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Car rental advice, detours, and how to decipher french signs. Bargains: While Turin is better situated for automotive loop tours-rather than several out-and-back stabs-Geneva has cheaper rental cars and (usually) much cheaper flights. Pick up your car in downtown Geneva and avoid the hefty 17 percent surcharge that’s standard at European airports and train stations. Save further by reserving your ride through a discounter such as Auto Europe, which can slash costs by up to 70 percent and whose website has dozens of European driving tips. Winter tires are often considered “extras,” and may run you an additional $13 per day, but they’re worth it. A less expensive option is to buy chains (from $40, available at most gas stations). And go diesel-it’s cheaper and you’ll get better mileage.
Sidetrips: South of Geneva, the cute town of Annecy has stunning, wow-I-really-am-in-Europe-now views of the Alps (annecytourisme.com). Farther south, Grenoble is nestled in the foothills. Check out its Natural History Museum, which holds all manner of dead Alpine fauna. At 4,334 feet, Briançon (ot-briancon.fr) is one of Europe’s highest cities. It’s sunny and warm, surrounded by forts and imposing walls-and worth a visit.
Safety: Buy a carte neige insurance card online ($55; ffs.fr), at the ticket window in Les Trois Vallées, or at any resort’s Ecolais de Ski Français (French Ski School) office. France’s version of 911 is 112.
Resources: Check out the skifrance.fr website for info on the region’s other ski areas. Maporama.com is the MapQuest of Europe, useful so long as it doesn’t route you over a closed pass. Find out which ones are open at infotrafic.com. It’s in French, but click the “Etats des cols” tab, and all you need to know is ouvert means “open” and fermé means “closed.”