How to go skiing for a day (and get back by bedtime)

Too snowed under for a whole weekend on the slopes? Why not take an awayday, suggests Dominic Earle
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The Independent Travel

With the advent of no-frills flights, sloping off to the Alps for the weekend has become an option for people without mountains of cash. But if you're too snowed under to take a whole weekend off, there's a new way to get a quick fix of the white stuff: go skiing for the day. With favourable winter timetables from the airlines and several top resorts within 90 minutes' drive of the major Alpine gateway airports, you could wake up in London and be sipping glühwein at the top of the famous downhill Hahnenkamm by lunchtime.

With the advent of no-frills flights, sloping off to the Alps for the weekend has become an option for people without mountains of cash. But if you're too snowed under to take a whole weekend off, there's a new way to get a quick fix of the white stuff: go skiing for the day. With favourable winter timetables from the airlines and several top resorts within 90 minutes' drive of the major Alpine gateway airports, you could wake up in London and be sipping glühwein at the top of the famous downhill Hahnenkamm by lunchtime.

When picking where to go skiing for the day, there are several considerations. Firstly, is there easy access? The last thing you want to do is breeze to the bottom of the mountain and then find you've got to wind your way up countless hairpins before you can strap your skis on, so you need to pick a resort which is on or near the valley floor but has direct lift access to the snow. This brings us to the second point: snow. The area has to be snow-sure. Also worth considering is what time of year to go. January will probably mean cheaper flights and low temperatures for snowmaking, but shorter days; April will mean long days, plenty of sunshine but a shrinking snowline lower down.

To make the task easier (and not to waste any more of your precious time), outlined below are three different routes to get to the snow and back before the day is out, plus the best resorts in which to spend the day when you get there.

Finally, remember that in the case of flights, spontaneity comes at a price. So it is important to book as far in advance as you can and go midweek if possible.

France

EasyJet's first flight to Geneva leaves Luton at 6.30am and lands at Geneva at 9.10am. Pick up your hire car and you have several world-class ski areas within a 50-mile radius. Closest, and quaintest, is the ancient market town of Samoëns, just an hour from Geneva and the perfect back door into ugly sister Flaine's snowsure skiing area. Samoëns is the only French ski resort classified by the National Register of Historic Monuments, but the town isn't stuck in the dark ages. A newly created eight-seater gondola whisks skiers up to 1,600m - in just eight minutes - and gives a direct link to the Grand Massif ski area with its 75 lifts. Much of the skiing is on north-facing slopes along delightful tree-lined runs - perfect cover in bad weather and a refreshing change from some of the soulless above-treeline skiing in higher resorts.

A few miles further on, and several notches up the severity scale, is Chamonix, the spiritual home of all things extreme. Host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and hemmed in by glaciers, this place is dripping with history. The scenery will take your breath away, as will the Aiguille du Midi cable car, which transports skiers from the edge of town up to 3,812m and the start of the famous 24km-long Vallée Blanche run, or the Grands Montets cable car above Argentière - perfect if you like your terrain steep and deep. With a motorway connection from Geneva to within a few miles of the resort, extreme skiing has never been so convenient.

If you prefer high living to high altitude, then vertically challenged Megève is a people-watcher's paradise, and a gourmet's heaven with 91 restaurants. As for the skiing, there's plenty of easy cruising to massage your ego and, if you want to go off-piste, the powder often stays untouched as others head for a long lunch in Chamonix. After a day on the slopes, indulge yourself with dinner at three-Michelin-starred La Ferme de Mon Père. The last flight does not leave Geneva until 9.50pm.

Switzerland

As a country with a national obsession for timekeeping, Switzerland might just be the ideal destination for a skiing day trip. Leaving London at 6.20am, the Swiss flight touches down in Zurich at 9.10am, putting you within easy reach of Engelberg, one of the country's more traditional resorts. If you want to indulge another national obsession, or simply don't fancy driving, then hop on a train at the airport for the two-hour journey up to the resort via Lucerne. However you get from plane to piste, when you arrive you will find year-round glacier skiing on Mt Titlis, a revolving cable car (so you can see the drop on all sides), 2,000m of vertical descent, excellent piste-side eateries and mountains of Swiss charm. And for those who prefer their skiing more horizontal, the resort also has excellent cross-country facilities, with nearly 40km of tracks. Alternatively, from Geneva (see above), you can just about make it to Verbier. Set on a sunny shelf high above the Rhône, this smart resort with endless snow on the glacier and endless fur in the Place Centrale has long been the winter habitat of all things SW3, with prices to match and a huge, if rather disjointed, ski area. To avoid the queues around the resort itself, don't waste time on the hairpins, but park in the valley village of Le Châble, about one hour and 40 minutes from Geneva, and hop on the gondola directly up to the main slopes above the resort.

Austria

Ryanair's first flight to Salzburg does not leave until 6.40am, depositing you on the tarmac at 9.25am, with two of Austria's most famous ski areas, Zell am See and Kitzbühel, just 50 miles away.

Zell am See is motorway skiing in more ways than one. The autobahn network means access from Salzburg takes just over an hour and leads to a handsome lakeside town with plenty of easy pistes on the 2,000m Schmittenhöhe mountain. If the snow is no good, drive up the few kilometres to Kaprun where a two-stage gondola, which replaced the funicular after the tragic fire in November 2000, takes skiers up to the permasnow of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Downhill demons might prefer to head for Kitzbühel. If the name conjures up memories of Franz Klammer, David Vine and Ski Sunday, it is because it is home to one of the most famous downhills in the world, the legendary Hahnenkamm. David Vine said he would ski the Hahnenkamm when Harry Carpenter fought Mike Tyson, but those made of sterner stuff can ski the course after the World Cup race in January. If you prefer your pistes more lightweight, don't worry - expanses of blue and green mean the place is a knockout for beginners and intermediates. The one problem with Kitzbühel is height, or lack of it, so make it a last-minute destination if you want to avoid spending the day wandering its (very attractive) old streets instead of schussing down in the shadows of your Sunday afternoon heroes.

Give me the facts

Samoëns

Tourist information: 00 33 450 344 028; www.samoens.com. Lifts 75; pistes 260km ; 70km from Geneva

Chamonix

(00 33 450 532 333; www.chamonix.com) Lifts 49; pistes 152km; 85km from Geneva

Megève

(00 33 450 212 728; www.megeve.com) Lifts 79; pistes 300km; 75km from Geneva

Engelberg

(00 41 416 397 777; www.engelberg.ch) Lifts 23; pistes 82km; 95km from Zurich

Verbier

(00 41 277 753 888; www.verbier.ch)

Lifts 95; pistes 410km 150km from Geneva

Zell am See

(00 43 6542 7700; www.zellamsee.com)

Lifts 56; pistes 130km; 80km from Salzburg

Kitzbühel

(00 43 5356 621550; www.kitzbuhel.at)

Lifts 56; pistes 150km; 75km from Salzburg

Flights

Easyjet (0871 750 0100; www.easyjet.com)

Luton-Geneva 06.30 - 09.10

Geneva-Luton 21.50 - 22.30

Returns from around £110 including tax

Swiss (0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com)

Heathrow-Zurich 06.20 - 09.10

Zurich-Heathrow 20.15 - 21 -05

Returns from around £100 including tax

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com)

Stansted-Salzburg 0640-0925

Salzburg-Stansted 2025-2115

Returns from around £190 including tax

One day's car hire at each of the resorts listed starts from £17 with Holiday Autos (0870 400 0010; www.holidayautos.co.uk). Customers can upgrade to a Ski Max package which includes snow chains and roof rack

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