The first time I took the train to a ski resort, the Channel tunnel was still under construction. We had to take a train to Dover, catch the ferry, then a connecting train from Calais overnight.
Thirty years later, thanks to Eurostar, it’s simpler and faster to travel by train to the mountains – and it is always my first choice for any ski trip.
Not only does travelling by train generate just 15 per cent of the carbon emissions of a flight, but there’s none of the stress associated with flying. Check-in and security at London St Pancras takes minutes; there’s no nonsensical separate bag for toiletries, no ‘go to gate’ last minute sprints.
Travelling alongside pristine lakes perfectly reflecting snowy mountains, train travel lets you enjoy, rather than endure, your journey. It may take slightly longer or cost slightly more (although not always), but when travelling is this civilised, it’s worth it.
Les Arcs, France
Although Eurostar stopped its direct service from London to the Alps in 2020, the good news is that French tour operator Travelski revived it last winter.
British skiers can now travel straight from London St Pancras overnight on Fridays on the ‘Travelski Express’, arriving into Moutiers (for Les 3 Vallées) and Bourg St Maurice (for Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Plagne and Les Arcs) on Saturday morning.
Only upright seats are available, which can make a good night’s sleep challenging, but the chance to catch the first lift – and enjoy seven days of skiing (the return is during the day the following Sunday) – more than makes up for it.
Our pick is Les Arcs, which can be accessed via their futuristic funicular, located only minutes from the railway station.
Serre Chevalier, France
In 2016 most of the ‘Intercités de Nuit’ routes around the ‘Hexagone’ were axed, but the service to Briancon in the southern French Alps continues.
The train leaves Paris Austerlitz at 20.52, arriving into Briancon at 08.24. Most people opt for the triple-bunk couchettes, although four-bed couchettes are available in 1st class. Every traveller is provided with a water bottle, ear plugs (always useful) and an eye-mask.
As the 250km of pistes in Serre Chevalier are just a 10-minute drive from the station, it means that, with a bit of organisation, you can be ready and waiting for the first lift.
The other remaining overnight option from Paris – until new services are introduced from 2026 – is a rail pilgrimage to Lourdes at the foot of the French Pyrénées.
Leaving Gare de Montparnasse at 21.14, you’ll arrive into Lourdes at 07.43. From there it’s an hour on a connecting bus to the spa town of Cauterets.
While the resort’s Cirque de Lys ski area has only 39km of pistes, it boasts an excellent snow record. There’s more to Cauterets than just skiing, too: spend some time exploring the magnificent Pont d’Espagne national park on snow shoes, and follow it up with a relaxing session at the Bains du Rocher thermal baths.
Crans Montana, Switzerland
Few countries are as well known for their trains as landlocked Switzerland and rail lovers should try the supremely efficient TGV Lyria service that links it with France.
The double-decker trains whisk you from Gare de Lyon to Geneva in just over three hours. Arrive in daylight if possible, so you can enjoy the marvellous views of Lake Geneva on your connecting SBB train to Sierre.
From there, it’s a short walk to the longest funicular in Europe, newly upgraded for this winter. It takes just 12 minutes to complete the 927m climb to the sunny, south-facing pistes of Crans-Montana.
St Anton, Austria
The Lyria is also your connection to St Anton in the Tirol region of Austria. It’s just four hours from Gare de Lyon to Zurich, where you can connect to the OBB Railjet service, which has seven direct connections a day.
It’s a chance to board a train bound for evocative destinations such as Budapest or Vienna. Just over two hours later, you reach St Anton’s modern station – and the chance to access 300km of challenging skiing, as well as the resort’s legendary apres-ski venues, the MooserWirt and the Krazy Kangaruh.
An alternative for skiing in Austria by train is to take OBB’s recently renovated Nightjet sleeper service to Söll in the SkiWelt region.
You could travel by Eurostar to Amsterdam and join the Nightjet at the start of its journey, but the faster and more civilised option is to travel to Brussels, then change onto an ICE service to Cologne. You’ll have enough time for dinner and a stroll before joining the overnight train at 22.16, arriving into Kufstein at 08.26 the following morning.
It’s then a 15-minute transfer to Söll with its 279km of pistes to explore, all while enjoying the stunning WilderKaiser mountain range.
Most British skiers have heard of the Three Valleys, but few know Orelle is the area’s secret ‘fourth valley’.
Attention is now turning to this pretty village as its gondola was upgraded last winter and now takes just 20 minutes to reach the Cime de Caron in Val Thorens – the highest point in Les 3 Vallées.
The super-fast Paris-Milan TGV takes just four hours to reach Modane, which is only 15 minutes by taxi to Orelle, from where you can now ski the largest ski area in the world, surrounded by the charm of old Savoie.
Is there a more romantic ski holiday than taking the train to the home of the iconic Matterhorn?
Like Crans Montana, you can take the TGV Lyria to either Geneva or Lausanne, then connect to a SBB service to Visp. And because this is Switzerland, your arrival will segue perfectly with a connection to climb to Zermatt, a thousand metres higher, via the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn rack railway.
Insider Tip: Make sure you sit on the left-hand side of the train so you get a good view of the Matterhorn when it finally reveals itself just before you pull into Zermatt.
How much does train travel cost?
As with flying, the cost of your trip depends on when you travel and how far in advance you book. Eurostar’s starting price to Paris and back is £78 and return connections to the Alps cost from €58. Inclusive packages on the Travelski Express are available from £584.
How to book
Both The Trainline and Rail Europe allow you to book from the UK to your final destination as a single booking. Alternatively, if you’re comfortable deciding on your own connection times, then book direct with with Eurostar and SNCF Connect.
Iain Martin is the founder of Ski Flight Free – a campaign to encourage more people to choose alternative ways of travelling to their ski holiday than flying.
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