Travel: When snow fun is no fun: Non-skiers can be quite fussy about skiing holidays. Chris Gill suggests what they can do with themselves

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The Independent Travel
One of the developments we trendspotters noticed a couple of years ago was that British skiers were at last beginning to treat skiing trips like holidays rather than outward bound courses. In the wake of the serious snow shortages of the late Eighties, when a good deal of time was spent in ski resorts not skiing, people were becoming interested in aspects of resorts other than efficient lifts and uninterrupted snow.

But there is, of course, a substantial group of people, who go on 'skiing' holidays in 'ski' resorts every year, for whom these other things are and always have been paramount: the non-skiers who accompany their spouses, lovers and children despite a total lack of interest in (or fear of) the slopes.

Give skiers decent snow and they will put up with all sorts of other privations. In my experience, non- skiers are much fussier about where they go. There is, however, no single ideal, and what follows is not so much a set of recommendations as a guideline.

Start by questioning what I have already assumed: a week's confinement in a ski resort. There are two ways to have a skiing holiday without even imposing this restriction. You can stay in a resort from which there are interesting excursions to be made (Salzburg from easterly Austrian resorts; Granada from Sol y Nieve; Venice, at a pinch, from parts of the Dolomites). Or you can stay somewhere that is not what you would normally think of as a ski resort but which has skiing on hand - Innsbruck, for example.

Next, the setting. Most non-skiers, rightly, expect attractive surroundings, and some demand scenic drama. At the top of your short list, setting-wise, should go the resorts of the Jungfrau region (Wengen, Murren and Grindelwald) and Zermatt in Switzerland, and Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites.

Scenery is best enjoyed at lunch- time on a sunny terrace, which brings us to the matter of the mid- day rendezvous between skiers and non-skier - possibly a daily requirement if your non-skier is not making expeditions to the Accademia. The modern preponderance of gondolas means that a non-skier will be able to get up to mountain restaurants in the majority of resorts these days. But there is no denying that the mountain railway is a more dignified form of transport for the pedestrian. Wengen, Grindelwald and Zermatt score again here. (In Cortina you can get to most of the 'mountain' restaurants by taxi.)

There is the alternative, in many resorts, of meeting at resort level. (The skiers in your party may have views on the desirability of this.) But have a care: I did say a sunny terrace, and for a non-skier the terrace may need to be sunny from 10am, when the previous day's newspapers arrive, until 4pm, when the idea of using up half the hot water in the chalet starts to appeal. Sit your non-skier on a terrace in Grindelwald for six hours in January and you will have a case of hypothermia on your hands. Resorts right at the foot of a high, steep north-facing mountainside may get little or no sun in midwinter - Saas-Fee, Ischgl, Andermatt and Chamonix are the other main culprits.

Non-skiers generally divide into the resolutely inert and the depressingly vigorous. Clearly, the facilities for sporting activity will need to match the ambitions of your particular non-skier fairly precisely - though there are resorts with such a broad range that they can meet most needs (mainly towny resorts like Chamonix and Innsbruck). It is important to check out, if you can, the local culture as well as the simple existence of facilities.

For all-round winter sports facilities, big traditional Swiss resorts like Davos and St Moritz take some beating. St Moritz has the additional attraction of the famous Cresta toboggan run. Arosa offers much the same wide range of activities in a less ritzy atmosphere - and there is nowhere quite like it for prepared footpaths criss-crossing the ski area.

The matter of shopping may have to be dealt with. The main point to be made here is an obvious one: access to a town or city that is not primarily a resort is highly desirable, not only for breadth of choice but avoidance of resort mark-ups. Resorts with serious shopping, such as Davos and Gstaad, are very dangerous places in which to leave a bored person in charge of a credit card.