She sells snow shoes

Blue runs and blue water in one holiday? Patrick Thorne skis Europe's coastal ranges

That elusive combination of hitting a sunny beach and then a snowy slope on the same day, both beneath the same brilliant blue sky, can be a reality if you know where to look. For Brits the easiest option is the Mediterranean. Apart from its immediate proximity there's the added bonus that low-cost airline fares are typically at their cheapest in winter, as everyone else heads for Geneva.

That elusive combination of hitting a sunny beach and then a snowy slope on the same day, both beneath the same brilliant blue sky, can be a reality if you know where to look. For Brits the easiest option is the Mediterranean. Apart from its immediate proximity there's the added bonus that low-cost airline fares are typically at their cheapest in winter, as everyone else heads for Geneva.

The 1995 World Alpine Championships venue Sierra Nevada is only 40km as the crow flies from the southern coast of Spain and even closer to Granada airport. It's also just an hour or so from Malaga. The road to the beach is fast and, with the mountain top a snow-sure 3,392m, rather steep.

Once known as "Sol-y-Nieve" or "Sun and snow", the combination of latitude, altitude and a state-of-the-art snow-making system usually allows it to live up to its former name. Sierra Nevada is Europe's southernmost major ski resort with 20 lifts and 60km of runs.

Moving north-east to the Pyrenees there are half-a-dozen less well-known ski areas on both sides of the French-Spanish border, all within an hour's drive of the Med. Fly in to Barcelona then head for Andorra but stop short of the border at La Molina, Masella, Vall de Núria or Vallter 2000. Vallter is the closest to the Med (the Costa Brava is 60km away). It's also at a healthy height for snow certainty, with nine lifts running between 1,950m and 2,550m.

The Southern Alps tumble right down to the sea along the Italian border, as anyone who has tried to drive a few miles inland from the Côte d'Azur can testify. The ski resorts begin about 50km north, but in winter it's important to make sure that the road to the sea is open. Pra Loup, for example, looks close to Nice on the map but is actually easier to reach from more distant Marseille in the winter using the fast autoroute. The direct routes from Nice are via mountain passes that are closed once the snow falls, so your travel options are a tortuous epic of mountain roads, or a route hundreds of kilometres out of your way. Beware also of weekend visits when the roads that remain open are clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic as locals head up to their holiday chalets.

The most southerly ski area of any size that is relatively easy to reach is shared by the resorts of Valberg and Beuil-Les-Launes, 80km from Nice and a little more than half that to the nearest beach. They have a reputation for sunshine and their restaurants and villages have a Mediterranean feel. The ski runs range between 1,400m and 2,100m so this may not be a good choice if snow conditions are not great across the Alps. If they are, you'll find more than two dozen lifts and 60km of runs. You won't find these or other southerly French areas like Auron or Val d'Allos in many of the major tour operators' brochures but LaGrange, a French holiday accommodation rentals specialist, can provide lodging at most through its website.

There are many small ski areas to be found right around the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts if you're prepared to look. Any seaside hill more than 1,000m up is likely to have a lift or two. Besides the southern Alps in Italy, you can ski in the Apennines - and there are even two ski centres on Mount Etna in Sicily, threatened more by lava flows than global warming in recent years.

There are more small ski centres overlooking the sea from coastal mountains in Croatia, Macedonia, Greece and on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Cyprus has a particularly well organised little ski centre on Mount Olympus in the Troodos mountain, 50km above Larnaca. There are a couple of rope tows run by a private club, but membership is offered to visitors by the day at a low price. Full sets of ski clothing, as well as boots and skis, can be rented on site. So it's safe to roll up in your trunks in the rental car providing you've checked snow conditions and rental equipment availability in advance.

Sea temperatures get warmer once you reach the coast of southern Turkey and Lebanon. In the latter, book in to the ever-growing resort of Faraya, 45km from Beirut and the sea, now part of a proposed giant year-round holiday resort that's intended to cover 1 per cent of Lebanon's land mass.

Elsewhere in Europe there are few ski centres near northern shores - and let's face it, the North Sea isn't the most inviting prospect mid-Winter anyway. Beach parties are especially rare in land-locked Austria, but not totally unheard of as the season ends and spring sunshine warms the shores of the lake at Zell am See.

THE REST OF THE WORLD

Heading further afield, you'll find ski areas near the sea in most of the major skiing nations: Canada, the US, Korea, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand. How warm the sea is when there's snow on the local hills is another matter.

That's not a problem in Australia, though. The country is known for its beaches and also offers first-rate skiing in the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales. Unfortunately the resorts are typically a good half-day's drive from the coast. Luckily this inconvenience has been overcome by the Big Banana Theme Park at Coffs Harbour, a popular surfing and tourist location 500km from Sydney, which offers snow-boarding, snow-tubing and tobogganing just 200m from the beach.

The theme park attracts around 300,000 visitors a year with attractions such as an ice-skating rink, monorail and a 700m mountain slide. The indoor slope is 140m long and a snow machine adds 100mm (four inches) of fresh snow daily. You can try the same trick by visiting snowdomes-near-tropical-seas in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Dubai opens the biggest yet, with six indoor runs, in September.

SUMMER SKI AND SEA

It's one thing finding a ski area close to the sea, quite another finding winter sea temperatures that are warm enough for you to want to take a dip. One solution is to wait until summer and ski one of the world's summer ski centres, a few offering convenient seaside proximity, or even a swimming lake.

Folgefonn in Norway is not one of the world's better known ski areas and it does have just one 1.2km drag lift, but it is one of Norway's three summer ski choices. A bus operates to the slopes from the local town of Jondal which offers a wide range of facilities and accommodation, along with 50km of beaches for swimming, fishing and boating.

Of course you don't actually have to go that far to enjoy swimming in the sea and skiing on the same day, any day of the year. Torquay Alpine Ski Club, located in the grounds of Barton Hall, offers ski and snowboarding instruction on one of the world's longest established artificial surface slopes. Make a weekend of it by staying at the Suite Dreams Hotel, a few minutes' drive from the ski club, overlooking the sea and minutes from the beach. In Scotland, Nevis Range ski area above Fort William has wonderful views out over the spectacular West Coast, where diving schools will be happy to kit you up in a wet suit if you fancy a dip.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

Beuil-Les-Launes 00 33 493 023258

Big Banana Theme Park: 00 61 2 6652 4355, www.bigbanana.com

Faraya: 00 961 9 341034, www.skileb.com

Folgefonn: 00 47 536 68531, www.folgefonn.no

Indoor Snow Centres: www.snow365.com

LaGrange Holidays: 020-7371 6111, www.lagrange-holidays.co.uk

Mount Olympus: 00 357 22 675340, www.windowoncyprus.com/skiing.htm

Nevis Range: 01397 705825, www.nevisrange.co.uk

Sierra Nevada: 00 34 958 249100, www.sierranevadaski.com

Ski Torquay: 01803 313350, www.skitorquay.co.uk

Suite Dreams Hotel: 01803 313900, www.suitedreams.co.uk

Valberg: 0033 493 232425, www.valberg.com

Vall de Núria: 0034 972 732020, www.valldenuria.com

Vallter 2000: 0034 972 136075, www.vallter2000.com

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