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Snow business

The takeover of Ski Bound by First Choice, the country's third largest tour operator, will not damage its schools programme, the company insists. First Choice bought out Ski Bound last autumn for a reputed Pounds 23 million but the schools' company will continue to trade under its brand name with the same staff.

Andrew Lay, Ski Bound's commercial director, said the company would be expanding its operation after absorbing the Enterprise ski programme that was run under the First Choice banner. For schools, it would mean more resorts and more regional airports. Enterprise was also stronger in areas such as Italy, Andorra and Bulgaria.

France remains the number one destination for Ski Bound clients, followed by Austria and Italy. Mr Lay also invited schools to consider travelling outside the peak holiday dates, when most of the business is concentrated. Groups travelling in January or mid-March could save up to Pounds 100 a head, easily enough to pay for staff cover.

* With sterling in free fall, the appeal of Italy is growing stronger, according to John Shephard, managing director of Equity. School ski trips, can cost around 20 per cent less than similar packages to Austria and France where the strength of the schilling and franc has forced up prices by 10 per cent and 8 per cent since last February. Switzerland is now out of the question entirely, Mr Shephard claims.

Equity offers 20 Italian resorts, where 80 per cent of its business is concentrated. More widely, Italy has made a strong comeback after several years' poor snow. In the early Nineties, the percentage of British skiers going to Italy fell to 5 per cent of the total but that has recovered to around 18 per cent, largely owing to the favourable prices. Mr Shephard points out that skiers returning to Italy will notice "astonishing improvements", including modernised lift systems and snow-making machines.

Equity has now added Montgenevre in France to its selection of resorts in the Milky Way area of Italy. The frontier resort backs on to Claviere on the Italian border, which in turn links into Sansicario and the other Milky Way resorts.

* RankSTS has responded to the weaker pound by reorganising its French programme. Next season, it has eight-day, instead of nine-day, coach trips, for an estimated Pounds 50 saving per head. Schools will have five days on the slopes instead of six. Coach trips are showing savings of around Pounds 100 per head compared with flights. An Easter '97 package, including flight, to an Austrian resort will cost around Pounds 500. Term-time trips are recommended if schools can persuade headteachers and governors.

At the opposite end of the market, the company is offering Gray Rocks in Quebec and Stowe in Vermont. Expect to pay around Pounds 700 for a nine-day trip.

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