There’s just no quick journey to the slopes from the UK. Like many skiers and boarders, I learned that the hard way, says Daniel Elkan, founder of Snowcarbon. My first trips involved early-morning airport queues, cramped flights and traffic-choked transfers. How could a journey that looked like a short hop on paper take so long in reality?
Then one time I spotted a railway track snaking through the valley below the resort of Sauze d’Oulx. Could we have come to ski by train? I resolved to try.
The journeys were so different. Friendships would form en route at 300km/h. The sense of moving through the landscape, of ‘earning’ your mountains by travelling overland to them, is immense – a kind of pilgrimage. Somehow, on a train to the Alps, popping open a bottle of bubbly at 9am just seems the right thing to do. After all, the holiday has begun. And if the journey takes a little longer – well what’s the hurry?
A superb array of resorts can be reached this way. The direct Eurostar Ski Train has been chartered by French tour operator Travelski Express, which offers all-inclusive packages comprising train, transfers, accommodation and lift pass. Journeys via Paris give you a far wider range of ski resorts, and switching connecting stations in the city can be smoothly achieved by pre-booked taxi. Meanwhile, the renaissance of sleeper train options includes the NightJet to the Tirol region of Austria, which you can access by Eurostar to Brussels and ICE to Cologne.
Here’s our pick of some of the best ski resorts you can reach by train.
Nicknamed ‘the island of sun’ for its annual 300 days of rays, Alpe d’Huez, in the Isere region of the French Alps, sits at 1860m on a south-facing plateau, accessing 250km of slopes that tip 3330m. Five itineraries each offer a mighty 2000m of vertical drop, and its diverse slopes cater generously to everyone from fresh-faced newbie to stone-cold gnar hound, who won’t want to miss the 16km-long black Sarenne run. Fun parks are also a speciality, with the 20-hectare Snowpark des Jeux one of the Alps’ largest, and the vast off-piste offer is exceptional with more than 70 itineraries.
It’s a great choice for families, with extensive lower beginner slopes and an unusually broad selection of non-ski activities. And while unflashy good value has traditionally been a key part of the resort’s hospitality offer, those partial to a good pampering can as of this season check in to four- or five-star lodgings courtesy of Odalys Prestige Apart’Hotel l’Eclose.
Total rail travel time: 7h 43m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:31 Eurostar to Gare du Nord. Change at Paris to take the 14:43 TGV from Gare de Lyon, arriving Grenoble at 17:46. From there it’s 50 minutes by bus or taxi.
An imposing Benedictine monastery, the world’s first revolving cable car and jaw-dropping views of the Bernese Alps are just three of the hallmarks of this cute little central Switzerland resort, which packs a whole lot of punch into its 82km of slopes. Also blessed with the country’s longest annual season, the resort, whose gently spinning TITLIS Rotair lift drops skiers high on a glacier at 3020m, has a well-deserved reputation for stunning backcountry terrain, with the ungroomed Laub and Galtiberg runs two of Europe’s best in class. Even on piste you can gorge on 1970m of uninterrupted vertical drop on a sequence of runs from the top of Titlis mountain.
This is classic Swiss skiing without the stuffiness, and while family-friendliness, handsome traditional architecture, high-quality dining and sustainability boxes are all amply ticked, there’s a cool, old-school ski-bum vibe to the place that keeps its fans coming back year after year.
Total train travel time: 9 hours 58 minutes
Route: Eurostar, TGV, InterRegional train
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 07:55 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord; change to Paris Gare de Lyon and take the 12:22 TGV changing at Basel and Luzern to arrive Engelberg at 18:53.
When every on-mountain moment counts, La Plagne is hard to beat. Set on the edge of Paradiski, the 425km ski area formed by a cable-car link to Les Arcs, it packs a wealth of every kind of terrain, linked by an impressively nippy lift system into its 2km of vertical drop. On piste, intermediates have it best here with heaping helpings of long cruisy blues and thigh-igniting red steeps, but the more adventurous are well-served by a glut of off-piste itineraries.
