The palace or the hut, Sir?: Chalets range from spartan to luxurious. Chris Gill finds out what little extras money can buy

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The Independent Travel
HOW much would you expect a typical chalet holiday to cost this season? The answer is pounds 450 to pounds 550 for a week in high season. Hotel-going skiers aware of the often primitive nature of chalet accommodation may be surprised: these figures are high enough to buy very respectable hotel-based holidays.

But the two kinds of holiday have different attractions. In a chalet you sacrifice a private bathroom and a larger bedroom for the freedom to run your own staffed house party. In a hotel you get the facilities but have to follow the hotel regime. For the best of both worlds - the house party with the facilities - there are luxury chalets, where one week costs twice the normal amount.

There always has been a wide range of accommodation in catered-chalet form. The one-page price summaries of major operators such as Bladon Lines give a useful overview. As well as many chalets in the pounds 450 to pounds 550 band, Bladon Lines has about 10 for about pounds 600 a week.

Those seeking a particularly comfortable chalet should not disregard the best offerings of such companies. If you are worried that the 'standard' food might not be good enough, you can opt to upgrade it; if you cannot face the scrum in the charter terminal at Geneva airport, you can pay to avoid it. But these mainstream merchants offer a more-or-less complete spectrum from (relatively) cheap-and-cheerful places in Courmayeur to the conspicuously civilised in Courcheval.

Setting the pace in extremely expensive chalets is The Ski Company Ltd, not to be confused with the equally interesting but quite different operation called The Ski Company. I will adopt the abbreviation SCL for clarity.

In its three years of operation SCL has received glowing testimonials from many publications, including this one. With this company, you get what you pay for.

Some of the chalets are remarkable properties, with gloriously spacious rooms, irresistible country-house furnishings and a high bath-to-bed ratio. You get lots of comforting extras such as good linen, videos, hairdriers and fresh flowers. One of the main luxuries is the food, which our reviewer said was excellent, as were the wine and aperitifs - all included in the price.

The typical chalet takes eight or 10 guests and has a staff of three, most of whom have worked for the company for two or three years. There are staff rooms for nannies. You fly on scheduled flights and are picked up at the airport in a minibus which then chauffeurs you around the resort to your ski point. You get the idea.

The typical high-season price for all this is pounds 900 a week. For those in that league, there are other options. Super Solutions, an arm of the specialist skiing travel agency Ski Solutions, has its splendid Mountain Lodges in Val- d'Isere and the more modest Le Mazot in Zermatt. With flights, the former work out at close to pounds 1,000 a week in high season.

Several medium-sized operators have individual chalets (or apartments posing as chalets) that are exceptionally attractive (and expensive). The Val-d'Isere specialist YSE, for example, calls its Soleil Levant 'quite the loveliest, most civilised chalet' in the resort and charges pounds 680 a week for it in high season. Half of Ski Scott Dunn's stable consists of chalets and apartments at around this price level.

Anyone determined to spend in this league should get plugged into Super Solutions' luxury chalet-finding service. Tell it where you want to go, how big your party is and how much you might want to pay, and its computer will spit out the chalets that fit the bill.

The database includes chalets marketed by British tour companies, other staffed chalets not sold in packaged form and self-catering chalets (to which catering can be added).

Can holidays at this price make sense? In principle, I think expensive no-compromise holidays make a lot of sense, partly because I am self-employed. If the trip is costing you a small fortune in lost earnings, the thinking goes, the important thing is to enjoy it - another pounds 300 or pounds 400 on the bill is neither here nor there.

But in practice I doubt I could bring myself to pay such prices. Like most people, I prefer to dispose of my limited income in the way that brings the best return. For me, that is a reasonably reliable chalet holiday at pounds 1,100 for two plus 14 modest nights out at pounds 50 a time, not a chalet holiday at pounds 1,800 - wonderful though that holiday would doubtless be.

The Ski Company Ltd works through Abercrombie & Kent, 071- 730 9600. Super Solutions is on 081-944 1155.

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