Something Snowy To Declare: Self-Drive; resort claims; Finland

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The Independent Travel

BARGAIN OF THE SEASON: SELF-DRIVE

Even though there are more low-cost airline options than ever before, you still have to park in the overpriced car park, eat in the airport café, often pay a supplement for your skis, then pay to get from the airport to resort. So you still can't beat cramming in to a car en masse and driving south on French routes nationales (A-roads) to avoid the tolls.

Erna Low (0870 750 6820; www.ernalow.co.uk) offers Le Grand Chalet at Brides Les Bains in the Three Valleys, from 7 to 14 January in a studio for four for a grand total of £256 including return Dover-Calais ferry crossings. That works out at £64, or less than a tenner a night, each, plus whatever you spend on fuel.

WARNING OF THE SEASON: RESORT CLAIMS

Two new entries in the World's Top Ten Biggest Ski Areas chart may not be quite what they claim.

Austria's largest ski area is the SkiWelt. The new Ki-West gondola will link it to Kitzbuhel. It claims it will be the world's third-largest after the French Three Valleys and the Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil. Therefore it must beat the current number three, Paradiski - again in France - which has 430km.

The problem is that the West part of Ki-West is Westendorf, the one part of the SkiWelt that is not lift-linked to the rest of it. A bus trip is required to make the connection. The Ki part is Kirchberg, which is connected to Kitzbuhel's Grossraum area... but not where they're building the new gondola's base. For logistical reasons, that's a mile from the village, so another bus ride is required.

Meanwhile Vail, Colorado ( www.snow.com) has announced in its latest brochure that it "has more pisted runs that any other ski resort in the world". It's a statement likely to surprise dozens of giant Alpine ski areas who had thought not even Whistler in Canada, covering a much bigger area than Vail, was in the world Top 20 for size. However, it's a difficult one to substantiate, with North America measuring ski runs by area, Europe by trail length.

DESTINATION OF THE SEASON: FINLAND

Lapland is the place to be this winter, with the big operators offering a choice of six Finnish destinations.

Skiing is something of a side order here with snowmobile or reindeer safaris, real saunas and dog sledding equally popular. Most British holidays run in midwinter; we're priced out by March when the Finns arrive. It may be dark for much of the time, and uncommonly cold, but Lapland is fun, affordable and the snow's good.

Inghams (020-8780 4444; www.inghams.co.uk) is already well established in Finland, and reports the country as one of its top five destinations - with business to Lapland up again last winter. The first Finnish destinations for Thomson (0870 606 1470; www.thomson-ski.co.uk) are Ruka and Posio. Ruka hosted the Freestyle World Championships last season and has some of the cheapest lift tickets in Western Europe. Crystal (0870 160 6040; www.crystalholidays.co.uk) has added Iso Syote.

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