WHY NOT FLY?

"It's the economy, stupid", to quote the famous phrase used by Bill Clinton. Even allowing for costs of fuel, Channel crossing and motorway tolls, driving can be a cheaper option, especially if there are more than two of you in the vehicle. Although the journey will take longer, you'll have the flexibility of being able to leave and return when you want without being tied to flight schedules, and won't have to rely on public transport to explore the resort and environs. In addition to door-to-door convenience, you can take as much luggage as your vehicle has space for. Many mountain roads are, by their nature, very scenic - and you can follow the snow and tour from one resort to another.

You can break up your journey with interesting stopovers and of course stop off at a hypermarket to load up unused vehicle space with Continental goodies on the way back.

WHERE SHOULD I GO?

You could start in Scotland, snow cover permitting. Cairngorm Mountain (01479 861261; www.cairngormmountain.com) near Aviemore, and the Nevis Range (01397 705 825; www.nevisrange.co.uk) are easily accessible from the national road network. But most people tend to aim for higher altitudes and more southerly latitudes.

The most accessible and popular destinations for self-drivers are in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and northern Italy. To give you an idea of distances, the French resort of Les Arcs is a drive of 950km from Calais, and Lech in western Austria just over 900km from Amsterdam.

Travelling to France or western Switzerland, you'll probably take the autoroute via Reims, Dijon and Mâcon. At Mâcon you can either cut in to Geneva for Switzerland and northern French resorts, or head to Lyon for the rest of France. For Italy, it's probably simplest to head to Chamonix and then take the Mont Blanc Tunnel (00 33 4 50 55 55 00; www.tunnelmb.net). Standard cars are charged €31.90 (£22) one way, €39.70 (£28) return to use the tunnel.

For eastern Swiss resorts, the normal route is via Reims and Metz, while those bound for Austria tend to go through Belgium, then past Cologne and Munich. See www.viamichelin.co.uk or www.mappy.com to plan your route.

I WANT SOME HELP

The major ski holiday companies offer self-drive options - which are basically their normal packages with a discount off the standard price that represents the much lower cost of the Channel crossing compared with flights. In general, you must arrive at the resort on the same day as those on the operator's flight programme, but you may take as long as you wish to travel to and from your resort.

Erna Low (0870 750 6820; www.ernalow.co.uk) has a particular specialism in self-drive ski holidays. A typical French Alps trip costs £529 per person, which includes return "flexi-plus" (see below) Eurotunnel crossing and a week in a two-room apartment at the Pierre & Vacances Residence le Mont Soleil in Plagne Soleil.

Malcolm Bentley of Made to Measure Holidays (01243 533 333; www.mtmhols.co.uk) points out that having your car with you also allows you to ski different areas. "Stay in France's Alpe d'Huez, for example, and you can visit Les Deux-Alpes, Serre Chevalier and La Grave." The latter is excellent for off-piste skiers and snowboarders, as the entire 2,150m vertical is never groomed. Made to Measure charges £599 per person for the return Eurotunnel crossing and a week half-board at Hotel le Pic Blanc in Alpe d'Huez.

Starting from a different angle, the online provider Drive Alive ( www.drive-alive.co.uk) focuses on self-drive holidays - including skiing - in Europe. And SeaFrance has just launched a specialist website ( www.seafranceski.com) for ski holidays.

CAN I BOOK IT MYSELF?

Yes. Tour operators may be able to offer keener rates but there's nothing to stop you from booking each of the elements yourself.

Bear in mind that the cheapest ferry (and Eurotunnel) fares tie you to a particular crossing time on a particular day: all Erna Low holidays to France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland include a return Eurotunnel crossing, but rather than just the basic non-changeable fare, the company throws in a free upgrade to "flexi-plus" - among many other benefits this allows you to change the time or day of your crossing.

To book ferries or the tunnel you can either visit each company's site, or try an internet price comparison site such as www.ferrybooker.com. On the last couple of occasions that I have taken a car across the Channel, I found it more convenient in terms of sailing times - and no more expensive - to book a one-way ticket to France with one operator, and a single crossing back with a different operator.

SOMEWHERE TO LAY MY HEAD?

You have plenty of choice, particularly online. In early February, for example, www.skibeds.com charges £553 for a week in a two-bedroom apartment sleeping up to four guests in Seefeld, Austria. Interhome (020-8891 1294; www.interhome.co.uk) is offering a week in a three-bedroom chalet sleeping up to six in Villars, Switzerland, for £1,348. The Ski Club of Great Britain's website ( www.skiclub.co.uk) lists a number of accommodation possibilities, most offering discounts to club members.

One important consideration is how close to your accommodation you'll be able to park, and any charges for parking. Similarly, if you will be driving between your accommodation and the ski lifts, you might want to check parking costs at the lifts.

