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The Essential Skiing Guide: Austria

Austria is where the Alpine style of downhill skiing was first invented just over a century ago. It was the most popular destination for Britons through the 1970s and has been regaining ground against France for several years as its more traditional village resorts become popular once again.

More than 600 villages in Austria have ski lifts and, unlike in other Alpine nations, the resorts are almost all traditional (rather than purpose-built). They adhere to strict planning guidelines, keeping the architecture in the traditional wooden chalet-style design.

Most of the ski areas are smaller and lower than in France, which can cause snow-cover worries. However, the Austrians vehemently reject that this is a problem and have invested heavily in snow-making facilities.

On the positive side, many skiers find that they prefer holidaying in pretty little villages and skiing through woodland rather than having hundreds of kilometres of featureless and exposed high-altitude terrain on their lift pass that they can't make much use of.

Bigger isn't always better.

Did you know?

Last month, Kitzbühel and Schladming became the first non-glacier ski areas to open within the Alps for winter 2010.

At one kilometre long, Saalbach's new Treetop Path is the world's longest. It loops around the forest and incorporates a 200m hanging bridge, which is 40m high.

Austria has the best nightlife – try Ischgl, St Anton or Sölden.

The Innsbruck area pass gives inclusive access to eight ski areas around the city, and prices are low because the winter months are off-season for the Tyrolean capital.

Look out for the new eight-metre, six-seat, heated designer chairlift with orange-tinted weather covers on Ischgl's highest peak.

Best resorts for novices

Alpbach (004 3 5336 600600; alpbachtal.com); Galtür (00 43 50990 5443; galtuer.com); Igls (00 43 512 377101; innsbruck.info /igls); Obertauern (00 43 6456 7252; obertauern.com); Serfaus (00 43 5376 62390; serfaus.com).

For intermediates

Kitzbühel (00 43 536 777; kitzbuehel.com); Ischgl (00 43 5444 100; ischgl .com); Saalbach Hinterglemn (00 43 6541 680068; saalbach.com); Sölden (00 43 5254 510; soelden.com); Westendorf (00 43 5357 200 0300; westendorf.net).

For experts

Bad Gastein (00 43 6432 3393560; badgastein.at); Flattach (00 43 4785 615; flattach.at); Innsbruck (00 43 512 59850; Innsbruck.info); Pitztal (00 43 5414 86999; pitztal.com); St Anton (00 43 5446; stantonamarlberg.com).

For families

Kaprun (00 43 6547 8080; zellamsee-kaprun.com); Maria Alm (00 43 6584 7816; hochkoenig.at); Mayrhofen (00 43 5285 6760; mayrhofen.at); St Johann (00 43 5352 633350; kitzalps.cc); Wildschönau (00 43 5339 8255; wildschoenau.com).