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.
You get what you pay for
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.
Tarantaise Valley vs The Rest of the World
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.