ski in the night.

Ten kilometres of piste above Les Crosets and Champery are under floodlight. It means that instead of having to stop skiing when the lifts stop, at about 4.30pm, you can keep going until 10pm. And what's more, the ski pass costs the same.

It is a strange sensation swaying up the mountain on one of the four chair lifts in the dark, and odder still picking your way down the shadowy slopes. In fact, it's a lot easier than the dreaded white-out you get during foggy days, when you can't see farther than the end of your skis, you've no idea where you are and, unnervingly, you often feel you are moving when in fact you are stationary, up to your knees in deep snow.

There is also something of a party atmosphere to night skiing. A schuss and a few turns from the top find you in Coquoz restaurant. Inside, a central fire blazes away, slightly chilled skiers toast their toes and warm themselves with vin chaud, and families tuck in to crudites and mountains of raclette - melted cheese with boiled potatoes. The more dedicated contemplate the impressive wine list, which boasts 35 local wines.

The slide back to the mountain was a particularly carefree affair, and we tumbled into the Hotel Telecabine in Les Crosets, where a late dinner awaited.

OK, you have to get up at 5.30am to catch the 7.50am flight home, but that's a small price to pay for a bore and a fanatic.

Hotel de la Telecabine - phone 00 41 24 479 14 21, fax 00 41 024 479 18 66, e mail: hotel.telecabine@portesdusoleil.com - prices for double rooms from pounds 45.

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