Snow's up
So, it's mid-December and your skiing holiday is only weeks away - maybe only days. By now, you must be well into the routine of twice- weekly exercise classes. And doubtless you are making the most of all those incidental opportunities to improve your flexibility, power and stamina - you know, standing in bus queues tightening your quads, that sort of thing.

What? You're making no effort to graduate from your usual flabby state to one of supreme fitness? Well, join the club. I have just conducted a highly scientific survey of half a dozen ski journalists, gathered in St Anton to celebrate the effective start of the season, and can report that of the six only one claimed to be fully prepared - and he reported that with a suspicious smirk on his face.

Practically all said that they thought pre-ski exercises were desirable, and one came up with an ingenious rationale: people like us, who ski regularly throughout the season, can effectively get fit for skiing simply by skiing, taking it easy to begin with; skiers who go for only a week or two, on the other hand, naturally want to go hell for leather right from the start, so need to be prepared. Convinced?

The proper thing to do, of course, is join a structured class; if you're lucky, your local sports centre will be able to accommodate you. If that's all too much trouble, consider getting an exercise tape or video. At least do what I've been doing for the last couple of weeks: taking every opportunity to work my thigh muscles, in the vague hope that this will help save me from knee injuries.

Skiing on a dry slope is not really an alternative to exercises - you'd need to do an awful lot of skiing. But it has great value for absolute beginners, who can step on to the nursery slopes later in the winter confident in their ability to climb, stop, turn and get up after a fall. From tomorrow, skiers based west of London have an impressive new dry slope at their disposal: Wycombe Summit is one of the biggest dry slopes in Britain (350m long), a mile from Junction 4 on the M40. Call 01494 474711 for details.

Snow conditions Dry-slope matting might have been very useful this weekend in the high French Alps, where the Premiere Neige races are being held on a course consisting largely of man-made snow, but a lack of snow on the adjacent slopes means that spectators will be confined to the finish area at valley level (unless there has been a last-minute dump, which would probably ruin the race course).

Here in St Anton, in contrast, the season is off to a flying start, with about a metre of snow and powdery pistes at altitude, and good cover (partly thanks to snowmaking, it must be admitted) right down into the town. The streets are snow-covered, the sun is out, the sky is blue, the temperature is low, and the mountain beckons.