Mountain news: Big early snowfalls ease market jitters

Ski resorts and tour operators are always nervous at this time of year. There's always been the fear that the snow will come late, and these concerns have only been magnified by recent global-warming projections.

This year, of course, we have the added spectre of financial turmoil and the slump in sterling relative to the two main skiing currencies, the euro and the dollar. Here opinions divide across the Atlantic, with North American resorts braced for a drop in business while European areas continue to insist that business is up.

That claim has been bolstered by the publication of positive statistics in recent days from the world's largest ski lift operator, the Compangnie des Alpes and from the Ski Club of Great Britain.

Spirits have been further-bolstered by heavy snowfalls in the Alps at the start and end of October with resorts already open including Zermatt (00 41 27 966 8100; zermatt.ch) in Switzerland, Tignes (00 33 4 79 40 04 40; tignes.net) in France and Hintertux (00 43 5287 8506; tux.at) in Austria all becoming powder playgrounds for those lucky enough to be on the slopes already.

Closer to home the recent snowfall in Scotland allowed Cairngorm (01479 810930; cairngormmountain.com) and the Lecht (01975 651440; lecht.co.uk) to open for Hallowe'en.

Good falls in the US have allowed Killington, Vermont (001 802 4223333; killington.com) on the East coast and Mammoth, California (001 760 9342571; mammothmountain.com) in the West to be the first major ski areas to open, along with Colorado's Breckenridge (001 970 4535000; breckenridge.snow.com), Copper (001 866 8412481; ski-copper.com) and Keystone (001 970 4962316; keystone.snow.com).

Their latest problem in maintaining the growth from British tourists is the dollar's recent gains against sterling which has immediately increased costs in resorts by at least a quarter for Brits.

Canada, which like the US suffered from high fuel supplements applied to transatlantic flights, along with the demise of the air carrier Zoom, has not seen a similar surge in its currency and is now hoping skiers will again be attracted from south of the border. As a mark of optimism one British Columbian tour operator, Great Canadian Heli-Skiing (001 250 344 2326; canadianheli-skiing.com) has launched a season ticket costing $100,000 (£67,000) that guarantees a place on their chopper every day and includes a personal powder concierge to keep you informed of conditions.

British tour operators are a little more conservative and low-price specials are now hitting the market. Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalholidays.co.uk), Thomson (0871 971 0578; thomsonski.co.uk) and First Choice (0871 664 0130; firstchoice-ski.co.uk), all now part of the TUI stable, have a £199 flight and accommodation deal on selected dates to top destinations if booked online. They're also offering £100 off departures from 16 regional airports on selected February dates.

Self-catering apartments are also coming in to their own again for families on a tight budget. The huge range from Interhome (020-8780 6629; interhome.co.uk) includes not only the traditional Alpine choices but also ski destinations outside the euro-zone including Slovakia and Poland.

In Saas Fee (00 41 27 9581858; saas-fee.ch), which is one of those resorts already open and benefiting from big early snowfalls, the three-bedroom Chalet Alpin-Snowball sleeps six with DVD, satellite TV and bunk beds for the kids, and costs from £981 for seven nights. "Depending on the budget, there is something for all so you can still get your fix of snow without hurting your bank balance," says Interhome director Madeleine Winship.

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