Skiing: Weekend breaks

If you've been following our series on where to ski but haven't had time to go yet, a weekend break could be just the thing. Tania Alexander points you in the right direction

IF YOU haven't managed to find time to ski at all this season, taking off for a weekend of skiing is enticing, particularly as the Alps have just had theirheaviest snowfalls for eight years. A weekend skiing holiday can be anything from two to four nights, and can be really refreshing. Even a couple ofdays of Alpine air is an excellent tonic, and I always feel as though I have been away for much longer.

IF YOU haven't managed to find time to ski at all this season, taking off for a weekend of skiing is enticing, particularly as the Alps have just had theirheaviest snowfalls for eight years. A weekend skiing holiday can be anything from two to four nights, and can be really refreshing. Even a couple ofdays of Alpine air is an excellent tonic, and I always feel as though I have been away for much longer.

The resort you choose for weekend skiing has to be within a two-hour transfer from the airport. Weekend skiing doesn't come cheap: your flights willprobably have to be scheduled ones as these have more flexible timings and are also less likely to be delayed. Reckon on paying as much for athree-night stay as many people do for a week: half-board is not going to be much less than £500.

In theory, you should be able to leave work, say, on a Friday afternoon, catch an 8pm flight to Geneva and be tucked up in bed at the resort beforemidnight. That would give you two full days to ski before returning home on Sunday night. It obviously makes it more leisurely and enjoyable if youcan tag another day or two on to this by taking time off work. Alternatively, if your job is very flexible you'll enjoy less crowded pistes by taking asimilar short break mid-week.

There are several companies that specialise in weekend skiing. Among those mentioned below are: White Roc (tel: 0171-792 1188), Powder Byrne (tel:0181-871 3300), Ski Weekend (tel: 01367 241 636) and Collineige (tel: 01276 24262).

These are worth investigating: they have got the whole procedure smoothed out and will provide minibus transfers or car hire from the airport as well asresort reps who can save you time on arrival by organising your lift pass and ski hire. It is not usually worth taking your own skis when going on sucha short break.

Chamonix, France

This French resort - not glitzy but full of macho mountain men - is about an hour's drive from Geneva and is heaven for good skiers and anyone wholikes a raucous apres-ski scene. The setting is dramatic in the shade of Mont Blanc and there is a long season with the lifts usually open until earlyMay. The Chamonix Valley is best suited to intermediates and above - the slopes in Chamonix are steep and challenging, and the ones in nearbyArgentiere positively terrifying. However good a skier you are, if you're going to head off-piste in Argentiere, do hire a guide as there are a lot ofcrevasses.

Where to stay

Hotel Eden is a friendly two-star hotel in the hamlet of Les Prax, between Chamonix and Argentiere, 200m from the Flegere cable-car. The excellentfood makes a half-board stay there very good value. White Roc offers a three-night break there from £466 per person half-board, includingscheduled flights and car hire. Albert Premier is a four-star country-house style hotel with one of the best restaurants in the Alps, five minutes walkfrom the centre of Chamonix. In the grounds of the main hotel there are two traditional chalets, orginally Savoyard farmhouses, which have largeluxurious rooms with fireplaces and spa baths. White Roc offers three nights half-board in one of these luxurious rooms from £730 half-boardincluding flights and transfers. If you prefer the informality of staying in a chalet, Chamonix specialist Collineige can organise weekend breaks, stayingin its chalet, Les Mazots, which is located in the old, secluded quarter of Chamonix, close to the centre of town and the Brevent telepherique. Thetraditional-style chalet is full of wood-panelling and superb views across the valley to Mont Blanc and the Glacier des Bossons. From £520 perperson for four nights half-board including flights and transfers.

Champery, Switzerland

If you like the idea of clocking up a lot of ski mileage on a short break, Champery is ideal as it provides easy access to the 600km Portes du Soleilcircuit. It is only two hours drive from Geneva, and you can also get there by train from the airport.

Part of the fun of skiing in this area is crossing from Switzerland into France and back again - make sure you take currency from each as otherwise itcan be tricky when you want to stop for a drink and don't have the right money. Champery is a small Swiss village, with one long main street lined withtraditional wooden chalets. One of the nice things about choosing a small resort like this for a short break is that the atmosphere is very relaxed andfriendly and you quickly get to know the locals, most of whom are related.

