Travel: There's a smile on the face of the Eiger: France has more ski miles, and the US offers better service; Italy has the great virtue of being Italian. But Chris Gill would give them all up for Switzerland

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The Independent Travel
My old colleague, quaffing partner and devoted reader, Nick, observed recently that he found it interesting to see the pattern of my favourite resorts unfolding over the weeks. 'Leaving aside the fact that you are quite clearly schizoid,' he said, 'I've noticed how keen you are on Switzerland.'

Well, I prefer catholic to schizoid. But, like Nick, I found the Switzerland thing interesting, because it hadn't occurred to me that I was particularly keen on the place. Where was the evidence?

Well, today's resort (in Switzerland, by coincidence) is the 18th in the series and the sixth Swiss location. There have been seven French, three Austrian and two Italian. So Nick has a point.

Six Swiss resorts out of 18 is disproportionate, in terms both of the numbers of serious ski resorts in the main Alpine countries, and of the popularity of Switzerland among British skiers in general.

This disproportion seems even more surprising when you consider that many of the most popular Swiss resorts - think of Verbier, Crans-Montana, Gstaad, Adelboden, Wengen, Grindelwald, Engelberg, Andermatt, St Moritz - have not so far made it into my personal hall of fame.

So, is Switzerland my favourite skiing country? This is an important question, and it deserves a clear answer. On the whole, and slightly to my own surprise, I think it is.

Next question: why should this be, when Austria and France are the favourite skiing countries of British skiers as a whole? Well, it comes down to prices, perceptions and personal preferences.

Throughout the fluctuations of the past 20 years, Switzerland has managed to remain relatively pricey - although the swisher resorts in France have often matched it. Differences in price have not been huge, however, and there is a case for saying that, in value terms, Switzerland is not expensive at all. My impression is that the country is perceived to be dearer than it is. (More on this when I present the results of our price survey at the end of this month.)

Preferences? Well, France certainly has the more impressive networks of ski lifts and runs. It was in French mega-resorts that I cut my skiing teeth, and for some years I couldn't get enough of them. I am now, however, less concerned about packing in the miles of piste, although I am aware that this is partly because my privileged existence allows me to spend several weeks a year skiing, rather than the one or two that I could manage in the 1970s.

Austria? When I was eventually persuaded to make a trip to a small Austrian village where you could ski the whole system in an hour, I could scarcely believe that such a limited form of skiing existed. Perhaps if I had been keener on jolly Tyrolean nightlife it would have helped. It is unfair to dismiss thus all Austrian skiing. But it must be conceded that the number of Austrian resorts that appeal to the adventurous, competent skier is restricted.

Italy? I have written earlier this season of my abiding affection for things Italian. When the right combination of factors come together, there is nothing like an Italian resort - but the total number of serious Italian resorts is not large, and the right factors (including reasonably effective lifts) are not always to be found.

The United States is another country where I enjoy spending time, whether skiing or not. I enjoy the exhilarating sense of enterprise and refreshing standards of service. I have deliberately left American resorts out of my series of favourites on the grounds that some of the most interesting and distinctive ones are still unknown to me - while many of those I do know are, I must say, lacking the individuality that makes for a real favourite.

Which brings us back to Switzerland. There are no Alps like the Swiss Alps. Zermatt's instantly recognisable Matterhorn, and the majestic trio of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau towering above Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren, are backdrops to beat all others.

And the villages: some are picture-book pretty, some are not, but most are blessed with abundant character, having evolved years ago. The mountain restaurants are - even discounting the exceptional concentration of wonderful places above Zermatt - the best in the world.

I rest my case.

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