Don't panic! We can go skiing and save the planet
Natalie Holmes explains how to visit the Alps and stay green
Sunday 30 November 2008
'The world is going to end and no one's doing anything about it!" As a statement of fact, this is hard to argue against, particularly with an upset 13-year-old fed a daily diet of climate apocalypse.
My daughter Ruby's anguish had been prompted by my looking at a winter sports brochure. Now, in an effort to do my bit I'm happy to turn off at the socket and sort my rubbish. But forego a skiing holiday? That is bordering on actually doing without something .
Yet, Ruby, her brother James, 10, and I found ourselves at gleaming St Pancras International, on our way to Les Arcs in France courtesy of the carbon neutral Eurostar rail service. Not only does a train journey use a 10th of the energy per km as going by plane, but the carbon emissions are all offset.
You can take the Eurostar all the way to the ski regions in the winter (although that entails a day or a night sitting in a train seat). But we made a quick platform change at the Gare du Nord in Paris on to Rail Europe's Snow Train, bizarrely re-entering a little piece of the UK: staff are British, as are all passengers, and there's binge drinking and lousy catering.
Still, James was in ecstasy, for there were bunks. Cabins are six berth and dimensions are not generous. "It's a bit like a prison," said Ruby. It would have been cramped had we been sharing with three strangers, but luckily we had the cabin to ourselves. Bob, our on-board rep, told us it is Snow Train policy to spread people out as much as they can.
The holiday was starting all around us, with the corridors full of jolly people popping corks. There is a bar that stays open "till people have had enough or it gets too lairy", said Bob, and, famously, a disco carriage.
But the best thing about arriving by train is that you get an extra day on the slopes, two if you are clever, because you arrive Saturday morning, and leave the following Saturday evening. We pulled into Bourg Saint-Maurice as fresh as a daisy that's had a bit of a rough night, and were met by Michael from Inghams who drove us the half-hour trip to our resort, Arc 2000, a much easier trip than the four-hour coach ride from Geneva.
Les Arcs are a collection of resorts named after their height in metres, 1,600, 1,800, 1,950 and 2,000, plus the villages of Peisey-Vallandry and Villaroger. Arc 2000 was built for function rather than fashion but has the advantage of guaranteed snow. Our hotel, the Aiguille Rouge (red needle), was named after a local peak. James was pleased with the sleeping arrangements ("a sofa bed!"). Ruby was delighted with the half-sized bath. ("It'll use less hot water!") And I was very happy about the buffet dinners with free wine on tap.
What pleased us all more than anything was the snow. Les Arcs is serious about skiing; in fact, there is little else to do, but its conditions and facilities far outstripped our earlier experiences in eastern Europe and Finland. Most of the 200km of pistes are blue and red motorway runs, ideal for intermediates like us. There are also black runs and permitted off-piste areas, and daredevils can go paraskiing and try the jumps at the Apocalypse ski park.
With 106 runs, you can ski all day without getting from one end to the other, and we certainly didn't miss the out-of-action Vanoise Express, a cable car that links the resort with La Plagne on the other side of the valley. The children came on in leaps and bounds at English-speaking ski school and passed their end-of-week test in triumph.
Our last breakfast was a quiet affair, with most guests having got on a very early coach to the airport. We had a morning of skiing to look forward to, before the trip back to the station. It was easy to feel smug from the top of the chair lift, enjoying the mountain peaks around us and the woods below. We had had a great holiday without contributing to the end of the world and our skiing days as a family could continue. Then Ruby piped up again. "Mum, doesn't it upset all the wildlife when they make the pistes? They must have to chop down a lot of trees." Aaaggh!
How to get there
Natalie Holmes and family travelled to Les Arcs, France, with Inghams (020-8780 4447; inghams.co.uk ), which offers seven nights' half-board at the three-star Hotel Aiguille Rouge from £742 per person, based on two sharing, including return travel from London St Pancras to Bourg Saint-Maurice on Eurostar and the Snow Train with couchettes. Ski passes, equipment hire and childcare facilities are available at extra cost.
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