Christmas and New Year on the wrong day, a late Easter and erratic snowfall – as the ski season ends, <b>Stephen Wood</b> reflects on a challenging period
The Pyrenees: The principality's oldest resort, Soldeu, has had a facelift over the past decade. It's raised its game, says Margareta Pagano
Eighteen months ago, Mathew Prior made a prediction. Launching the annual report on the ski business published by Crystal, one of the companies he runs as the boss of Tui UK's ski division, he announced that Andorra would increase its share of the market in the 2009/10 season. This was a bold statement, given that Andorra's market share had declined sharply in each of the four previous seasons. But he was correct: Andorra did have a better season.
Almost every country in Europe – even Croatia, Cyprus and Portugal – has at least one ski area. And as well as the "big four" Alpine nations, UK tour operators offer holidays at dozens of resorts in eastern Europe, the Pyrenees and Scandinavia.
Scotland are expected to recall James McFadden and Kris Boyd as they go in search of goals against Liechtenstein at Hampden Park tomorrow night – goals that eluded them in Friday's draw with Lithuania.
There was a time when budget ski destinations were easy to identify, even without looking at the prices. Location in a country in the former Eastern bloc was a key indicator; an outdated lift system consisting of a network of drag-lifts and a few slow-moving, two-seater chairlifts was another giveaway. A resort clearly revealed its place in the market when the hotels lacked architectural distinction (or even anything that could fairly be termed architecture), served buffet-only meals and covered their lobby walls with information on the movements of the local reps of mass-market tour operators. A main street lined with thickset men trying to lure passers-by into the bars told the same story.
The groups have largely taken shape but there's plenty still to be decided in Europe
A festive start, to be sure. A flourish of fireworks (Stravinsky's, I hasten to add), an unfamiliar ode to music, two piano concertos fielding three pianists, and, of course, the obligatory psalm of praise. Let no one suggest that Roger Wright's three-tier first nights don't reflect the comprehensive, inclusive, spirit of the Proms. But in terms of musical satisfaction, does the fragmented form, with its interminable intervals, really add up? No. Best to focus on the parts rather than the sum of them.
It is not likely to shake any foundations in Spain or Brazil or Argentina but what happened at Wembley last night was some measure of Fabio Capello's reclamation work. His reclaiming, that is, of an England team who are developing a competitive depth guaranteed to avoid the worst kind of embarrassment on the world stage.
England 6 Andorra 0
That 70,000 people will tonight attempt to reach Wembley, despite the Tube strike, is an astonishing testament to the combined pulling power of Fabio Capello's revived team, and the aura of the new stadium. Because very few spectators will be there to watch England's opponents, and no one will turn up expecting to see a contest.
Kazakhstan 0 England 4
Yes, says Stephen Wood, and what's more, Spanish resorts are becoming increasingly accessible to British skiers
Belarus 1 England 3: Gerrard and Rooney on target as Fabio Capello's side achieve best opening to a qualifying campaign
The unseen goal that changed a 19-year-old's world.
Defender Rio Ferdinand has been declared fit and is available for England's crucial World Cup qualifier with Croatia in Zagreb tomorrow evening.