Skiing: The rail alternative for skiers

I have a dream. I want to get on a train at Waterloo station, go to sleep, and wake up as we pull into one of those quaint stations in the Savoie valley in the French Alps from which the ski slopes are barely an hour's bus ride. I wouldn't mind if I could also arrive at St Anton or Innsbruck by the same method.

Travelling by train has many advantages. The other main ways to travel - by plane, followed by a long coach ride, and by road - leave you exhausted. The plane/coach combination is the worst. We became infuriated with 4am starts and lengthy coach rides. And why do they make no effort to give you half a day's skiing on the first day? Instead there's a lengthy lunch stop at some soulless mall in the valley. So, for the past five years, we have gone by train to Savoie.

Many resorts are accessible by train. Most large French Alpine skiing areas are within an hour's coach ride from a station. In Austria, St Anton and Innsbruch can be reached overnight from Paris. The way to get to Austria is to take Eurostar in the evening to Paris, have a nice meal and get the Aarlberg Express from Paris Est which reaches St Anton station - right in the middle of the resort - just after 7.30am next day.

For France, there is still the old method of taking the ski train from Calais, after a ferry ride over the Channel. This is pretty gruesome. The ferry is prone to delays, and the trains seem to be trundled out of SNCF's museum for the sole purpose of transporting British skiers. The coaches have the irritating habit of being plunged in darkness just as you are tucking into your baguettes - there are no dining cars, only a spit-and-sawdust disco where holiday romances begin (and, on the way back, end).

So go, instead, by the Channel Tunnel which offers two ways of getting to Bourg St Maurice, Gervais and Briancon: daytime high-speed trains or overnight sleepers - both available from 17 December to 20 January for pounds 144 from French Railways. The daytime trains take nine hours or so to get to Bourg St Maurice with just a change in Lille. Stupidly, this involves a short coach journey between the two Lille stations: the French transport system is still not totally integrated. Or, for a few extra quid you can change in Paris, with a short metro ride through the city from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon.

This year, you can also take an overnight sleeper from Lille to the Alps, with the great advantage of two extra days' skiing (both Saturdays in the resort). Eight days skiing is so much better than six, which make you feel it's time to go home almost as you get there. The only extra cost is the ski pass for the two days and the price of a nice meal at one of the excellent restaurants that surround every station.

So far, though, SNCF does not seem to have got its act together to create these through links. At Easter last year, we wanted to take the train via Lille but were told that the special ski train would not run after the end of March. So 50 of us trailed our equipment through Paris at 9pm on Good Friday to get the overnight from Gare de Lyon, and I am going to have to repeat the experience this year even though we are going at Christmas because, amazingly, SNCF is not running a train that weekend.

As for my dream of direct trains, Eurostar say that they may try a few runs of daytime trains towards the end of the season; the journey would take around eight hours. But the night stock, to be used for overnight journeys on routes such as Glasgow to Paris, will be available for winter 1997/8. Tour operators are lining up to buy space. All sorts of possibilities are being considered, such as weekend overnight trips and daytime journeys, but Eurostar, like SNCF, does not seem to have realised the potential of ski trains. And technical problems mean it will probably not be until the 1998/9 season that the train comes into its own for most skiers.

Details: French Railways (0181-880 8162, or 0990 300 003).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor