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One of the ever present arguments of how to get the Alps is the train vs plane debate. With the demise of the infamous snow-train, its all night party culture and its two extra days on the slopes, can the direct Eurostar service hold its own compared to short haul flights?
There are a variety of arguments over why one mode of transport is preferred to another: the resorts you can access, cost, travel time, luggage allowance, comfort, and access to stations and airports. All of these different aspects have to be considered to give a fair opinion on what works for you.
One of the reasons the old snow-train was so popular was the fact that you could be in the resort by 9am Saturday morning and didn't have to get the return train until after 7pm the following week, giving you eight days on the mountain. Everyone from snow addicts, to the one holiday a year crowd, would happily jump on the train, crawl into their couchette and enjoy those extra two days of skiing.
The second factor was the legendary disco-carriage. Many a hangover and even a few pre-skiing injuries were a result of the all night disco from Paris.
The current ski-train, as it has become known, is a direct daytime Eurostar service. But how does it fare without the extra days' skiing and ability to party the night away? Well there are some definite advantages over flying in my opinion. The train departs London St. Pancras at 10am and arrives in Moutiers around 5pm and Bourg around 6pm (this season's times are yet top be published). So you are looking at around an 8-9 hour journey.
Flying, from London Gatwick for example, to comparable resorts, takes around an hour and a half to Geneva and around two hours to Chambery. Chambery transfers range from an hour and a half to two and a half hours, whereas from Geneva you are looking at between three and four hours to the Tarantaise resorts. Add into the mix travelling to the airport two hours before the flight, and the fact that a vast amount of ski holiday flights depart between 6am and 8am and you are looking at a very early start. Once you combine this with a flight to Geneva, collecting your bags and sitting on a four hour transfer to Val d'Isere, you can easily be looking at a 8/9 hour day.
Cost is a funny one, if you are looking at your standard package holiday the price includes flights, usually from a London airport, therefore to go by train often adds a premium. Flights tend to be cheaper than the train, but for someone who can jump on the tube to St. Pancras, getting to the Eurostar is much cheaper than using the Gatwick Express, and much quicker. Therefore depending on the cost of the supplement, and where you live, the price can balance out.
Luggage allowance, on most charter flights you are looking at 20kg and if you're taking your skis an additional £30. If you are travelling by train as long as it fits in your suitcase, and you can carry it, then your baggage is fine, also your ski carriage has been included in previous years. The last time I travelled by train I had a 32kg suitcase and a huge boardbag with two snowboards, boots, bindings, helmet and all my snowboard clothing, the extra charge? Nothing. Lets hope this remains the same for this season.
Resorts; this is where the train does fall down. You can get to three of the five largest ski areas in France, including the largest linked ski area in the world, the Three Valleys. Other resorts include the Espace Killy, Paradiski, La Rosiere and St. Foy. Offering you a fantastic choice of skiing that will suit every ability and preference. By flying you have access to every resort in the world, from Klosters to Borovets and from Whistler to Niseko The choice is incomparable.
For my yearly trip out to Morzine I'll be jumping on a plane to Geneva as it's only an hour transfer, and if I decide go to Austria or Italy this year, the only choice is to fly. Though I have to say if my planned trip to Tignes or Meribel goes ahead I will take the Eurostar. For me its 20 minutes to the station, I don't have to worry about my girlfriend overloading her suitcase and then filling half of mine and I can take one boardbag with all our kit in it. Add in an M&S picnic on the train, a couple of bottles of wine and maybe a film on the lap top and you've got a relaxing journey to the Alps.
The great thing about travel is that there an option that suits everyone.
Written by Stephen Adam.
Summer Skiing Fix
Most people into skiing and snowboarding tend to take one trip a year to get their fix, but for some of us that just isn't enough. The feeling of fresh powder, corduroy pistes, bluebird skies and a cold apres ski beer runs through our blood all year round.
The winter season gives most of us the chance to get a week in with our ski buddies and maybe the chance to squeeze in a cheeky week with the more hardcore riders. But when the summer comes along how do you get through seven months without snow? Ok so I shouldn't complain about the 24°C weather and beautiful sunshine outside right now, but sitting on a beach, or by a pool with a mojito just doesn't match the adrenaline of a day on my board and sinking a cold beer with friends talking over the days events.
For those of us with the time or money the summer does provide opportunities to feed our addiction. For the weekend warriors out there, there are a handful of summer camps and weekend events held at a select few glaciers in Europe. For the real hardcore (and time rich) there is the powder of Chile & Argentina or the adrenaline-sports-fuelled Queenstown in New Zealand.
