How many of the million people who come to ski in France every year from the UK arrive by train? "Too few," says Antoine Pin, Director of the French environmental campaign group Operations for Protect Our Winter France. "Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the tourism sector," he said.
And he has a point: only 2% of Britain’s skiers take the train, according to the Ski Club of Great Britain. That is down by two thirds since Covid, whilst numbers travelling by plane are at 72% (or 80% if using data from the French tourist organisation, Atout France).
Train timetable changes to blame in part
Much of this is being blamed on Eurostar. At its peak the Eurostar direct service to the Alps ran two trains a week, one day and one night but this stopped with Covid and has not been reinstated.
“The train doesn’t make sense any more. The ski train - the one most used - left London at 09:30 which gave people from outside London time to get into town. Or there was the night train,” said Henry John of the Ski Club of Great Britain. “And if you get a regular Eurostar you’ve got to get across Paris, from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon.
“Now the nearest equivalent for skiers (a regular Eurostar train) leaves at 07:00 which cuts off anyone who lives outside the capital unless they are prepared to add another night by staying in London. If you want to get a direct train you have to book it as part of a package.”
Prior to Covid 6% of Britain’s skiers travelled by train. This might rise now that travel has re-started again properly. Driving went from 16% pre-Covid to 22% last season.
Package tours by train now possible
When someone travels from London to spend a week on the slopes, their carbon footprint is 12 times higher if he comes by plane than by train, say the statisticians behind the Ski Club’s latest report.
Although Eurostar stopped its direct service to the Alps in 2020, the good news is that French tour operator Travelski revived a form of the service last winter, albeit only as part of a package. 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,” says Iain Martin, the founder of Ski Flight Free – a campaign to encourage more people to choose alternative ways of travelling to their ski holiday than flying.
Paddy Daly of Travelski says: “The service started last season and despite a delayed start due to travel restriction we still carried over 5,000 skiers in our inaugural season.”
Breakfast on the slopes
But places on the train are only available as part of a Travelski Express package, which includes accommodation (available across 10 key resorts in the Tarentaise), a welcome breakfast on arrival, and transfer to the accommodation from the rail station.
“And a seven day lift pass. And of course, another advantage of going skiing by train is that you get an extra day on the slopes,” says Mr Daly.
The chartered train is run by Eurostar, but passengers cannot book tickets through Eurostar or regular sales channels for rail tickets. The French resort and theme-park operator Compagnie des Alpes (CDA) is effectively taking the financial risk by chartering an entire train from Eurostar.
CDA’s Travelski subsidiary handles bookings for packages that include accommodation, ski passes and transfers – but only for resorts managed by CDA. These include Méribel and Les Menuires in the 3 Vallées ski area.
And what about the French - how do they get to their ski resorts? It's a fact: 90% of French skiers arrive by car.