Winter is coming. In France, the vast 425km Paradiski area will celebrate its 20th birthday. Austria, where 60 per cent of the countries surface area is the Alps, has more than five new or upgraded lifts whisking skiers to its peaks. And in Switzerland, a humorous new video campaign featuring Roger Federer and Trevor Noah highlights the accessibility of ski resorts by train.
It comes at a time when skiers and the ski industry are looking for ways to make skiing holidays more sustainable, and resorts are seeing the impact of climate change. This month, the tiny French family ski resort of La Sambuy, near Mont Blanc, announced that it will close its ski lifts permanently in winter. Global warming had shortened Le Sambuy’s ski season to just a few weeks, rendering it unprofitable.
Skiers looking for snow surety shouldn’t just rely on altitude alone, according to Fraser Wilkin, founder of snow-conditions guide Weathertoski. “In terms of the experience you’ll have on the snow, altitude is an important factor – but it’s one of many.
“North-facing slopes will hold snow better for longer; certain valleys have more shelter from warming winds; and the further East you are in the Alps, the colder it is.
“Plus, in lower resorts you ski on land with grass underneath, rather than rock. That means you need far less snow to have a great snow experience.”
Europe’s ski resorts by train
For skiers keen to reduce their carbon footprint, new research-analysis by environmental charity Protect Our Winters UK shows that by far the best way to reduce the carbon emissions of a ski holiday is to travel by train.
However, this season, Eurostar has shelved its direct Ski Train for a new indirect service, Eurostar Snow. Skiers travel to Lille Europe station, by Eurostar. There, they switch train to a Eurostar continental (Thalys) service calling at six stations, including Moutiers, Aime la Plagne and Landry, before its final destination of Bourg St Maurice. Eurostar Snow will only run from Saturday 16 December 2023 to February 2024 this season, halving the normal number of departure dates.
But skiers looking to swap airport queues for a more relaxed and scenic, as well as lower-carbon, journey by train have plenty of other options too. Indirect routes to resorts in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, via Paris or Brussels, mean that you can watch the landscape glide by while socialising with your ski party, while overnight journeys add extra ski days to your holiday. And a new map showing rail routes from the UK to ski resorts in the French Alps and Pyrenees means that skiers can see at a glance what their rail options are. Here are six of the best European ski resorts to visit train this winter.
Alpe d’Huez, France
If your group includes all levels of skier and snowboarder, Alpe d’Huez, in the Isère region of the French Alps, ticks the boxes. As well as its huge network of gentle blue runs and carve-hungry reds, this vibrant ski resort is home to the longest black piste in Europe, the 10.5 mile (17km) Sarenne.
Hotel Grandes Rousses has doubles from €230 (£199) B&B
Depart London St Pancras on the 09.31 Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord; change to Paris Gare de Lyon and take the 13.58 TGV to Grenoble, arriving at 17.13. From there it’s 90 minutes by bus or taxi. Return rail fares from £124.
Neustift im Stubaital, Austria
Family-friendly Stubai offers glacier skiing up to 3,210 metres, with views of surrounding summits. On and off slope, restaurants serve up hearty Tyrolean specialities. At 3,000 metres, the Schaufelspitz claims to be the highest gourmet restaurant in the world.
Hotel Angelika has doubles from €74 (£64) B&B
Take the 15.04 Eurostar to Brussels-Midi, arriving 18.05, then the 18.25 ICE to Cologne, arriving 20.15. Then take the 21:45 Nightjet sleeper train to Innsbruck Hbf, arriving 09:14.
From there its 82 mins by bus. Return rail fares from £192 return (with place in a six-berth couchette on the sleeper).
Val Thorens, France
Europe’s highest ski resort has a village that sits at a lofty 2,300m, with the tantalising 600km Trois Vallées ski area to explore. At the foot of the Péclet glacier, the resort has created a new 45-minute “interplanetary immersion experience” on its Cosmojet slope, the longest toboggan run in France.
Hotel Marielle has doubles from €142 (£123)
The new Eurostar Snow service departs London St Pancras at 09.01 to Lille Europe; there you switch to the 12.15 Eurostar continental (Thalys) train to Moutiers, arriving at 17.30. From there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi. Return rail fares from £198.
With a combination of sunny and sheltered local slopes, Peisey-Vallandry has an enviable position, slap-bang in the middle of the 425km Paradiski. Attractive Savoyard architecture and ambience abound in a resort that offers plenty of non-ski activities too, including ice climbing, reindeer-drawn sleigh rides and e-mountain scooter riding.
Hotel Emeraude has doubles from €133 (£120) B&B.
The new Eurostar Snow service departs London St Pancras at 09.01 to Lille Europe; there you switch to the 12.15 Eurostar continental (Thalys) train to Landry, arriving at 18.09. From there it’s 25 minutes by bus or taxi. Return rail fares from £198.
Authentic Swiss charm abounds in Crans-Montana, a pair of conjoined villages on a sun-kissed south-plateau high overlooking the Rhône valley. Here, chic boutiques blend with cosy restaurants and art galleries. And there’s 140km of ski slopes to explore.
Alaïa Lodge has doubles from CHF 113, B&B.
Depart London St Pancras on Saturday on the 09:24 Eurostar to Paris-Nord. Change to Paris-Lyon and take the 14:10 TGV, changing at Lausanne to arrive Sierre at 19:34. From there it’s 12 minutes by funicular to Montana. Return rail fares from £178.
Serre Chevalier, France
In the Southern Alps, Serre Chevalier Vallee has access to 250km of slopes shared between four villages. More than 80 per cent of the ski terrain is located above 2,000 metres, making it a good choice for early and late season. Beginners are well catered for and intermediates will be in their element, carving runs such as the long Cucumelle and cruisy Myrtilles.
Hotel Plein Sud has doubles from €145 (£131) B&B.
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 Intercités de Nuit to Briançon, arriving at 08.22. The station is in Briançon village, and linked to Serre Chevalier’s other villages by shuttle bus. Return rail fares from £128 (with place in a six-berth couchette on the sleeper).