La Plagne also excels when it comes to non-ski activities, offering electric motorbiking, ice climbing, glacier walking, ziplines and bum-squeaking rides on its Olympic bobsleigh track among around fifty options. It also has outstanding facilities for downhillers with disabilities.
And while La Plagne’s origins as a purpose-built 1960s resort long lumbered it with a rep for drab, utilitarian looks, its evolution since has ushered in every type and level of accommodation, with Residence W2050 and Chalet Hotel Turquoise two swanktastic newbies this season.
Total train travel time: 7h 25m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on Saturday 08:20 Travelski Express to Moutiers, arriving at 16:45. From there it’s a 40-minute transfer.
The village of Les Gets offers an oasis of quaint, historic French charm in the vast French/Swiss Portes du Soleil ski area, one of the world’s largest. Genteel and the most chilled of the Portes’ 12 resorts, it’s beautifully set up for families. Junior eco champs can get some zero-emissions kicks on electric snowmobiles and bikes. And there’s a bunch of decent red and black runs tucked away at Mont Chery, which stay blissfully quiet.
Lifestyle is as much an attraction here as the sport, with more than 40 restaurants, artsy boutiques and artisanal groceries lining the streets, and spa, yoga and innovative wellness scenes thriving. And while you won’t find off-the-hook après, the village does a good line in cute, cosy bars. Among new highlights this season is the debut Montreux Comedy Goes Skiing, a coproduction with the famous, 30-year-old Montreux Comedy Festival, from January 14 to 21 featuring two nights of English-language stand-up.
Total train travel time: 7h 57
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras 07:55 by Eurostar to Paris-Nord; change station and take the 12:45 TGV, changing at Bellegarde, to arrive Cluses at 16:52; from there it’s 40 minutes by bus or taxi.
For many Les 3 Vallées fans, starting the day as high as possible is absolute priority. Sitting at an ear-popping 2300m, and 50 years old this year, Val Thorens – Europe’s highest ski resort – welcomes its guests to 150km of local runs between 3200m and 2300m high – as well as a further 450km en route to lift-linked neighbours including Méribel, Courchevel and Les Menuires.
And while ‘Val Tho’, whose season can last as long as six months, has won World Ski Awards’ ‘World’s Best Ski Resort’ seven times (and is this year once again in the running), resting on its laurels is clearly not an option. Last season, two new lifts transformed access to Orelle in ‘the fourth valley’, and this season, Le Board, a sleek new 17000m2 sports, wellness and events space opens in the heart of the resort, adding to the world-class accommodation, dining, partying and non-ski activity scenes, all of which cater to a range of budgets.
Total train travel time: 7h 25m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express, arriving at Moutiers at 16:45. From there it’s a 50-minute transfer.
With its unique – and free for holidaymakers – funicular railway connecting Bourg St Maurice station to Arc 1600, the first of Les Arcs’ four villages, the resort has always had a strong association with rail travel.
It has also cemented its reputation as a particularly intermediate-friendly location, with a vast network of blue and red runs starting as high as 3226m. These are shared with Peisey-Vallandry and linked to La Plagne, which adds up to 425km of piste for downhillers to explore. The recent addition of La Folie Douce at Arc 1800 has upped the ante in terms of après-ski too – along with time-honoured faves L’Arpette and Le Panoramic.
Les Arcs also continues to innovate environmentally. This winter CO2 emissions related to grooming will be reduced by 83% thanks to HVO synthetic fuel made from waste grease and used vegetable oils, and taking the kids to the cute interactive Mountain Animal Museum’s a handy plan b for bad-weather days.
Total train travel time: 8h 3m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express to Bourg St Maurice, arriving at 17:23. The transfer takes 40-minutes (included with Travelski packages). Or take the seven-minute funicular railway to Arc 1600, with free bus connections to the other villages.
