The best resorts you can reach by rail, part 1: The hidden gems

Jump on the train to discover the off-the-radar ski spots of Les Contamines, Montgenèvre and La Clusaz

Les Contamines, France

Undiscovered delights in full view of Mont Blanc

You might have heard of Les Contamines, but a lot of skiers haven’t. As a result, the slopes are quiet and – as you can imagine – the off piste even quieter. Indeed, even at February half term you can find empty slopes, with some cracking reds and blacks above La Roselette to really sink your teeth into. 

The scenery here is nothing short of stunning. On one side you face an unparalleled view of Mont Blanc; on the other, you peer into Haute Luce, where on sunny days clouds sometimes form above the valley.

Les Contamines: Epic views and quiet slopes |Nicolas Joly

There’s 132km of piste here, but much of it is above the tree line so in poor visibility head for wooded St Gervais or Jaillet. If the sun is out there is open off-piste skiing on all aspects and as steep (or not) as you like and the conditions dictate.

Related: top tips to save money when taking the ski train to the Alps

In the evenings, forget about partying.  The village is friendly and the restaurants will give you a warm welcome, but there’s no great nightlife scene. That’s not so bad. The snow can be so good here, the setting so enticing, that you’ll want to be up early for first tracks.

Rail travel: Depart London St Pancras on the 18:01 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Stopover in Paris and take the 07:11 TGV from Paris-Lyon, arriving at St Gervais at 11:40; from there it’s 20 minutes by bus or taxi.

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La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, France

Two gems in the heart of the Savoie

Marketed under the ‘Lake Annecy Ski Resorts’ umbrella, both La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand are destinations that a lot of Brits miss as they speed past on their way to the Three Valleys or Chamonix. That’s their loss and your gain, because both ski areas are havens for powder snow.

At La Clusaz, you have the north facing powder bowl that is Col de Balme, plus plenty of lines to be had off the L’Aiguille mountain and tree-skiing over at Etale. As Le Grand Bornand attracts mostly families, you’ll find that you can pick off fresh lines at will, and then reload and repeat. Some of the best parts are up at Mont Lachat behind Roc Des Arces, as well as underneath the Les Outalays chairlift.

La Clusaz: A haven for powder-hungry skiers | La Clusaz

The village of La Clusaz is a cute place to stay. The streets wind around a beautiful old church, lined with restaurants and bars. Le Grand Bornand is the birthplace of Reblochon cheese, so some heavy dinners in either village will set you up for burning it off the next morning.   

Daytime rail travel: Depart St Pancras on the 07:55 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, change station and take the 12:45 TGV to Annecy arriving at 16:30. From there it’s 35 minutes to either village by bus or taxi.

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Montgenèvre, France

Undiscovered powder and unpretentious charm

When you look beyond the big name resorts, Montgenèvre is one of those gems that can deliver a very different experience from the tourist hubs. The village, perched on the border of Italy and just a 20-walk from neighbouring Claviere, has bags of unpretentious charm. The terrace of bar restaurants like the Graal Café and nice to hang out at and in the evenings head to La Tourmente.

The pistes are mainly red and blue, sprinkled with eight black runs.  Fast reds such as La Combe du Loup are good thigh-burners.  In terms of gradient, the Tetras piste on Le Chalvet is steep but most of the other black runs won’t have your spine tingling.

Bags of charm |Montgenevre Tourisme

Where the resort comes into it’s own, for advanced skiers and boarders, is the off piste. Bountiful powder gets wonderfully neglected here, to the delight of those who know about this place. Try the sparsely wooded east face if Serre Thibaud and the Combe de Grand Charvia.  Later, head for the 1000m vertical run – off the back of Les Gondrans – to the Vallon de La Vachette. You might not encounter any other skiers or boarders; but you will find plenty of snow.

Daytime rail travel: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:22 Eurostar to Paris-Nord, change station by taxi and take the 14:41 TGV from Paris-Lyon to Oulx, arriving at 19:23. From there it’s 30 minutes by bus or taxi. 

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