Travle: At last, teachers without attitude: You're in the Alps and you want a lesson, but not in broken English. Chris Gill offers help

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The Independent Travel
ONE of the many appealing aspects of skiing in North America and one of the few appealing aspects of skiing in northern Britain is the ready availability of tuition from instructors whose first language is English. When you first encounter this, the contrast with the usual alpine form of tuition can be very striking indeed.

It is true that Continental ski schools in recent years have raised their quota of instructors with competent English - or, to be more precise, it is true that French ones have. The French did, after all, have a lot of improving to do, and the widespread introduction of competition between alternative ski schools in a given resort has resulted in an effective shake-up of complacent headmasters.

But there is a big difference between having sufficient grasp of a language to convey accurate technical instructions, on the one hand, and the ability to communicate comprehensively about physical and mental problems, on the other. This becomes clear when, after years of being told what to do with your legs, you come upon a Scot or a Californian who starts to talk about your psychological state - your 'addatood' to the mountain and the moguls.

I appreciate that there must be French, Austrian, Swiss and Italian instructors who can see the problems and threats of skiing from the viewpoint of an English-speaking lowlander, and can encourage changes in that point of view. It's just that I haven't met them.

Most of us, naturally, are not prepared to go skiing in the States or Scotland - or to confine ourselves to the local dry slope, where even the accent will be familiar - just for the sake of effective classes. But if effective classes are what you need - not the advanced 'ski clinic' treatment widely offered by UK tour operators, but simply group sessions that might do you some good - where else can you go?

For thousands of satisfied British skiers, the answer has traditionally been Andorra, where the winter holiday business has long been dominated by the trade from Britain, and where the major ski schools are effectively British-run. Not surprisingly, the result is a virtuous circle of happy skiers going back for more, so reinforcing the British domination.

For the young and impecunious, Andorra has much to recommend it. The place is duty free, and makes the most of it. But this tiny principality, high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain - is not for everyone. The skiing is too limited in extent for those with a taste for travelling on skis; the weather is too heavily influenced by the nearby Atlantic for the comfort of those who worry about snow conditions; and the resorts are, shall we say, slightly lacking in sophistication.

There are other ways of finding English tuition in the Alps. High on my list of sources would be two small operations run by qualified members of the British Association of Ski Instructors, both well- known through their exposure on British television.

The British Alpine Ski School (Bass), established in Chatel a few years ago despite vigorous opposition from French ski instructors, appears to be fragmenting into a multi-resort franchise operation. Hugh Monney, one of the founders, is running one independent arm of the school in Les Gets, a few miles from Chatel in the same Portes du Soleil ski area.

Bass isn't quite the institution you might expect from the portentous title - the Les Gets operation clearly revolves very much around Mr Monney himself - but courses are offered at all levels, and this winter one of Mr Monney's assistants will be running special courses for children aged three to six (in January and early April only).

Other branches of Bass will be operating this winter at Argentiere and La Clusaz, and it is in the latter that The Ski Company will be based this season. This outfit, not to be confused with a posh chalet operator with almost the same name (recently discussed on this page), is run by Phil Smith and Sally Chapman, now with the help of Dave Peek, also a BASI Grade 1 instructor.

The Ski Company's chalet holidays include tuition in the basic price. Normally, courses (with a typical class size of eight pupils) are available for all grades of skier except complete beginners, who are catered for only during one week in mid-January. There are other special weeks during the season, too, from mogul-bashing to a week for the over-50s.

If, after all, the rather more rarefied atmosphere of a special ski clinic is appealing, you may wish to know that the legendary Ali Ross, now based in Tignes, can again be booked through specialist travel agents Ski Solutions.

Bass Les Gets 010 33 50 758 049; The Ski Company 0279 653746; Ski Solutions 081-944 1155.

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