On track for the slopes: 10 ski resorts you can reach by train

You don't need a carbon-guzzling flight or a long drive to reach the snow — ski resorts in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy are accessible by train.

Friday, December 20, 2019,
By Daniel Elkan
Switzerland ski train
Switzerland ski train
Photograph by Daniel Elkan

If you’ve regularly flown to go skiing, you’ll know that getting from your sofa to the slopes can take a while. What seems like a quick hop on paper translates to a slow schlep through airport queues, cramped flights and traffic-choked transfers. Clearly, whoever built the Alps put them in the wrong place. 

But if flying to the Alps takes up the best part of a day, you might imagine travelling by rail from the UK takes far longer. Surprisingly, that’s often not the case. For many destinations, daytime train travel can rival flying for speed, door-to-door, while the space and scenery makes the experience feel positively free range. Relax at table seats or stroll to the on-board cafe bar and you might wonder why you ever used to fly. 

While the Eurostar Ski Train can take you directly from London to the Tarentaise area in France, if you travel via Paris, Lille, Brussels or Amsterdam, a far wider range of resorts open up. Many ski resorts have train stations located in the village or a short bus or taxi ride away. And while sleeper-train journeys take longer, travelling overnight each way increases your time on the slopes by an extra day at either end of the trip. 

Shrinking glaciers mean that ski resorts face one of the frontiers of climate change, and for skiers who want to reduce their impact, travelling by train is the single most effective way to make a ski holiday more sustainable. According to a study by environmental charity Mountain Riders, 57% of a typical ski resort’s carbon emissions can be attributed to holidaymakers’ choice of transport.

But how much greener is rail travel? According to research by global sustainability consultancy Anthesis Group, the journey by plane from London to the resort of Sauze d’Oulx in Italy, for example, generates about 95kg of CO2, per person, each way; a car making the same journey creates 229kg of CO2 (per car); travelling by train, by contrast, creates only 13kg of CO2 — a big reduction.

For years, flying has been the default mode of transport in the ski industry. But now, rail travel is catching on. As well as being greener, it can make the journey part of the holiday. Here are 10 ski destinations you can reach by train:

The 90 miles of slopes in Saas Fee, Switzerland are surrounded by 13 peaks that are higher than 13,000ft. Saas Fee also has a whole gondola-served mountain, Hannig, completely dedicated to activities other than skiing and snowboarding.
Photograph by Getty

1. Les Menuires, France
A village located at a lofty 6,070ft in ski area that’s a whopping 370 miles in size is an attractive prospect for any skier or snowboarder. But in recent years, Les Menuires has made efforts to expand the range of alternative winter activities to complement the skiing. Up at La Croisette, the huge pool at the sports centre has floor-to-ceiling views over the mountains, as well as a large hammam. There’s also a Roc’n Bob toboggan run and Speed Mountain — a rail-mounted luge ride with a vertical drop of nearly 1,640ft. And in April, the resort hosts a yoga ski week, to bring a dose of serenity and zen to the slopes.
How to do it: Eurostar Ski Train from London to Moûtiers; journey time: 7h 43m. From there, it’s 45 minutes by bus or taxi.

2. Bardonecchia, Italy
Unusually for an Italian ski resort, Bardoneccia has its railway station in the village, a clear case of ‘no transfer required’. Situated on the TGV line between Paris and Turin, the resort attracts Italian skiers predominantly at weekends, leaving the 60 miles of slopes blissfully quiet on weekdays. The terrain suits beginners and intermediates, and as such the resort is an excellent choice for families. Experts will probably crave more challenge and mileage. Great Italian cuisine is in abundance here, with mountain huts like La Grangia offering hearty, homely fare.
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Bardonnecchia; Journey time: 8h 49m. The station is in the resort village.

3. Söll, Austria
Close to Kufstein station, the village of Soll is one of several in the vast SkiWelt, where 170 miles of highly intermediate-friendly terrain awaits skiers alighting overnight trains. The scenery here is remarkable: the views from the rotating sun terrace of the Gipfelrestaurant, on the Hohe Salve peak, will stay with you long after you've left the resort. So too might the warm, unpretentious atmosphere in the village, home to popular apres-ski haunts like the Moonlight Bar. It’s one of several friendly bars where singalongs and ski-booted table dancing are more the norm than the exception. There are also floodlit toboggan runs, ice skating on frozen lake Moorsee, which is located in a small forest, plus a huge swimming complex, Panoramabad.
How to do it: Eurostar to Brussels, then ICE to Cologne, then NightJet sleeper train to Kufstein; journey time 15h 18m. From there it’s 20 minutes by bus or taxi.

4. Tignes, France
The first ski area in the world to be awarded the Green Globe certification for its low-impact ski lifts, Tignes boasts the Grande Motte glacier, at an altitude of 9,947ft. From there, both experienced and novice skiers can speed down an epic blue run with a 1,870ft vertical drop and onto a vast ski playground of linked slopes with tantalising piste choices at every point.  The resort has a lively vibe — don’t miss Cocorico, right at the foot of La Grande Motte cable-car in Val Claret, a bar with an impressive open-air terrace that hosts DJ sets and concerts.
How to do it: Eurostar Ski Train from London to Bourg St Maurice; journey time: 8h 18m. From there it’s 45 minutes by bus or taxi.