If the Southern Hemisphere is a little too far and the idea of hitting the park at 7am, and the skate park or golf course in the afternoon is your idea of fun, then Europe can offer some fun trips. The glacier at Zermatt will be open, with events such as the Natives weekender, for a more upmarket summer trip. If you are looking to hone your freestyle skills then there are a whole host of weekend and week long camps in Les Deux Alpes. With big name riders and UK legends, such as Antti Piirainen & Will Hughes to name a couple, mixing it up and offering coaching for serious enthusiasts and disadvantaged kids who have never seen a ski resort before.
For the powder hounds and serious off-piste skiers and boarders out there then a trip to Chile or Argentina could be for you. Realistically seven days skiing is a ten day trip due to travelling to the country and resort, plus if you were in Argentina why not take in a couple of days in Buenos Aries? Southern Hemisphere skiing is renowned for having easy access to untracked snow; whether taking a lift to the top of a quiet bowl, hiking with a guide or heli-skiing.
Skiing in South America is a specialist field with tailor-made holidays to Les Lenas, Argentina, Valle Nevado and Portillo, Chile. This is definitely one trip that is on my list of places to go before I hit 40 (along with Japan and Alaska), and one trip where I will definitely be letting the experts here at Iglu organise for me.
The problem with summer skiing is the cost and length of travel to the Southern Hemisphere resorts and the conditions in the Alps. Skiing in the likes of Zermatt, Hintertux and Les Deux Alpes usually involves a handful of pistes, slush and early mornings (pistes often open from 7am -1pm).
However serious your addiction to snow, if you can ski this summer you will.
Written by Stephen Adam
Organising a group ski holiday is a time consuming activity and can be a real pain in the backside. You would think that a group of ten grown adults would be easy to please but the reality is a very different story.
For the past couple years I have been given the task of organising the bi-annual ski trips. As I work in the industry, and have done multiple seasons, my friends felt that I had the experience to make this nice and easy, so I happily volunteered. The first job is always to find out who can travel and when. With dates limited to December and March for most the group that made it a little easier and I managed to pin down New Year for the first trip and a pre-Easter trip in mid-March. Brilliant, job one done. New Year is just about the busiest time of year to go skiing and when you have three accountants coming on holiday, getting them to spend money is akin to getting a Premier League manager to agree with referees!
With the budget finally sorted this was looking like plane sailing from here on in, all I had to do was find the right resort, right property and the right flights. Now this is where it gets a little difficult with most the party traveling form London and a handful in the Midlands this should be easy, but when you have people who will only travel from one airport and these don't match, it becomes a little harder. I had to find a way of getting two people out of Heathrow, two out of Stansted, two out of Gatwick with two more 'happy to do whatever' then two from Birmingham and a possible Dublin flight for good measure.
After much debate, banging of heads and thoughts from the group the answer presented itself. My hopes of an nice easy package from Gatwick for ten people had been dashed to at least the first trip. In the end after speaking to a few operators I had the perfect solution for the accommodation - the independent chalet operator. We found a great chalet company in Morzine, only an hour from Geneva, that offered chalets, with transfers, right in the middle of the resort; perfect. The next thing was to look at flights, by going through a travel agent, we were able to book scheduled flights from all the required airports and even managed to land within an hour of each other, perfect for the included transfer and for traveling to resort together.
The next challenge was to convince people that I had found the right resort and property. This was a little more difficult as I had advanced skiers wanting a large ski area, party animals hoping for St. Anton, beginners needing good instructors and easy slopes and a random Les Arc fan fighting his corner. The resorts in the mix were St. Anton, Meribel, Val d'Isere & Les Arc. After a little persuading and a few dummies being spat we agreed that Morzine would be perfect. 600km of piste in the Portes du Soleil, short transfers, chilled Apres but lively nightlife (perfect for New Years Eve) and the all important charming instructors for the beginners.
Several weeks in we had now agreed on dates and a resort. Next thing was where to stay, some people wanted 5* chalets with hot tubs, others wanted warm food and a bed near to the bars. This is where it gets really difficult to find a property, through some friends in resort and several phone calls we managed to agree on a chalet in the centre of town with a sauna.
Had we done this alone we would have had to call every company under the sun, booked all our own flights and transfers and had anything gone wrong we would have been stuck as this was not a package holiday. This is where using a travel agent to orgainse the holiday comes in handy, I was able to book the flights, chalet and transfers all through them. Not only did this offer protection, for example if the operator went under or the flights were cancelled, it also made life easier. Rather than maxing out credit cards and chasing people for money everything was sorted for us. All I had to do was to get everyone to call in and pay their deposits and balances separately.
So far so good, holiday one booked. With New Year being so popular it was very handy indeed to have managed to arrange everything by June. This gave the group time to book the week off, pay their balances and save for a week in the mountains.
Though it's hard work, being the group leader is worth the effort. This season I have a much easier job, we are almost ready to book one of three chalets in either La Tania or Meribel on a package holiday again and knowing that when multiple airports are needed a trip to an independent chalet company in a resort like Morzine is on the cards again for the main group holiday.
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