The journey to St Anton may not be one of the quickest, but it is one of the most eye-popping. You’ll skirt Lakes Zurich and Walensee with ringside seats, before plunging through the Arlberg Valley and dropped right in town.
The resort itself has a reputation as a snow magnet, drawing powder hounds in droves in search of its legendary off piste which is accessed via myriad slopes. And thanks to the Flexenbahn cableway, created in 2016, you can now access the Ski Arlberg area’s 306km of linked pistes.
Legendarily rambunctious après aside, there’s also loads to do here besides skiing, including the free, 4.3km toboggan run Gampen, which eats up 500m of vertical drop on its way into the valley. All the usual on-mountain suspects – husky sledding, hiking trails, paragliding and more – are on offer, plus a range of indoor options. The sleek, 30,000m2 Arlberg WellCom leisure centre is a standout public pool and spa complex, while arl.flow builds on the resort’s growing rep as an alpine yoga Mecca.
Total train travel time: 10h 6m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 07:55 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord. Stopover in Paris and take the 12:22 TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon, changing at Zurich to arrive at St Anton at 19:01.
One of six resorts linked within the Milky Way ski area which straddles the Italian/French border, Sauze d’Oulx throws down a juicy 400km of pistes at your ski tips. Intermediates love its generous network of pacy red and cruisy blue runs, while those in the mood for a heart-in-mouth moment could do much worse than head up to Sestriere’s thrilling Olympic downhill run on Col de Sises, with adjacent off-piste options a bonus on pillowy powder days. A heaping helping of wooded slopes, less densely treed than most in the French Alps, also gives untracked stashes a decent shelf life and is handy for low-viz days.
Popular with weekenders from nearby Turin, Sauze d’Oulx has lively nightlife and more delizioso dining options that you can shake a bread stick at. Our mountain fave is the scenic Ciao Pais, while in town Il Cantun del Barbabuc makes for a great fine-dining splurge.
Total train travel time: 8h 28m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 07:55 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 12:47 TGV to Oulx, arriving at 17:23. From there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.
Total travel time: 8 hours 15 mins
Route: Eurostar, TGV
Example train journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 09:24 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord; change to Paris Gare de Lyon and take the 14:38 TGV to Oulx, arriving at 19:23. From there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.
Rail-accessible resort options are plentiful in France’s legendary Les 3 Vallées ski area, the world’s whoppingest. Postcard-perfect Savoyard mountain-village charm, a relaxed ambience and an exceptional dining offer are just three of the reasons Saint-Martin-de-Belleville has in recent years become a frontrunner.
Traditional stone and timber buildings and a cosy, unraucous après scene set the tranquil tone in town, but when you’re ready for your adrenaline fix, the newish Saint Martin 1 Gondola is on hand to swiftly spirit you into the heart of the 600km of wildly diverse pistes that are your playground.
Recent years have seen a glut of super high-end development in the village, with Michelin stars abundant and the new-this-season five-star Hôtel M Lodge even offering original artworks curated for its achingly luxe interiors by Parisian gallerist Amélie du Chalard for sale to guests. But the commitment to quality and rustic authenticity shines out of every level of dining and accommodation.
Total train travel time: 7h 25m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express, arriving at Moutiers at 16:45. From there it’s a 30-minute transfer.
Snow surety and good value have long been key selling points for Tignes, the less aesthetic but higher-altitude lift-linked neighbour of fabled Val d’Isère. But recent years have seen massive improvements in the purpose-built resort’s accommodation and nightlife offers, and quick access to the loftiest reaches of the Tignes-Val d’Isère ski area’s 300km of slopes, some rising as high as 3,450m, make it a no-brainer for thousands of loyal return visitors.
