Travel: Imagine what you could get up to: A weekend of skiing can be longer - and more satisfactory - than you might expect. Chris Gill explains

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The Independent Travel
AFTER a one-week skiing holiday, I often find myself reflecting that the hassle of the travelling out and back seems disproportionate to the six days of skiing which separate the two obstacle courses, and that 10-day holidays would be ideal. I know other skiers who feel the same.

How is it, then, that people can be tempted to go skiing for the much shorter period of a weekend? Two factors, I believe, are at the root of it.

Weekend skiing may be the only practical way for very busy people - or those intent on major holidaymaking in the summer - to go skiing at all. A conventional one-week holiday gives six days' skiing in return for five days off work. A carefully planned long weekend gives three days' skiing in return for one day off work.

Sensible weekend ski trips are arranged to cut down the hassle and wasted time involved in travelling out and back. You travel on scheduled flights, cutting down check-in time and delays; you fly at the end of the day, allowing work or skiing to occupy all or most of the day itself; and you go to resorts that are within an hour or two of your arrival airport, rather than the four hours or more we are prepared to undertake on a week's outing.

Weekend skiing tends to appeal to keen skiers who are likely to have their own equipment. If you do not take your own skis and - particularly - boots, you risk wasting valuable skiing time on the first morning. Hiring by the day is certainly possible, as long as you hit the ski shop as soon as it opens. I habitually do not take skis on short trips because I am lazy, but I always take boots.

Short-term ski passes are slightly more expensive per day than weekly ones, but in the context of a trip that will in any case be a rather costly indulgence, this is not likely to be a worry. For example, a Chamonix area pass is Fr475 (about pounds 60) for three days, Fr860 ( pounds 107) for six days.

Providing you do not mind a seriously late arrival in your resort, you can take a flight as late as 8pm. Ski Weekend, for example, reckons to have you in your hotel room between midnight and 1am, with a meal waiting if you can face it. On the way back, the time difference between UK and the Continent works in your favour, so you can ski practically the whole day, catch an 8pm plane from Geneva and be in the baggage hall at Heathrow before 9pm.

The main focus of weekend skiing is the area to the east and south-east of Geneva, where there is an abundance of top-class resorts well-served by motorways. In terms of hassle, there is nothing to beat staying in Switzerland and taking the motorway from right outside Geneva airport along the northern shore of what we call Lake Geneva. Depending on your conveyance, you can be in Verbier in an hour and a half, or in the lower resorts on either side of the Rhone valley - Leysin, Villars, Champery, Morgins - in less.

Going to French resorts means crossing or circumnavigating Geneva and taking the motorway towards Chamonix - perhaps the prime destination for expert skiers who want their three allotted days to contain maximum thrills.

To the north of the Chamonix motorway are the major ski areas of the Portes du Soleil (Avoriaz, Morzine) and Flaine; to the south, La Clusaz, Megeve/St-Gervais and (rather less major but famously snowy) Les Contamines. Half an hour beyond Chamonix, through the Mont Blanc road tunnel, lies Courmayeur in Italy.

Courmayeur - the main exception to the rule that weekend skiing in Italy is a practical impossibility - can also be reached quite quickly from the slightly more distant Turin airport, thanks to a motorway almost all the way. Cervinia is another possibility, though the final stretch is slow and can be snowy.

The other ski area popular with Turin weekenders is the 'milky way' - principally, Sauze d'Oulx and Sestriere. Montgenevre and Briancon/Serre-Chevalier, just over the border in France, are also easily reached from Turin - unless the airport falls victim to the fog that can affect northern Italy in winter.

Austria does not seem to attract many weekend skiers from Britain; the resorts that combine extensive, challenging skiing with reliable snow and serious lift systems tend to be remote from airports. But there is no denying that Salzburg airport gives rapid access to a wide range of resorts.

The other major Alpine airports do not have resorts quite so handily placed, but good motorway links mean that resorts in eastern Switzerland, such as Flims and Klosters, can be reached from Zurich well within two hours. Munich's proximity to the resorts of the Tyrol is rather undermined by the bad reputation that the access roads have for weekend traffic jams.

Not all of these options are open to the weekend skier who wants to plug in to a package deal (as opposed to fixing the trip yourself and hiring a car, or using a public transport transfer to the resort). On the other hand, operators offering weekend trips do not confine themselves to resorts that are particularly well suited to the weekend trade. Before you sign up for Courchevel, be sure you know what time you will have to leave on the Sunday.

Of course, accessibility has two edges. Resorts that are easily accessible to you are easily accessible to the rest of Europe, and will not be deserted on Saturdays as more remote places can be.

Ski Weekend is the specialist in offering weekend skiing packages, with resorts specially chosen for the purpose (0367 241636).

(Photograph omitted)

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