Ski news: So far, so good for this season's snow

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The Independent Travel

Anyone who mentions how good the autumn snow has been this year might be accused of jinxing the coming 2009-10 ski season. But the truth is that the pre-season to the coming winter has so far equalled, if not exceeded, the start of the snowy spectacular 2008-9 ski season.

In fact, thanks to the heavy snow at the start of the month, the season has already started, early, in several of Europe's top resorts. These include Verbier (00 41 27 775 3888; verbier.ch) in Switzerland and Schladming (00 43 368 722 777; schladming.at) in Austria. Meanwhile Kitzbühel (00 43 5356 777; kitzbuehel.com) in Austria recorded its earliest opening in 80 years when the lifts started running last month. Livigno (00 39 0342 052 200; Livigno.eu) in Italy opened a week ago, running its lifts free of charge. Andorra's GrandValira (00 376 808 900; grandvalira.com) has also opened a fortnight earlier than planned following a metre of snow falling in the Pyrenees.

The snow reporting agency skiinfo.co.uk , which gets snow reports uploaded directly by 2,000 ski resorts, has already issued more than 100 of its free "powder alarms" to subscribers, an unprecedented number this early in the season. These are emailed out every time a resort reports a snowfall of 20cm or more in a day.

It's a similar story across the Atlantic where resorts have been opening on East and West coasts. In Canada, you can already ski at Whistler; 00 1 604 938 2769; whistler.com), Banff (00 1 403 762 4421; skibig3.com), Lake Louise (00 1 403 522 3555; skilouise.com) and Marmot Basin (00 1 780 852 3816; skimarmot.com), and many more are already open ready for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. Whistler's base passed 1.8m last week, and the resort had to issue avalanche warnings. Even Japanese resorts are reporting good pre-season snow, too – and you've been able to ski in China since Bonfire night.

Of course, a warm snap could still scupper the beginning of the main ski season over the next month, but this is the dream start for resorts and tour operators alike.

Crystal offers online guides for skiers

There are some new services available to those wanting to make the most of all the snow. The UK's biggest operator, Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk), is replacing the traditional printed information pack given to its clients in resort with an online pack that allows them to access resort information from their home, office or web-enabled phone up to nine days before departure .

The pack includes a personalised "first 24-hour guide" with a wealth of information including details of check-in, transfers, daily snow, piste and weather reports, and the names and contact details of the in-resort team, along with the opportunity to speak to them before departure. "Our research has shown us that customers want assistance within the first 24 hours of the holiday and for us to get them skiing as smoothly and quickly as possible," said Crystal Ski's managing director, Mathew Prior.

In another new initiative, Peak Retreats (0844 576 0170; peakretreats.co.uk ), the specialist in traditional French resort villages linked to big ski areas, has targeted dog-loving Francophiles with a detailed section of their website. The company gives details of the legal requirements involved in taking your pooch on a ski holiday with you, as well as full details of all their properties that accept dogs.

Choose a price that's right for you

Skiingholidays.com may not be the most original name for a winter-sports website, but it represents an innovative new service. The idea is to allow you to compare a package deal and sourcing basically the same holiday using low-cost airline flights, transfers, and a hotel. The director, Tim Anderson, says these "dynamically packaged" holidays can save 35 per cent, and offer the same degree of consumer protection thanks to his company's ATOL. So far, the proportion of holidays on the site that allow this comparison are limited, but Anderson reports the company is adding more as fast as it can.

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