The late snow

The ski season started not with a bang, but with a dump: more snow fell in November and December 1996 than in the whole of the previous season. But while pre-Christmas snowfalls of up to five metres had resorts rushing to open their chairlifts early, January failed to add to this early promise and there was little fresh powder on any resorts in Europe.

According to weather forecasters, this is about to change, and up to two metres of fresh snow is expected to fall across most European ski resorts in the next few days. David Hearns from the Ski Club of Great Britain is certainly hopeful that "this long-awaited snowfall will result in excellent on- and off-piste conditions."

He adds that this should be particularly beneficial in Austria and Bulgaria, where the skiing has been limited so far this season.

So it would seem this is an excellent time to capitalise on late-availability skiing holidays - but it would be a good idea to check conditions at individual resorts before you book. Below is a selection of offers, all prices are per person for seven nights. Thomson Ski prices are based on four people sharing.

France

21 February, Brides Les Bain, Neilson Ski, Apt, pounds 299 (Eurostar)

22 February, Avoriaz, Thomson Ski, Apt, pounds 310 (from Birmingham)

22 February, Courchevel, Le Ski, Chalet, pounds 399 (from Gatwick)

23 February, Chamonix, Ski Esprit, Chalet, pounds 412 (from Gatwick)

23 February, Morzine, Ski Esprit, Chalet, pounds 298 (from Gatwick)

23 February, Verbier, Ski Esprit, Chalet, pounds 340 (from Gatwick)

28 February, Tignes, Neilson Ski, Chalet, pounds 509 (Eurostar)

1 March, Valmorel, Neilson Ski, Apt, pounds 329 (from Gatwick)

1 March, Flaine, Neilson Ski, Apt, pounds 269 (from Glasgow)

1 March, Courchevel, Le Ski, Chalet, pounds 399 (from Manchester)

Crystal Ski's late-availability deals in France include: 22 February, flights (from a range of regional airports) plus self-catering chalet for four people - pounds 199 per person. A resort is allocated on arrival, but can be specified for a supplement. At present resorts are Les Arcs, La Plagne, Val d'Isere, Tignes and Val Thorens.

A range of "accommodation and ferry" holidays in the French Alps is available through Motours. For example, a studio for four people from 1 March in Meribel costs pounds 565.

Italy

16 February, Neilson Ski, Macuganga, Hotel, pounds 269 (from Glasgow)

23 February, First Choice Ski, Chiesa, Hotel, pounds 299 (from Manchester)

1 March, Thomson Ski, Livigno, Apt, pounds 327 (from Manchester)

Austria

22 February, Niederau, Neilson Ski, Hotel, pounds 369 (from Gatwick)

1 March, Kirchberg, Neilson Ski, Hotel, pounds 419 (from Manchester and Birmingham))

Bulgaria

9 March, Pamporovo, First Choice Ski, Hotel, pounds 329 (from Gatwick)

9 March, Bovorets, Neilson Ski, Hotel, pounds 259 (from Gatwick)

Spain

9 March, Sierra Nevada, Neilson Ski, Hotel, pounds 369 (from Manchester)

Andorra

2 March, Pas de la Casa, First Choice Ski. Apt/self-drive, pounds 119

It is worth asking about ferry prices, lift passes and car hire, since many companies are offering deals. Ski Esprit, for example, is offering half-price for children on the prices quoted above.

If none of that tempts you, First Choice Ski currently has a package further afield in Banff, Canada: seven nights' hotel accommodation and flights from Manchester departing on 20 February for pounds 389.

Crystal Ski 0181-399 5144; First Choice 0990 557 755; Le Ski 01484 548 996; Motours 01892 518555; Neilson Ski 0990 994444; Ski Esprit 01252 616789; Thomson 0990 329 329

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