The seven-nation skiathon

Could you ski seven countries in as many days? Simon Calder lays down a wintry challenge
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The Independent Travel

This winter sees the introduction of an extraordinary number of new flights into the schedules that will inspire the skier or snowboarder in search of new challenges. On Tuesday, for example, easyJet starts flying from Luton to Krakow, ideally placed for the Polish Tatras. Later in the year, charter flights start from Birmingham to Bolzano, serving the Italian Tyrol. With the new breed of no-frills airlines offering unrestricted one-way tickets between Europe's greatest skiing areas, you can ski in a different country every day for a week - filling in the gaps by bus, train or rental car.

This winter sees the introduction of an extraordinary number of new flights into the schedules that will inspire the skier or snowboarder in search of new challenges. On Tuesday, for example, easyJet starts flying from Luton to Krakow, ideally placed for the Polish Tatras. Later in the year, charter flights start from Birmingham to Bolzano, serving the Italian Tyrol. With the new breed of no-frills airlines offering unrestricted one-way tickets between Europe's greatest skiing areas, you can ski in a different country every day for a week - filling in the gaps by bus, train or rental car.

These flight plans start and end in the London area, but with a rapidly expanding range of choices from other UK airports, you can construct your own dream itinerary. Fares include all taxes and were available in reasonable quantities, at the time of going to press, for travel in January 2005.

DAY 1: ANDORRA

Unfashionably, head south to the Pyrenees. The first easyJet flight from Gatwick to Toulouse (£18) should land at 9.50am, just in time - luggage retrieval and cabs willing - to catch the 10.13am train along the spectacular line to Latour de Carol, high in the mountains. From here, hop on the bus to the resort of Soldeu, and start skiing by 3pm.

DAY 2: SPAIN

An early trip back on the bus to Latour, where you change for Puigcerda, and continue to Ripoll and Camprodon; here, you'll need to take a cab to Vallter 2000 - one of Europe's more impressively located resorts, with fabulous views over Catalonia. Enjoy a relatively relaxed afternoon, before heading for Girona, Catalonia's second city.

DAY 3: ITALY

The first Ryanair flight of the day out of "Barcelona Girona Airport" aims for Turin, with a one-way fare of just €14 (£9). The city is venue for the 2006 Winter Olympics, but you should hop on a bus to Cervinia. When sun goes down, take a bus and train to dinner on the Mediterranean, specifically Nice.

DAY 4: FRANCE

Your second visit to France, and at last the chance to ski. Rent a car for the relatively quick drive up to Isola 2000. Be back at Nice airport at sundown for the Helvetic Airways service to Zurich; at €132 (£94) it's not cheap, but it is effective - and, on a moonlit night, a spectacular trip across the Alps. Zurich airport had the world's first McDonald's Hotel, now rebranded as the Park Inn, and a surprisingly sophisticated place to overnight.

DAY 5: SWITZERLAND

Kickstart the day with a two-hour rail journey to Chur, gateway for the Brambrüesch ski area, where a one-day pass costs CHF36 (£15). Back in Chur, you can make some smooth connections for St Anton, across the border in Austria. (If you feel like showing off, build in a side-trip to Liechtenstein.)

DAY 6: AUSTRIA

After a morning at the world-class resort of St Anton, hit the rails again. Pause at Innsbruck to admire Zaha Hadid's dramatic ski jump, then head north across the German border to Garmisch-Partenkirchen; the last train from Innsbruck is at 8.35pm, arriving at one minute to 10.

DAY 7: GERMANY

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is surrounded by tempting mountains, and conveniently located for the last leg of your high-velocity trip; a two-hour train ride to Munich airport, followed by a EUR28 (£20) journey on the last easyJet flight of the night to Stansted.

easyJet: 0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com

Ryanair: 0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com

Helvetic: 020 7026 3464; www.helvetic.com

Most trains in Europe can be booked through Trainseurope (0900 195 0101; www.trainseurope.com)

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