'I vowed never to ski again'

How do you write a guide to the best skiing in Europe? Vanessa Webb learnt the hard way
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The Independent Travel

I arrived in Rotterdam in time for a quick drink before boarding the car ferry to Hull. The first indication that my emotions were running high was my jubilant behaviour, which the crew took as inebriation. The second clue occurred in the dining room when I burst into tears on hearing that there were no roast potatoes left. I needed sleep.

For eight months I had skied with world-renowned riders, eaten at the finest restaurants and attended every party I could find, on a quest to research the best resorts in Europe. It sounds like the job of dreams, but living out of a car isn't quite so rosy 80 resorts down the line. I vowed never to ski again.

Not surprisingly, after a few hours back in the city, this resolution was forgotten and I whiled away hours dreaming about hitting the slopes while I wrote the book.

Time dedicated to skiing or snowboarding is precious, particularly if you allow yourself only one week a year. You save yourself any disappoint- ment by returning to the same resort year after year. But what if your perfect resort is out there and you never find it?

Guidebooks can help, but with many books covering thousands of resorts, it's impossible to glean much information unless you read each one cover to cover. I took it upon myself to attempt to solve this dilemma with the production of a user-friendly book on the top 50 resorts in Europe.

I began by establishing a number of criteria by which to judge each resort, such as the extent of the pistes and backcountry terrain, the provision of a snow park and the resort's amenities. A spreadsheet was then designed, which would eat up my marks out of 10 for each criterion and spit out a convenient score for each resort.

But the problem was my system didn't pick up on the ski resort's personality: that special quality that is impossible to define mathematically. The most inspirational day's skiing I had was in La Grave, a quaint village in the La Meije area of France. It would not get close to the top 50 if it were judged solely on its facilities or pistes. But for the competent skier or snowboarder it makes the pistes of the traditional European resorts feel like the M25 in rush hour.

According to the raw arithmetic, the Andorran resort of Pas de la Casa scored far higher than most people would imagine. Sure, it has a decent number of restaurants, shops, and hotels but it's also plagued by back-street nightclubs, greasy spoon cafés and stag- and hen-night shenanigans.

My sophisticated system was scrapped, along with my vision of creating a definitive list, and was replaced by pen and paper, on which I scribbled a more personal version of my favourite 50 resorts.

For me, St Anton was a clear winner, with all the charm, challenging terrain, and nightlife that I could wish for, although 24-hour entertainment isn't for everyone. As an alternative to the unequivocal list of top resorts that I had planned, I produced more specific lists of "Top 5 Resorts" for the criteria I had set.

Freestylers, for instance, are directed towards the amazing park at Le Crosets in the Portes de Soleil, freeriders to the heliskiing in Chamonix or Monte Rosa in Italy, and on-piste carvers to the endless blue and red runs in the Three Valleys. Those who want to mingle with the rich and famous might enjoy the Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow in St Moritz, and those after a romantic weekend would struggle to go wrong with the "chocolate box" resort of Saas Fee, surrounded by 13 staggering 4,000m peaks.

One resort's personality varies greatly to the next and finding your resort soulmate is a personal journey. So, while The Top 50 Ski and Snowboard Resorts in Europe 2006 is not, and cannot be, a definitive list, it may help you to eliminate those that you don't get on with - and find a resort you love.

'The Top 50 Ski and Snowboard Resorts in Europe 2006' by Pat Sharples and Vanessa Webb is published by Foulsham (£14.99)

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