A huge proportion of accommodation is ski-in, ski-out, and the expert- and intermediate-friendly terrain and copious lift-served off-piste deliver throughout one of the Alps’ longest seasons. The vast, state-of-the-art sports and conference centre Tignespace dishes up off-slope thrills a plenty too, including a French Mountaineering and Climbing Federation-certified climbing wall and seasonal skatepark, and as of this season you can learn the ways of rockstar-like French yoga guru Heberson Oliveira as a guest at the brand-new Club Med, which also boasts the Alps’ largest indoor swimming pool.
Total train travel time: 8h 3m
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 08:20 Travelski Express to Bourg St Maurice, arriving at 17:23. The transfer takes 40-minutes
Söll is a diamond for families with younger kids. A friendly, unpretentious village at the foot of the Hohe Salve mountain, its lifts access SkiWelt, a gentle giant of a ski area linking nine resorts and seven peaks via 270km of pistes. And while its overall vertical drop is less than vertiginous, the mileage-minded will find its excellent lift system up to dishing up fresh terrain all day long.
The slopes are peppered with fun zones and activities for kids, including a pair of witches you can visit in their cottage Hexenschuss, toboggan runs and the cute Alpeniglu village (also slings some fine hot tipples for the, ahem, responsible adults). A must-see is the view from the rotating Gipfelalm restaurant, beaming no fewer than 70 peaks above 3,000m direct to your (deliciously carb-laden) table.
And back in the village, the traditional après and dining scenes have recently broadened their horizons with some interesting, hipsterish new additions.
Total travel time 16 hours 21 mins
Example journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 15:04 Eurostar to Brussels, then take the 18:25 ICE Train to Cologne, then the 21:21 NightJet sleeper train to Kufstein, arriving 08:25. From there it’s 20 minutes by bus or taxi.
If cleaner, greener travel is your passion, then arriving in Serre Chevalier to ski by train is only the beginning. The ski area became France’s first to produce its own electricity in 2016, and today provides 30 per cent of its electricity needs through a combination of three renewable energy sources. And this drive towards more sustainable skiing can be seen everywhere from biodiversity rehabilitation programmes such as local Olympian Pierre Vaultier’s reforesting initiative to home-grown and foraged ingredients taking pride of place on local restaurant menus.
Nor is Serre Chevalier a slouch when it comes to on-mountain thrills. With 250km of pistes, the ski area encompasses characterful old mountain villages, great woodland runs and competitive prices at friendly, family-run hotels and restaurants. And in the natural hot springs-powered Les Grands Bains de Monêtier, it also has one of the best public spas in the Alps.
Total travel time: 16 hours 15 mins
Example train journey: Depart London St Pancras on the 15:31 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord; change to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz and take the 20:50 Intercité de nuit sleeper train to Briancon, arriving at 08:23. From there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi to the other villages of Serre Chevalier.
HOW TO BOOK TICKETS – AND WHEN
Packages with the Travelski Express can be booked directly with Travelski, or agencies such as Ski Line and Snowfinders.
Independent rail travel for journeys via Paris or Brussels generally can be booked in two ways. Online, with websites such as Trainline and Rail Europe. But not all journeys show up on these sites, and the algorithms that power these searches sometimes don’t show available trains and tickets. A useful alternative is expert rail booking agents such as The Travel Bureau and Trainseurope, who can put together the best itineraries and prices and make booking easy. Seat61.com is an excellent site for general advice on booking train tickets.
Tickets generally go on sale 90 to 120 days in advance of your travel date, and the earlier you book, the better the pricing. Waiting for a last-minute dump of snow before booking a rail journey might ensure you get to choose a resort with the deepest pow, but it will also guarantee a steep price for the tickets.
Online ticket agents
Rail booking agencies:
- The Travel Bureau (01902 326 662)
- Trainseurope (01354 660222)
- International Rail 03330 030 413)
- Sno Holidays (020 7770 6888)
- Switzerland Travel Centre (020 7420 4900)
* The Rail Map of Europe is going to be your best travel companion – super useful for planning and great to have with you on board too.
* Bring food and drink on board. There’s no limit to what you can bring with you, so create a feast of a picnic at 300km/h.