It is one of the traditions of British skiing that canny skiers do it in January. Sure, they'll tell you, the weather can be cold; but if you want to get your kit off, you should go to the Caribbean. On the other hand, the snow is usually good, the holidays are cheap, and the resorts are not crowded. Why did this tradition arise? Because - bizarrely - the bulk of British skiers did not hit the slopes in January.

It is one of the traditions of British skiing that canny skiers do it in January. Sure, they'll tell you, the weather can be cold; but if you want to get your kit off, you should go to the Caribbean. On the other hand, the snow is usually good, the holidays are cheap, and the resorts are not crowded. Why did this tradition arise? Because - bizarrely - the bulk of British skiers did not hit the slopes in January.

Maybe it was the fear of the cold, or the cost of Christmas, or the desire to stagger holidays a bit rather then bunch them up - tour operators' explanations differ. But the result of the slack demand has been low prices and relatively uncrowded resorts. If you are a wise skier, however, be warned: January 2000 will be different.

Partly this is because in recent years tour operators have learned to pitch their prices low enough, and January is becoming too good a bargain to miss; partly it's because the calendar and the millennium bug have got together to remove the first week of 2000 from the equation - few operators are moving skiers out to the resorts at the New Year weekend - and with January effectively down to three weeks, there's going to be a bit of a crush.

Bookings are already good, say the tour operators; and they are hoping that those 15 per cent of skiers who have failed to book so far this season will, when they have survived the millennium, suddenly remember what they like to do in winter.

So if you're planning a traditional January trip but waiting - as usual - to see where the snow falls before making the booking, be prepared for disappointment. And bear in mind that there's another group of smart skiers: they swear by sunny April in snow- sure areas such as Val d'Isere and St Anton, when the holidays are cheap and the resorts are not crowded. If you can't beat them to the slopes, join them.

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