WHAT OTHER COSTS SHOULD I CONSIDER?

Fuel prices on the Continent are generally slightly cheaper than here. But tolls can be significant. Drive on the autoroutes between Calais and Les Arcs, for example, and you'll be paying around €80 (£57) each way. In Switzerland and Austria, rather than paying charges at toll booths, you need to purchase a "vignette", effectively a windscreen sticker. Sold in most petrol stations and at border crossings, the Swiss version is valid for a year and costs SFr40 (£17), and the Austrian €7.60 (£5.40) for 10 days.

THAT'LL DO NICELY. OR WILL IT?

Many drivers have reported payment problems when attempting to buy petrol in France. At a number of garages, when trying to pay for petrol with a UK-issued credit (or debit) card, authorisation is refused. The problem is made worse as not only do some garages have specific lanes for those paying with credit cards, but the trend seems to be for garages to have solely automated payment possibilities, making the obvious alternative - cash - a problem. The AA says it is aware of the problem and suggests keeping a supply of euros handy and perhaps trying to fill up during the day (when garages are more likely to be staffed).

Tourist board contacts: France (09068 244123; www.franceguide.com/uk); Austria (0845 101 1818; www.austria.info); Germany (020-7317 0908; www.germany-tourism.co.uk) Switzerland (020-7420 4900 ; www.MySwitzerland.com); Italy (020-7408 1254; www.enit.it)

CONTINENTAL CROSSINGS

The main crossings to the Continent are as follows:

Rosyth-Zeebrugge: Superfast (0870 234 0870; www.superfast.com)

Newcastle-Amsterdam: DFDS (08702 520 524; www.dfds.co.uk)

Hull-Zeebrugge or Rotterdam: P&O (087059 80333; www.poferries.com)

Harwich-Hook of Holland: Stena Line (08705 70 70 70; www.stenaline.co.uk)

Dover-Dunkirk: Norfolkline (0870 870 1020; www.norfolkline.com)

Dover-Calais: SeaFrance (08705 711 711; www.seafrance.com), P&O

Dover-Boulogne: Speed Ferries (0870 220 0570; www.speedferries.com)

Folkestone-Calais: Eurotunnel (08705 35 35 35; www.eurotunnel.co.uk)

Newhaven-Dieppe: Transmanche Ferries (0800 917 1201; www.transmancheferries.com)

Portsmouth-Le Havre: LD Lines 0870 428 4335; www.ldlines.com)

Poole-Cherbourg, Portsmouth-Caen or St Malo and Plymouth-Roscoff: Brittany Ferries (08709 076 103; www.brittany-ferries.com)

SAFETY FIRST

Gavin Hill-Smith of the AA, recommends that self-drivers have their vehicles serviced before driving on the Continent.

Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow. Consider changing to winter tyres - these have a higher silicone content in the tread which prevents it hardening at lower temperatures and gives better grip in cold, wet conditions. Even with winter tyres, in most of Europe's mountainous regions, snow chains are a must. In fact, if you don't have them and get stuck or are involved in an accident in snow chain areas, you may well be held liable.

Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving. Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals. Try to maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear in advance to avoid having to change down while climbing a hill.

Stay in a low gear, try to maintain a constant speed and always apply brakes gently. If you do feel the wheels lock and start to slide, steer into the slide.

Don't forget that carrying a warning triangle is compulsory for drivers in many countries.

See www.theaa.com for more safe driving information.

FLY-DRIVE IN NORTH AMERICA

Snow-report followers will know that an abundance of the white stuff has fallen in the Pacific Northwest, meaning fantastic skiing in resorts such as Whistler in British Columbia, Canada. Predictions are that there will be great snow across the western US - including California, Utah and Colorado. Add this to the fantastic performance of sterling against both the US and Canadian dollars, and going longhaul looks very appealing.

Renting a car at your arrival airport and using it to get to and from your resort can really enhance your North American skiing holiday. Most visitors choose resorts reachable from a gateway with direct flights from the UK. Whistler is just north of Vancouver, while in California, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth are both easy drives from San Francisco. Denver is the gateway to a number of Colorado ski resorts, and Salt Lake City is very close to some of Utah's best slopes. Look out for low prices on flights across the pond for departures up to the end of March - Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.com) is offering San Francisco for £294 for departures to 28 March travel (book by 23 January) and Denver from Heathrow for £369 (both from Heathrow on British Airways), whilst Heathrow to Vancouver on Air Canada is £353 through Opodo ( www.opodo.co.uk). To get you around, there are good deals on car hire too - a week's hire of a 4-door "Compact" in Vancouver is £144, and just £105 in San Francisco (both through Holiday Autos, www.holidayautos.co.uk).

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