Where to stay

Hotel Suisse is a very comfortable, friendly high-standard three-star hotel that has recently been refurbished. It is handy for weekend skiing as the hireshop is right next door. The hotel's Bar des Guides is a popular apres-ski rendezvous for both visitors and locals and there is a small disco in the cellarbar. White Roc offers three nights bed-and-breakfast there from £490, including flights and hire car. Alternatively, Hotel de Champery isanother three-star hotel on the main street in town. Ski Weekend offers four nights half-board there from £499, including scheduled flights andtransfers.

Alagna, Italy

Expert skiers in search of a weekend of powder should try Alagna in the Monterosa area of Italy, a mere hour from Milan airport but a huge andrelatively unknown place to ski. Alagna itself is a tiny village with three cables that were installed by Mussolini. There is only one piste but there is ahuge amount of off-piste skiing that is accessed via these lifts. The resort has four restaurants, two hotels and some great old chalets. Heli-skiing is alsoavailable.

Where to stay

Ski Weekend organises off-piste weekends in Alagna from £689 per person, based on B&B for six people in Seppi's Appartments, andincluding flights, transfers and guiding services of Seppi Enzio. Only for strong off-piste skiers.

Lech, Austria

Two hours drive from Zurich, Lech is a classic Alpine village: an expensive stylish resort popular with royalty, aristocrats and celebrities looking forsomewhere discreet rather than glitzy. It shares a mountain with neighbouring and equally upmarket Zurs. Its slopes are well groomed and there are260km of long, easy runs. The resort has a long season with an excellent snow record, and lift passes are restricted so you won't spend all your time inlift queues. A good choice for a last-minute weekend booking.

Where to stay

Hotel Kristiana is an elegant, stylish hotel with lots of original works of modern art and spacious well-furnished bedrooms. It has a cosy bar with anopen fire and a health suite with sauna, solarium, Jacuzzi and massage. It is located 500m from the centre of Lech and the lifts and it is possible to skiback to the hotel. The Haldenhof is a more traditional chalet-style hotel, 300m from the slopes and the lifts, owned by the director of the tourist office.After skiing, tasty snacks are served by the fireside in the bar and the hotel organises occasional curling-and-fondue evenings. White Roc featuresKristiana from £614 for three nights half-board, including flights and car hire, and the Haldenhof from £587.

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Grindelwald is one of the prettiest villages in Switzerland. For those who work in the City of London, it can be reached on the extremely convenientevening flight from London City airport to Berne on Air Engiadina, and then one hours drive. Alternatively, fly to Zurich, and then it is two hours drive.The resort sits at the foot of the awesome Eiger and offers excellent skiing for intermediates - long runs with some breathtaking views of the Eiger,Jungfrau and Monch mountains. Most of the runs are very scenic, some of them up to 15km long.

Where to stay

The Sunstar is 30m away from the first bubble-lift. It is a large, well- run hotel with its own pool, saunas and a huge comfy lounge facing the Eiger,with a log fire and live music in the evening. It also has the best nightclub (free for guests) in the soundproofed basement. The Hotel Fiescherblick is aclassic chalet-style three-star hotel overlooking the church and the mountains beyond. It has a good restaurant and small but comfortable rooms. WhiteRoc offers three nights at Sunstar from £590 half-board with flights from London City airport to Berne (65km from the resort). Powder Byrneoffers three nights half-board at Fiescherblick from £564 including flights, minibus transfer from Zurich airport and guide.

Flims, Switzerland

Although it is not that well known to British skiers, this is a superb resort for intermediates, being part of a 200km circuit in the White Arena. It is aone-and-a-half hour transfer from Zurich Airport, by car or train. The resort itself is quiet and sedate - the sort of place where you will want to clock upa lot of mileage in the day and then just have a peaceful, decent meal and an early night. The recent addition of a high- speed gondola from the villagehas further improved access to the top of the mountain.

Where to stay

Hotel Adula is a four-star family-run hotel with its own swimming-pool, steam room and sauna. It is a very popular choice for families as it is verychildren-friendly. Hotel Waldeck is a more traditional chalet-style three-star hotel with the bonus of very good food and excellent service. PowderByrne offers three nights at Hotel Adula from £545 per person half-board, including flights and transfers, and from £541 per person atthe Hotel Waldeck.

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