5. Morzine, France
Morzine's handsome village is composed almost entirely of chalet-style buildings, making it particularly pleasing on the eye and a pleasure to stroll around. Skiers converge here knowing that a week spent exploring the terrain will barely scratch the surface, because Morzine is part of the 370-mile Portes du Soleil, a constellation of resorts that include Les Gets, Avoriaz, Champery and Châtel, with an astounding variety of slopes. As one might expect from a year-round village, there's plenty of enthusiasm for local culture. You can embark on a horse-drawn heritage tour, visit a local cheesemaker and try a workshop at Au Délice Chocolaté, the town’s renowned artisan chocolatier.
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Bellegarde and TER train to Cluses; journey time: 8h 28m. From there it’s 40 minutes by bus or taxi.

6. Saas Fee, Switzerland
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to live in a picture-postcard village, Saas Fee is about as close as you’ll get. Perched above the Saas valley at 5,905ft, this Valais village is completely car-free, with narrow streets and an unhurried atmosphere. On the slopes, the visuals are no less delightful: the 90 miles of slopes are surrounded by 13 peaks that are higher than 13,000ft. For beginners and intermediates particularly, the 600-mile ski area is an incredible setting, dotted with fine mountain restaurants too, including the highest revolving restaurant in Europe, the Revolving Restaurant Allalin. Saas Fee also has a whole gondola-served mountain, Hannig, completely dedicated to activities other than skiing and snowboarding — such as snowshoeing, tobogganing and parapenting.
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Geneva and InterRegional to Visp; journey time: 9h 31m. From there it’s 50 minutes by bus or taxi.

7. Obergurgl, Austria
Nestled an altitude of 6,332ft above sea level, the little village of Obergurgl has been attracting a loyal, cosmopolitan following for years. The 70-mile ski area is shared with the even smaller and higher village of Hochgurgl, a cluster of hotels perched up at 7,050ft, linked by road and by gondola.  With a lift system that reaches up to 10,100ft, this is one of the most snow-sure ski areas in Austria. There’s a friendly atmosphere both on slope and off, fuelled no doubt by the lack of lift queues and spectacular scenery. If the weather closes in, the Aqua Dome at Längenfeld is just a 30-minute taxi ride away and has a series of open-air heated pools with heated jets to massage tired muscles.
How to do it: Eurostar to Brussels, then ICE to Cologne, then NightJet sleeper train to Ötztal; journey time 17h 26m. From there it’s 20 minutes by bus or taxi.

8. Les Contamines, France
Well known it might not be, but Les Contamines boasts some of some of the most incredible scenery in the Alps: ski on one side of the mountain and you face an unparalleled view of Mont Blanc; carve the other and you’ll be peering down in wonder at the Hauteluce valley, often mystically shrouded in a ‘lake’ of cloud below you. Even at peak periods, the slopes of this sizeable ski area stay remarkably quiet. For a relaxing lunch, head over to La Ruelle, which has a cosy fire and is well regarded for its food and service. Evenings down in the village are even quieter than the slopes. The scene is focused on hearty Savoyarde dishes — in restaurants that treat guests like old friends.
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Bellegarde and TER train to St Gervais; journey time: 8h 52m. From there it’s 15 minutes by bus or taxi.

9. St Anton, Austria
The daytime journey to St Anton is one filled with a carousel of scenic vistas. As you speed through Switzerland, you'll skirt Lakes Zurich and Walensee, then head onward by RailJet into the magnificent Arlberg valley, peaks rising up on either side as an indication of things to come. The skiing in St Anton is the stuff of legend, a sediment of stories built up by the resort's loyal returning fans, entranced by the sheer extent of mountain and off-piste on offer — not to mention the buzz of village life. Make time between the powder and the apres-ski to visit the museum, which offers a fascinating insight into the development of winter sports, including both incredible — and sometimes hilarious ­— footage of the early days of skiing here. 
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Zurich and then RailJet to St Anton; journey time: 10h 8m.

10. La Clusaz, France
A short climb from picturesque Lake Annecy lies the resort of La Clusaz, a chic, stylish village. The streets here are lined with cute restaurants and shops selling cheese and charcuterie, centred around a church that dates back to 1821. The ski terrain here overlooks breathtaking scenery, with a plethora of sunny terraces from which to enjoy the views, as well as the food. One such is Les Terres Rouges, with a panorama encompassing the peaks of Jalouvre and Lachat. For a relaxing time in the village, head to La Clusaz Spa Prestige Odalys Hotel Le Chamois, which has a Serge Blanco-designed water circuit.
How to do it: Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Annecy; journey time: 7h 37m. From there it’s 37 minutes by bus or taxi.

ESSENTIALS

The new Rail Map of Europe (£11.99 from europeanrailtimetable.eu) is a fantastic companion for planning journeys.

You can change stations in Paris with a pre-booked taxi from companies such as City Airport Taxis or Paris Private Cab.

For London to Austria with the Alpen Express.

Rail booking agencies
Trainseurope 
International Rail 
Switzerland Travel Centre

Online ticket agents
Rail Europe 
Trainline 

Rail companies
Eurostar 
OUI.sncf 
Deutsche Bahn 

Useful guides on journeys to into Europe and the Alps
Seat 61 
Snowcarbon 

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