Go with the jet set to the Alpine ski slopes

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The Independent Online
As the annual pilgrimage to the Alps approaches, there is still the question of how best to get there. Just over a week ago Le Shuttle, the car-carrying train service through the Channel Tunnel, opened for business, offering another method.

For most people, cost is the prime consideration when deciding how to get to the Alps. Judging by the number of British number plates in Alpine ski resorts, driving is already a popular option. But does the opening of Le Shuttle make driving cheaper and easier than battling with the crowds at Gatwick and Geneva, or even taking the train?

If one or two people are travelling it is hard to justify the cost. But once there are four people in a car the sums begin to look more attractive.

The return journey on Le Shuttle (if the return takes place more than five days later) costs £136 for a car and an unlimited number of passengers. This is comparable with a relatively expensive ferry crossing - although at 30 minutes it is slightly quicker.

Booking is essential at this stage, and since Le Shuttle has been claiming an overwhelming response to its service, it is advisable to make a reservation some time before travelling. The turn-up-and-travel service will not be starting until well into next year.

Taking one of the shorter ferry routes is the nearest thing to travelling through the tunnel. For example, the 75-minute trip from Dover to Calais with Stena Sealink costs £110 return between January and the end of March. The price covers one car with upto nine passengers. Crossing times are flexible, depending on availability. P&O Ferries is a little more expensive at £139 for a car with up to eight passengers.

The 35-minute hovercraft trip, meanwhile, costs a thumping £219 for a car with up to five passengers, which is probably enough to wipe out any worthwhile economies in driving.

Once on the Continent, the costs continue to mount. Driving from Calais to the French Alps takes about 10 hours on the French motorways. This will cost you somewhere in the region of £80 each way in motorway tolls and about £100 each way in petrol (depending on your car). Add to this, say, £20 per person for food, coffee and other extras, plus the £50 or so for insurance in case the car breaks down.

The lowest travel bill for a car of four, therefore, will be in the region of £125 per person. If you have booked a package chalet holiday you may be able to deduct £50 or more from the full brochure price because you are not flying. That would reduce the cost of driving to around £75 per person.

However, this is the absolute minimum you are likely to get away with. It could cost considerably more than that if, for example, the car needs repairs on the way, or you decide to stay the night in a hotel en route.

The alternative overland route, by train, is no cheaper. It is complicated and expensive to get from Britain to the Alps, and requires several changes of train along the way.

The easiest method is probably the Snowtrain, which leaves from Waterloo most Fridays during the season. It takes 19 hours and costs £158 return, including a couchette.

Compared with the relatively low cost and convenience of flying none of these other methods would appear to have unbeatable advantages. It should be possible to get a charter flight to, say, Geneva plus a bus transfer to and from your resort for between £120 and £150 per person.

The travel element in a package holiday is likely to be even smaller than that.