Holiday firms tell thousands it's safe to ski in Alps

BRITISH holidaymakers yesterday shrugged off the threat of avalanches which have left 38 dead and many stranded in the Alps. Despite further forecasts of heavy snow, thousands of families refused to cancel their skiing holidays and flew out to slopes in France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.

They have been reassured by the advice of tour operators, many of whom have decided it is safe to continue sending skiers out to resorts in high- risk areas.

Inghams, a specialist ski tour operator, is flying out 2,000 holidaymakers, including 200 to St Anton in the Tyrol Valley where thousands of people were airlifted to safety last Thursday. Laurence Hicks, a spokesman for the company, said skiers trusted its advice. "Other operators may be cancelling because they know more about sun and sea holidays. St Anton is a popular resort with avid skiers, and if we kept sending people to other resorts they'd start to resist," he said.

At Gatwick Airport, thousands of winter sports enthusiasts thronged the departure desks of the main charter companies. Though all were aware of the avalanche tragedies in the past few days, there had not been a single cancellation, according to several holiday company representatives.

Chris Hamer, a marketing manager from Southampton, was heading off for his first skiing holiday in Kitzbuhel. "I was a little worried earlier in the week when I heard about the avalanches but I checked the tour company's helpline and was reassured," he said. "At the end of the day, you have got to go for it, otherwise you lose the cash."

Greg Kamstra, travelling with his wife Valerie and six-month-old son, Matthew, said he had used the internet to get information about his resort in France's Trois Vallees. "It is probably one of the safest areas, but you never know. You can be just pottering along and get buried. Avalanches can come at any time, you just have to accept that and get on with it," he said.

However, Karen Fletcher and Eileen Zutschi, two friends bound for a week's skiing in the French Alps, said they had been shaken and upset by the reports of the avalanches, and were worried about their own safety. "On a scale of one to 10 my concerns are a six," said Ms Fletcher. "I will be checking the structure of the chalet when I get there, I'm that worried, really. I want to come back alive."

According to Jackie Gibson of the Association of British Travel Agents, the majority of Alpine resorts are relatively unaffected. "Ninety percent of them are operational. All operators are taking advice from local authorities who are saying it's all right for this week. If you haven't heard from your operator then you can go ahead as planned."

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