Good conditions for a final fling

April's showers can turn to snow, and there's some bargain Easter skiing to be had, says Chris Gill
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The Independent Travel
The coming fortnight represents the final fling of the skiing business for another year. Some low resorts have virtually closed, and by the end of Easter week the winding down of even the high resorts will be well under way. Many of the larger tour operators, whose finances depend on sending large numbers of skiers to a wide range of resorts, have their last departures this weekend.

But if you fancy an Easter break, it's certainly possible to find one, even at this late stage. And April again seems to be providing the good skiing conditions that have become a feature of recent winters, at least in the higher resorts where weather fronts have produced snow rather than rain.

The weather outlook for Easter week is anyone's guess.The week ahead, running up to Easter, is difficult to predict, depending to on a battle for supremacy between the resident high-pressure system and threatening Atlantic weather fronts. But some resorts - notably many of the high ones in the northern and central French Alps - already have enough snow to promise good skiing more or less regardless of what happens. If you look at the published snow reports, you'll see some spectacular-sounding snow- depths claimed, and they appear to be justified.

I'm sending these words from Flaine. The depth of snow here is such that I was nearly scalped on one piste by skiers riding a chair-lift above me. The cables of drag-lifts are another hazard, whether you are riding the lifts or crossing them: the cables are much nearer the snow than is usual. On one lift, piste machines have had to be brought in to cut a channel more than a metre deep to keep skiers a safe distance below the cable.

If you're tempted by a last-minute Easter break, don't expect much help from a high street travel agent. By now they will have the first of the 1995-96 brochures (Crystal's preview brochure has been out for three weeks), but they'll probably have shredded the current season's - not surprising, given that companies such as Airtours, Enterprise and Thomson have already shut up shop to concentrate on the Med.

But there are some holidays from mainstream operators. Inghams has virtually closed down, too, but does have holidays in the high Austrian resort of Obergurgl. With flights into Innsbruck giving short transfers, and prices reduced by up to £120, this looks an attractive deal. Crystal has some chalet holidays in Switzerland, and some "blind date" deals to France - £269 for a week's half-board if you leave the details up to the operator, £10 or £20 more if you specify the area but not the precise location.

You'll find much more choice among the smaller operators specialising in the big, high, keen skiers' resorts. Bladon Lines, for example, has holidays available in several high resorts, with prices reduced by about £100 on certain chalets in Val d'Isre and Tignes. Mark Warner has reductions in Val, Meribel, Courchevel, St Anton and Verbier. Ski Scott Dunn has space in Zermatt and Courchevel. These are only examples: other operators doubtless have space, too. A good starting point when looking for this sort of deal would be to contact one of the specialist skiers' agents such as Ski Solutions or Skiers Travel Bureau.

If you're among the legion British skiers who can ski, but not properly, you could devote your Easter week to putting that right here in Flaine with Fresh Tracks. First impressions of the ski area are favourable; the Grand Massif offers very large amounts of mainly intermediate piste skiing and even larger amounts of off-piste terrain, some of it apparently very challenging. Given the time of year, the conditions could scarcely be better.

The immediate forecast, as I write, is for more of the same.As a preliminary to five days of serious off-piste skiing tuition, we skied pistes in just about every condition you could imagine, from rock-hard piste-basher ruts in the early morning to some heavy wet stuff on ungroomed black runs that I found very hard work in the late afternoon. Most of my 12 companions on the course, I'm relieved to say, seemed to share my own incompetence to a reassuring degree - with the notable exception of Bob. While most of us are praying for a very unlikely blizzard to freshen up Flaine's vast off-piste areas, Bob seems to revel in the difficulties of crust in the morning and heavy snow in the afternoon, with breakable crust between the two.

I have my suspicions that Bob is a plant, roped into this course to make sure that the rest of us have something to aim for, and don't get too cocky. Despite his advanced but as yet indeterminate age, the man's combination of athleticism, skill and complete lack of fear makes him a formidable skier. Will his presence in the group inspire the rest of us, or send us into a downward spiral of frustration at our inability to keep up? I'll let you know when I'm back on these pages next autumn.

Ski Solutions: 0171-602 9900; Ski Travel Bureau: 0532 666876.

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