Skiing: Didn't we have a lovely day ...

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The Independent Online
What are the options for skiing day trips from Britain? Simon Calder offers some suggestions.

Gatwick airport, last Monday morning. Cathy Packe, one of our skiing writers, was hoping to take off on a pounds 149 day-trip to Chamonix. "Up to six hours' skiing in the French Alps", promised Airtours. But she was told in advance that the trip would not be running, and signed up instead for a longer holiday, from which she has yet to return. Yet the cancellation of the day-trip (and the consequent loss of this week's planned skiing story) was the spur for a survey of the options for one-day skiers. Do you have to be mad, or fantastically rich, or both, to go skiing for the day? The answer turns out to be - neither.

Candidate for the best travel bargain of the year so far is a little- known offer from Manchester or Heathrow for a day in the Swiss Alps. While Airtours earned lots of publicity for its first venture into one-day skiing, the Switzerland Travel Centre (0171-734 4577) has quietly introduced a day trip that offers six hours' skiing plus scheduled flights to Zurich, transfers to the resort of Engleberg (perfectly respectable, and mercifully close to Zurich airport), ski hire and lift pass - for a total of just pounds 175 from Manchester, pounds 160 from Heathrow. This deal, valid on Saturdays and Sundays, includes travel on Swissair, just voted best short-haul airline by Executive Travel magazine.

Given that the normal air fare for a day trip from Manchester costs pounds 532, I called the airline to check that the story was correct. "Yes, all true," says Richard Castle, Swissair's marketing manager. "We introduced early flights from the UK [6.30am from Heathrow, five minutes later from Manchester] for business travellers. At weekends, we're taking advantage of the lower demand to create a new product for skiers".

There are other options for the cash-rich, time-poor skier. Richard Holledge, above, describes the 24-hour experience; but if you want to get some skiing in without encroaching on the working day, it helps to aim north.

Those based in south-east England can take advantage of the overnight sleeper from London Euston to Aviemore on Scotrail (0345 550033). Departing at 9.30am gets you there at 7.50am. You can spend the day on the slopes, and the evening sampling the (admittedly limited) apres-ski before climbing aboard the same train at 9.25pm, arriving back in Euston at 7.47am next morning, in time for a day at the office. The fare is a reasonable pounds 99 - with one catch. You have to book this deal a week in advance, which, given the uncertainties of Scottish snow, may not be ideal.

In the other direction the chances look better. The nearest serious Continental snowfields (leaving aside Belgium, favoured by our writer Stephen Wood but sadly few others) are in the Vosges, featured in these pages a fortnight ago. Although it's not the Alps, it's better than the Grampians.

You could, in theory, drive through the night from a French Channel port to the region in around six hours, making it possible to step from car to slope for the day before returning the same evening. With cross-Channel fares by ferry or tunnel so low, this is probably the cheapest option of all - and definitely the most reckless.

Meanwhile, when Cathy Packe returns, she will be pleased to learn that Airtours (01706 232324) is going ahead with a day trip to Chamonix for pounds 149. From Manchester, in March. On Friday the 13th.

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