Slope off from the crowd: Chris Gill passes on your recommendations of the perfect places for off-package skiing

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The Independent Travel
MY APPEAL a couple of weeks ago for reports on unpackaged resorts has produced a handful of interesting recommendations.

Kevin Packham has experience of several less well-known resorts. He recommends two limbs of the Portes du Soleil area that barely figure on the UK package scene, La Chapelle-d'Abondance and St- Jean-d'Aulps - 'both compact, pretty, uncrowded' - and Corvara, over the hill from Selva in the Dolomites, which he describes as 'a brilliant resort, with lots of interesting tree-lined runs and probably the best mountain restaurants in the Alps'.

That is quite a claim and one that my memories and recent experience of Zermatt do not entirely support; but it certainly is true that the Dolomites are blessed with excellent restaurants.

Few British skiers venture south in France beyond the Grenoble- Briancon area and resorts such as Les Deux Alpes, Serre-Chevalier, Montgenevre, unless it is to go down to Isola 2000.

Douglas Philips writes in praise of skiing in Haute Provence, between the two, notably at La Foux d'Allos which is linked to the better known Pra-Loup. He says the area and its people are charming and the prices irresistibly low. But he admits his enthusiasm is not shared by most skiers, French or otherwise.

'The big plus of the Foux d'Allos is the off-piste skiing,' he says, 'particularly on spring snow. With larch trees growing at altitudes of 2,000m, most of the skiing can be done in the trees, taking you far off-piste without any great danger - with a guide, of course.' There are several resorts within driving distance of one another, and Mr Philips reports with satisfaction skiing a different resort every day for a week from a three-star hotel in Barcillonnette, the Azteca, costing (last winter) pounds 23.50 a night for half-board.

Ray Lofting visited Les Karellis on a day-trip from nearby Valloire, having found the lifts were covered by the Valloire pass. So did all the other skiers who have ever told me anything about this modern French resort, 'perched rather like a mini-La Plagne at around 1,700m on the steep south side of the Arc valley'; but it has more than 2,500 beds, almost entirely self-catering, for those who wish to reside. Day visitors, including Mr Lofting, have been impressed by the 900m vertical of red and blue runs, but think it a bit limited as a holiday base.

R P Wilkinson writes 'to extol the virtues of Sainte-Foy', a newly opened ski area above a village on the road up to Val d'Isere. Here, he says, is a chance to enjoy skiing without the crowds that have become inescapable in established resorts. There is hardly any accommodation at present, but the small installation of chairlifts serves a varied ski area of 900m vertical with some impressive black runs and off-piste areas served by the top lift. There are a couple of appealing chalet restaurants, and Mr Wilkinson judges the resort 'perfect for a day's outing' from nearby mega-resorts.

IF YOU are in the market for a flight to the Alps (or other skiing mountains), or if you want to take flight timings into account when choosing a package holiday, you may find it helpful to get hold of Snow Line's 'comprehensive' guide to scheduled and charter flights of interest to skiers. The idea is that showing the alternatives helps you settle on travel arrangements that suit you, rather than settling for the first deal you encounter.

Snow Line, based in Leicestershire, is one of the handful of specialist ski travel agencies that now seem to have established themselves as more helpful alternatives to local travel agents. I mentioned London-based Ski Solutions' chalet-finding service a couple of weeks ago. The other active specialist is Skiers Travel Bureau, based in Leeds.

I have 'tested' these agents in the past, anonymously setting them artificial little challenges to see how they dealt with them, and obtained results that were not entirely positive. Perhaps readers who call on them for real-life help would like to let me know what advice they get. (Ski Solutions: 081-944 1155; Skiers Travel Bureau: 0532 666876; Snow Line: 0858 84786).

IF public relations activity were any guide to quality of service, there would be no doubt that Snow + Rock was the place to buy ski equipment. The flow of announcements and innovations from the company is continuous, and some of them are of genuine interest: a big new shop at the Hemel Hempstead dry ski slope; a 'ski test' weekend being run in conjunction with Fresh Tracks (in Flaine in January); free cappuccino for weekday visitors to its boot clinics.

Of broadest appeal is the company's 120-page clothing and equipment catalogue, whether you use it for mail-order purposes or simply to stay in touch with what's on the market (Snow + Rock: 0753 830868; Fresh Tracks: 081-335 3003).

SALOMON's latest wheeze is to make its skis available for 'free' testing at certain dry slopes on certain dates (the use of the skis is free, the use of the slopes is not).

Anyone who feels able to choose a pounds 300 pair of skis on the basis of skiing on a dry slope must be a better dry-slope skier than me; but then most readers probably are. For more information, telephone 0256 479555.

(Photograph omitted)

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