Late snowfalls make this a good time to be looking for a ski bargain, says Stephen Roe
AFTER a patchy winter, fresh snowfalls across the Alps have created very good late season ski conditions, particularly in the higher resorts of France and Austria.

Most of the bigger tour operators have virtually sold out for their pre- Easter charter-based programmes, so late bookers must either travel independently or seek out bargains from specialist tour operators.

In North America, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the ski resorts of California around Lake Tahoe and in Mammoth have also enjoyed late season snowfalls. Even in the eastern US, late snowfalls have been exceptional. Some of the best conditions are in the New England resort of Killington, Vermont (which expects to remain open until June), Mammoth (set to remain open until July), Heavenly Valley, Squaw Valley, Jackson Hole (Yellowstone Park is now closed until May), Vail, Aspen, Telluride, Keystone and Breckenridge.

While there is still good value accommodation in North American resorts, trans-Atlantic seats are at a premium approaching Easter. Connecting services through the less popular US gateways are still available and there is still space on some good value packages to western Canada using scheduled services to Calgary and Vancouver.

Crystal Holidays is offering clients an opportunity to follow the Royal princes by cutting pounds 200 off its brochure prices for late bookings to the Canadian resort of Whistler. It has one week's accommodation in a catered chalet from pounds 599 using scheduled Air Canada departures from London Heathrow on 1, 8 and 11 April. The deal includes a two-for-the-price-of-one lift pass offer and 11-night stays can be purchased from pounds 699.

Despite the continuing heavy snow in Europe, the advice at this time of the year has to be to pick only the higher altitude resorts in order to minimise slushy mid-afternoon spring snow conditions.

In France, head for Val Thorens, Courchevel 1850, Meribel Mottaret, Val d'Isere or Tignes. In Austria, St Anton has superb conditions. There are also good conditions in Obergurgl, Hochgurgl and Untergurgl, Solden, Obertauern and in the Arlberg resorts of Lech, Zurs, St Christoph and Stuben. South of the Arlberg, the resorts of the Silvretta will remain fully operational throughout Easter, including Gaschurn, Partenen, Ischgl and Galtur. In Switzerland, the higher resorts reporting good snow cover include Saas Fee, St Moritz, Verbier and Zermatt, which has connecting links to the Italian resort of Cervinia.

Ski Total has departures from London Gatwick to Lech and St Anton on 5 and 12 April at discounted prices from pounds 290 including a week's chalet accommodation and transfers. The company also has the Chalet Maurice in Meribel from pounds 340 with a departure from London Gatwick on 11 April and chalets in the French Mont Blanc resort of Les Contamines from pounds 290 with flights departing on 4 and 11 April. Ski Beat has discounted departures from Gatwick to chalets in Tignes and La Plagne 1800 on 4 April from pounds 399 and on 11 and 18 April from pounds 299. The last departure includes flight out and return by Eurostar.

Simply Ski has discounted half-board catered chalets in Courchevel, Meribel, La Plagne and Verbier with departures from Heathrow and Gatwick on 4 April from pounds 499 and from pounds 423 for departures on 11 April. After Easter, Simply Ski has discounted prestige chalets in Courchevel 1850 and Val d'Isere (pounds 1,200 per person at other times), with departures on 18 April now available from pounds 449 for a week's stay including scheduled flights from Heathrow. Lotus Supertravel has catered chalets in Val d'Isere, Courchevel and Meribel with departures on 5 and 12 April from pounds 299 using charter flights from Gatwick. Meriski has departures on 12 and 19 April from Heathrow to the Chalet Cedre Blanc in Meribel from pounds 449.

Action Vacances has a coach departure to Tignes on 3 April (suitable for the18-40 age group) with pick-ups in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Dover for pounds 482 to include accommodation in the UCPA centre in Val Claret, liftpass, ski hire, lessons and entertainment. Seat only fares are pounds 90 return to Moutiers, Aime, Bourg St Maurice and Tignes.

Leisure Direction Ski has Eurostar departures to catered chalets in Val d'Isere from pounds 349 on 11 April. Lagrange has self-drive chalet prices from pounds 69 a week in Arc 1800, Les Deux Alpes, Alp d'Huez, Courchevel and Les Menuires on 4 and 11 April. Snowcoach has departures on 3 and 10 April to Andorra from pounds 188 including half board accommodation.

Stena Line has Residence Cybele in Brides Les Bains (for access to TroisVallees area) for pounds 245 per person on 11 April, to include ferry crossing for self- drive customers.

Airtours has Chalet L'Arclusaz, in Meribel Mottaret for a week with charter departures from Gatwick on 11 April for pounds 299 per person. Finlays has Gatwick departures on 11 April to the Chalet Elan, Courchevel 1850 for pounds 420. Le Ski Chalets has departures to Courchevel on 4 April and to Val d'Isere on 11 April, both from pounds 399 for a week.

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Crystal Holidays (0181 399 5144); Airtours (0541 571162); Ski Total (0181 9486922); Ski Beat (01243 780405); Simply Ski (0181 742 2541); Lotus Supertravel (0171 962 9933); Meriski (01451 844788); Action Vacances (0161 442 6130); Leisure Direction Ski (0181 324 4040); Lagrange (0171 371 6111); SnowCoach (01727 833141); Stena Line (0990 747474); Finlays (01835 830562); Le SkiChalets (01484 548996); FlexiSki (01490 440445).