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Winter Olympics: Setting the cold standard

Legacy is the key after London 2012 . But does that apply to the Winter Olympics? Matt Barr finds out

In the warm post-Games glow that has enveloped the country since the triumph that was London 2012, one key question – that of legacy – remains. Before the Games, it was the buzzword used to pacify a largely cynical public. London 2012, we were repeatedly told, would rejuvenate our national sporting appetite with new football stadiums, velodromes, swimming pools and basketball courts, while upgraded infrastructure and transport networks would improve the quality of life in east London and beyond.

Although the medals and general sporting euphoria served to justify the extravaganza in the eyes of the public and media in the short term, it's still too early to say whether London 2012 can really be called a success in terms of legacy. The big pre-Games question still lingers: will the big promises and £9.3bn budget manifest themselves in a tangible improvement for the city – and the nation – and result in a lasting legacy for the athletes of tomorrow?

The same, of course, applies to the Winter Games, held in the "other" even years that lie between the summer festivities. Next time, it's the turn of Sochi (sochi2014.com) on the Black Sea coast in Russia. Plenty of development has begun in resort – but the question is: will skiers still be flocking there in 2024? A look to past Winter Olympics offers some clues. How did other host cities fare once the closing ceremony fireworks had fallen back to Earth?

Albertville, France, 1992

Legacy: Most of Albertville's events took place at the resorts of Courchevel, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Les Saisies, Méribel, Pralognan, Tignes and Val d'Isère, with huge sums spent improving road and rail links. These were the last Winter Olympics to take place the same year as their summer equivalent, and recorded a whopping $56.8m loss.

Today: The bobsleigh run at La Plagne remains hugely popular (choose between taking a bob raft, a monobob or a taxibob starting at €25 per person per run; bobsleigh.net). Méribel's Chaudanne area retains the finishing line and electronic clock from the Giant Slalom events – though these were widely criticised by competitors for their excessive steepness. Intrepid skiers can test their skills on the downhill course at Val d'Isere but expect it to be incredibly busy: it's the main throughfare back to town.

How to do it: Ski La Roche (07870 209566; skilaroche.com) offer one week's fully catered chalet holidays from £460 per person, based on a full chalet. Price includes transfers to the airport or Aime La Plagne train station, which has direct Eurostar links (0870 518 6186; eurostar.com) to London St Pancras.

Turin, Italy, 2006

Legacy: After winning its Olympic bid in 1999, this industrial Northern Italian city poured a hefty €1.7bn into the project. City infrastructure was revamped, with construction of a subway and new and improved transport links to the surrounding resorts of Cesana Torinese, Cesana San Sicario, Sestriere, Bardonecchia, Claviere, Sauze d'Oulx and Pragelato. As well as accommodation for the influx of athletes and media, and halls for ice hockey and speed skating, the city constructed new 12 new ski lifts and a bobsleigh run.

Today: "The Turin Olympics of 2006 changed the history of the city," claims Cesare Vaciago, chief executive of the city's Olympic organising committee. Turin is now the country's fourth-most-visited city and many of its resorts now feature on the shortlist of any self-respecting winter sports enthusiast. Visitors can try the Olympic-standard halfpipe in Bardonecchia (cut by bespoke, precision attachments that attach to the resorts Kässbohrer piste bashers), ski the men's downhill in Sestriere (which follows the same course as the Olympic run) or attempt the skeleton run at Cesana (torinolympicpark.org) which has public-access bobsleigh and luge runs.

How to do it: A week in beautiful Bardonecchia, site of Shaun White's legendary gold medal halfpipe run in 2006, costs from £370 per person, based on two people sharing a room. Prices include return flights from Birmingham, airport transfers and half-board accommodation in the three-star chalet-style Hotel I Larici. Book your trip through Neilson Holidays (0844 879 8155; neilson.co.uk).

Innsbruck, Austria, 1964 & 1976

Legacy: Innsbruck's second Olympic outing came at short notice after the withdrawal of Denver, but many of the venues and courses used were already in the process of expansion and improvement. Since the city had already hosted the games once before additional construction was unnecessary, aside from the bobsleigh run at Igls. The 1964 Games were threatened by an uncharacteristic lack of snow, but the situation was rescued by the Austrian army, who transported 20,000 ice bricks and 40,000 cubic metres of snow to the Alpine ski runs by hand.

Today: The imposing Bergisel Ski Jumping arena got a full upgrade including a new ramp and 20,000-seat amphitheatre. It was the jewel in the crown for both Olympics and was given a new lease of life in 2003 when London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid revamped the stadium. For the other events, the surrounding resorts of Seefeld, Igls and Axamer Lizum loaned their slopes, ice rinks and curling ponds but it was the slopes of Patscherkofel where the majority of the action took place.

How to do it: Seven days half-board accommodation at the four-star Hotel Alpina in Seefeld costs from £630 per person, based on two people sharing, and includes flights, airport transfers and access to the indoor pool/sauna. Book through Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk).

Vancouver, 2010

Legacy: Vancouver is the largest city ever to have held the Winter Games. Though the cost to the city was C$1.8bn, it created 45,000 jobs and generated huge amounts of income for the state of British Columbia. Olympic villages were constructed in both Vancouver and Whistler and highway links were greatly improved. Six new competition venues were built including facilities for the Nordic events, individual halls for speed skating, ice hockey and curling and the Whistler Sliding Centre: the world's fastest bobsleigh, luge and skeleton track.

Today: Though C$16.6m was spent on upgrading facilities at Cypress Mountain – the site of the skiing events – the most significant improvements were to Whistler itself. Snowmaking facilities doubled and the Alpine ski courses are open to the public. The freestyle facilities at Cypress Mountain were only temporary but Whistler continues to offer arguably the best terrain park and halfpipe in the world.

How to do it: Seven nights in Whistler with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3865; virginholidays.co.uk), including flights, room-only accommodation and transfers start from £1,115 per person. Prices are based on two adults sharing a standard room and include taxes and fuel surcharges, based on departures from 13 December.

Lillehammer, Norway, 1994

Legacy: Lillehammer was the second Scandinavian city to host the Games after Oslo in 1952. Ten new venues were constructed, including two ice hockey halls, an Olympic amphitheatre, a freestyle skiing arena and toboggan course, twin ski jumps and a bobsleigh track. Rail and road links to Oslo were also improved and two Olympic villages were built providing housing for 2,800 athletes for a total cost of roughly £700m.

Today: "The Lillehammer Games were noteworthy for their focus on environmental conservation which set the stage for the formation of the 'Green' Olympics," claims the IOC. They also provided the Nordic countries' only bobsleigh track and the facilities for the locals' favourite winter pursuit: tobogganing at Kanthaugen.

How to do it: Ski Norway (020-7199 6010; ski-norway.co.uk) offers seven-night package deals to Lillehammer/Hafjell, including flights from Heathrow or Manchester with resort transfers from £1,092 per adult.