Snow's up

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The Independent Travel
This season sees some notable lift improvements in several major resorts. I touched on a couple of Swiss ones last week: the huge new cable- car at Samnaun, solving the queue problem on the international circuit linking them with Austrian Ischgl; and the powerful new twin-cable gondola at Crans-Montana, making the top of the resort's skiing practically accessible at last.

Elsewhere in Switzerland, the first six-seater chair-lifts will be in operation in two resorts: one in the middle of the big Flims-Laax ski area, the other at Marguns in the Corviglia sector of the St Moritz skiing - the latest step in the determined move of this top-of-the-market resort away from draglifts to comfortable, user-friendly chairs. Villars and Les Diablerets - two much more modest family resorts - have at long last made the link between their adjacent ski areas workable by building a new lift towards Les Diablerets and a new piste back towards Villars.

In Austria, the antique cable-car out of St Christoph up to Galzig, at the heart of the St Anton skiing, is being replaced by a fast quad chair; I must welcome an end to the post-lunch queues, but I can't help regretting the demise of what I believe to have been the smallest cable-car in the Alps, capable of carrying no more than 250 people an hour. No one will have any regrets about the passing of the notoriously inadequate Penken cable-car at Mayrhofen, which is being replaced by a gondola; access to Mayrhofen's beginners' mountain, the Ahorn, remains slow and inconvenient.

La Plagne is the main French resort where improvements will be felt - a new six-seater chair out of Plagne Centre should help to relieve queues for the Grande Rochette cable-car. Courchevel is also replacing its top gondola to La Vizelle, no doubt helping to relieve the pressure on the almost parallel cable-car to La Saulire - but increasing crowding on the pistes back down.

Over in North America, bottlenecks rarely develop to the point where a dramatic solution is needed. Aspen, Vail and Taos all get additional fast quad chairs this season, but the biggest new lift in the Rockies is one aimed at apres-skiers: the cute old mining town of Telluride will be linked by gondola to its Mountain Village skiers' satellite - so those staying at altitude will be able to escape to the town in the evening without resorting to taxis. In Canada, a whole new mountainside is being opened up by new lifts at the Sunshine Village ski area near Banff.

And what of last season's big news - the new gondola at Verbier? The reports I've had make it clear that it has wiped out the queues up the mountain at Les Ruinettes, and helped to relieve the queues at resort level. But it hasn't eliminated them, and the other serious problems of Verbier's skiing remain: outrageously bad queues at Tortin, and worryingly crowded pistes around Les Ruinettes. Further investment could doubtless solve the first, but I'm not sure there is a solution to the second.

Chris Gill is an editor of `Where to Ski' (Boxtree, pounds 14.99).

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