ALL THE resorts in this series are by definition ones that I look forward to visiting. What sets Argentiere apart from most of the others is its pulse- quickening effect; this is skiing at its most exciting and least predictable.

The Chamonix valley is all about the drama of mountains, whether you are a scenery-gazing tourist, a climber with an ice-axe on your back, or a holiday skier. Western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc, looms over the town of Chamonix, piercing the skyline. Although there is easy and intermediate skiing to be had, the skiing that really characterises the valley is difficult, whether on-piste or off.

Argentiere, a few miles up the valley from Chamonix itself, is a little village with the biggest and best ski area in the valley, on the north-facing slopes of the Grands Montets. Biggest, but not big: the resort has only a handful of lifts, and a similar number of challenging pistes, between which there are acres of steep open

mountainside.

What makes the area special is the top cable-car, climbing 1,260m from the restaurant at La Croix de Lognan to 3,233m and giving access to a splendid black run down beside the Glacier d'Argentiere - and to off- piste runs on that glacier or, in the opposite direction, down the west-facing Pas de Chevre to join the bottom of the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix.

CHRIS GILL'S VERDICT: This is a place for those more interested in quality than in quantity. To ride the top cable-car you have to pay a non- trivial supplement, and queue for what may be hours. And even when the rest of the Alps are enjoying skiable conditions, the Chamonix valley can be closed down by the rather special weather that surrounds Mont Blanc. But when that clears . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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