The big bargains on air fares to the Alpine gateways of Milan, Geneva, Zurich and Munich are special group tour-basing rates called GITs (the airline forms the group). The rates are linked to a hotel package, require a minimum stay of seven days (21 days maximum) and must be booked and paid for in advance. (Rules regarding advance bookings, deposits, cancellations and add-on charges for passengers originating their trip from the Washington area vary with the airline and destination.)

The hotel package covers the land transportation to the resort by train, motorcoach or, in some cases, rental car, and the cost must be added to the air fare. Here'a a sample of the round-trip GIT air fares currently available from New York:

TWA (to Milan)-- $494

Alitalia (to Milan)--$494

Pan Am (to Munich)--$552

Lufthansa (to Munich)--$552

Swissair (to Geneva and Zurich)--$611

For the individual skier, Air France offers one-week packages at any of the 13-member stations of France Ski International, which include Chamonix, Courchevel, Val D'isere and other well-known international ski resorts. There is a special ITX (inclusive tour excursion) fare of $529 round trip New York-Paris, which must be combined with a land package at additional cost.

Most Alpine hotels and lodges operate on the half-board (breakfast and dinner) system, but breakfast-only accommodations are available for those who want to eat around town. Prices are based on double occupancy and cover all service charges, taxes and baggage handling.

Let's say that you are interested in a one-week ski vacation in an Alpine resort some time between late February and the end of March. Prices cited below are for one adult and include round-trip GIT air fare from New York, a first-class hotel package (seven nights, double occupancy, with breakfast and dinner) and a six-day lift pass.

Innsbruck, Austria--$921 (Pan Am, via Munich)

Kitzbuhel, Austria--$947 (Lufthansa, via Munich)

Cervinia, Italy--$945 (TWA, via Milan)

Courmayeur, Italy--$958 (Alitalia, via Milan)

Zermatt, Switzerland--$1014 (TWA, via Milan)

Chamonix, France--$1046 (Swissair, via Geneva)

Davos, Switzerland--$1089 (Swissair, via Zurich)

A comparable week-long ski vacation package for either Aspen or Vail, during the same period, costs $800 to $900, per person, depending on the air fare from New York to Denver. But this total does not include a week's worth of breakfast and dinner. When you add in the meal costs, the price differential is slim indeed.