For those who love winter sports, one of the benefits of living in Europe is the opportunity to hit challenging slopes in a beautiful setting.

Whether you’re interested in skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing or something more extreme, this is the place to test your skills.

This season, many of the world’s top athletes will gather in Europe for the 2006 Winter Olympics. The Games around Turin, Italy, are within easy reach of many Americans stationed in Europe. And when the world-class competitors are done, the rest of us will be able to replace them on the same slopes.

In this year’s annual ski issue, Stars and Stripes takes a look at the mountain villages near Turin that are hosting the Olympics. Learn what you’ll find there during and after the Games in the way of exciting runs and after-ski amenities.

We also check out some familiar resorts — such as popular Zermatt, Switzerland — and the lesser-known slopes around Jesenik in the Czech Republic. Plus, members of the Mannheim International Ski Club explain why skiers and nonskiers alike enjoy Les Portes du Soleil and the town of Montreux, Switzerland.

For those just learning the ropes, the Armed Forces Recreation Center offers lessons and entertaining runs through the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany.

Those who already know their way around the slopes and want to help others can read about what it takes to join the National Ski Patrol, or find out how they can share their knowledge with newcomers by joining the nearest ski club.

Expect to find more articles and information on snow sports in Travel next week — and throughout the season. But this section should help get you jump-started on making the most of another European winter.

The lineup:

TURIN: Your chance to try out the Olympic venues.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Get away from it all on uncrowded, pristine slopes.

ZERMATT: There’s a reason this Swiss resort is so popular. It’s a classic alpine village at the foot of the Matterhorn.

PORTES DU SOLEIL: Skiers enjoy this region straddling the border between France and Switzerland.

PORTES DU SOLEIL: ... And there's plenty of fun for non-skiers, too

JOIN THE PATROL: The National Ski Patrol ensures safety on the slopes.

AFRC AND ODR: Programs teach and guide military members and their families who enjoy winter sports.

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