Travel: Beyond the package horizon: Chris Gill singles out the best in off-brochure slopes and offers a few pre-season tips

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The Independent Travel
TWO WEEKS ago, when discussing the influence of tour operators on where we take our holidays, I mentioned that there are lots of Alpine resorts not serviced by UK operators but that few were of any importance.

Lynn and Roger Baddock have written and taken me to task, pointing out the attractions of the skiing in places such as Grimentz and Leukerbad, both in Switzerland, both quite high, and neither serviced by tour operators.

Well, it all depends what you mean by important. I certainly did not mean to say that worthwhile skiing stopped at the horizon set by tour operators. And they do have attractions all their own: Independent skiers who are also independent skiers might be positively keen to go to resorts without a British tour operator presence.

I have visited Grimentz (1570m) in the summer and can confirm that it is outstandingly charming. And its 10-lift ski area is clearly not trivial: it is mainly above the tree-line, with an 800m vertical, plus a further 500m vertical if you ski down through the woods to the bottom of the smart new access gondola.

Leukerbad (1410m) gets occasional exposure when it hosts ski races, which employ the full 1160m vertical of its 10-lift piste system on a sunny flank of the Torrenthorn. Very little of the skiing is easy. The Baddocks commend the resort's 'fabulous' 11-pool spa complex.

The only slight snag with the Baddocks' representations is that Made to Measure does include Leukerbad in its programme.

Doubtless there are many other no-operator resorts equally worthy of attention. Below is a list of resorts that might be worth considering for a holiday but are not included in any tour operator brochures - as far as I am aware. (I look forward to a prompt correction from any operators whose holidays I have overlooked.)

If you have skied in any of them recently - or in any other interesting minor resorts - please drop me a line summarising your reactions, positive and negative. I will relay the results later in the autumn.

The resorts are: Abtenau, Alagna, Corvara, Les Crosets, Dorfgastein, Fiss, Flachau, Gaschurn, Kleinarl, La Foux d'Allos, Les Houches, Les Karellis, Les Sept-Laux, Macugnaga, Nauders, Rougemont, St Gallenkirch, Saanenmoser, Sainte-Foy, San Vigilio, Schonried, Thyon 2000, Vent, Veysonnaz.

I am also planning to take a look at insurance, a subject that never fails to provide an annual crop of depressing new discoveries. If, last season, you fell foul of some small print that you had not had the patience to read, give yourself the satisfaction of getting that particular rip-off aired on this page.

No more surcharges

Just to show that complaining does pay, following our criticism of its surcharge policy last week, Ski-Tal has decided to offer a blanket no-surcharge guarantee. Other surchargers take note.

Which way to turn?

Fans of Salomon rear-entry boots will be intrigued to hear that the latest breakthrough of the great French innovator is, of all things, a conventional four-clip, front-entry boot - or, to be precise, a range of such boots. In introducing these boots, Salomon is effectively conceding that its rear-entry models, which continue on sale with further refinements, do not meet every skier's needs. The adherence of many racers to the traditional style of boot is no doubt a factor. The new boots (apparently designed with the help of the legendary slalom racer Ingemar Stenmark) have been well received in the trade; but at least one discriminating reviewer rates them as inferior to Salomon's classic rear-entry boots.

Jobs on the slopes

If you are thinking of fulfilling that dream of spending a season in the Alps by working your passage, get your skates on. The chalet operators, who employ hundreds of British and colonial staff to look after their clients, are approaching the end of their recruitment campaigns.

But there are still some vacancies as chalet girls/boys (cooking skills and experience needed, age over 21 often preferred), resort representatives (language and managerial skills most important, minimum age from 21 to 25, some skiing experience usually required), ski guides (considerable skiing experience essential), nannies (standard British qualifications needed) and plongeurs. Companies with vacancies include:

Ski La Vie (071-736 5611): Zermatt rep and chalet girl;

Crystal (081-390 8737): chalet staff, reps in Austria;

Powder Byrne (071-223 0601): chalet staff Flims and Klosters, reps in all resorts;

Ski Esprit (0252 625177): chalet staff and nannies in several resorts, reps in a couple;

Ski West (0225 444516): chalet staff in some resorts;

Mark Warner (071-938 1851): chalet staff in some resorts.