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Train vs Plane - What is the best way to the Alps?

clock 1st July 2010 | comment0 Comments

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.

Travel Time

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.

Departure Arrival Time
Moutiers Meribel 20 mins
Moutiers Courchevel 30 mins
Moutiers Val Thorens 50 mins
Bourg Les Arc 7 mins
Bourg Val d'Isere 55 mins
Bourg Tignes 60 mins

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.


Ten Resorts In Ten Hours?

clock 25th June 2010 | comment0 Comments

If you've been watching Wimbledon this summer then no doubt you have seen at least some of the ten hour marathon match that has spanned across two days between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. If a game of tennis can last 11 hours with one set coming in two minutes shy of ten hours, I wondered how many resorts you could realistically ski in that time.

The sensible option for this challenge would surely be to grab some like minded friends, get a car big enough for four people and four boards (or sets of ski's) and head to the Tarantaise Valley in France. OK so maybe you could claim all the micro-resorts in the Paradiski or the villages and ski towns splattered across the Portes Du Soleil but the idea of skiing some of the biggest resorts in Europe and finishing in one the world's après ski mecca's, is what really appeals to me.

To me the obvious way of tackling this target of ten resorts is to begin the journey in Meribel, taking on the Three Valleys, burn some rubber down to Bourg St. Maurice and head up the Les Arcs and La Plagne and finish off with the drive up to the Espace Killy, dropping the car off in La Daille before riding over to Tignes and then onto the Saloon Bar in Val d'Isere for a celebration drink or two.

With an idea of where I need to go to succeed I grabbed a few piste maps, some local knowledge from my seasons and have come up with a planned description of how I'd attempt such a feat.

Meribel to Val d'Isere, Ten Hours and Counting

  • 8:30 am - Start the day in Meribel, drop the car off at the Chaudanne car park, gear up and head over to the lift station.
  • 9:00 am - Jump on the Roc De Fer chairlift as soon as it opens and the ten minute ride up to the Olympic Express chairlift, which takes you to the top of the ridge between the Meribel valley and the Valley de Belleville.
  • 9:20 am - As we're here we may as well traverse along the top of the Verdet piste and drop over onto my favourite run of all time, Jerusalem, then a ten minute hoon straight down the St. Martin.
  • 9:40 am - Stroll on to the usually queue-less St. Martin bubble followed by the St. Martin 2 chairlift back to the top of the valley. From here it's a short burst down the Gors Tougne piste to the Granges chairlift and another 5 minute ride to the top of the ridge. From here you can get some serious speed up cruising down the Allamands then Petit Creux pistes into Les Menuires.
  • 10:15 am - With three resorts dialled in after 90 minutes on the mountain we're onto a pretty good start. Time to head over to the Menuires chairlift and then Mont De La Chambre chair which drops us off at the entry point to Val Thorens.
  • 10:35 am - A quick phone call to one of my favourite resorts pubs, the Frog and Roast Beef to order some bacon and sausage sandwiches, then a blast down the short but steep Goitschel piste and Plan Sud all the way to the pub.
  • 10:45 am - Arrive in the Frog for a refuel, mug of tea and a quick catch up with the Duncan (the owner and veritable piece of Val Thorens furniture).
  • 11:15 am - Head over to the Plan Sud chairlift and then the Three Valleys 2 chair to the top of the valley. Tick resort number four off the list and then enjoy a ten minute cruise down the Lac de la Chamber piste whilst breakfast settles.
  • 11:45 am - After fighting the lift queues it's time to board the ever busy Plan Des Mains chairlift which takes us back toward Meribel-Mottaret along the Rossignol and Marter pistes, giving us some gentle riding/skiing after a high speed morning.
  • 12:00 pm - Time for the 20 minute ride on the Pas Du Lac bubble which takes you to the top of Saulire, on the Meribel/Courchevel border and with stunning views across the Three Valleys. One of my favourite spots to sit before heading down the wide open pistes into either resort.
  • 12:25 pm - Head down the motorway piste that is the Combe Saulire into Courchevel 1850. On a good day you can hammer this run in one long swoop finishing off in the centre of Courchevel 1850.
  • 12:40 pm - Get on the cosy Chenus bubble to the top of Col de la Loze, and then straight lining the Bouc Blanc all the way into La Tania, usually we'd stop in the Skilodge for a cheeky beer with Tim but today there's no time and it's straight to the cable car.
  • 1:00 pm - Four and a half hours on the mountain and seven resorts covered time to take the La Tania bubble followed by the Dou Des Lanches chairlift toward Meribel. Here it's a good 15 minutes winding through the network of blue runs back to the car.
  • 1:30 pm - With the kit thrown hastily into the back of the car its the 50 minute drive to Bourg St. Maurice.
  • 2:30 pm - With the clock ticking it's straight to the funicular to Les Arcs and Arc 1600 and putting the kit on in the lift while inhaling some crisps and cans of coke.
  • 2:40 pm - Straight to the Cachette chairlift and the Belvedere piste into Arc 1800. With time limited La Plagne is going to have to be sacrificed. Up the Vegere chairlift and back into Arc 1600 by 3:20pm.
  • 3:30 pm - Run back to the car and a head to the far end of the Tarantaise Valley, the Espace Killy. After a good 45 minutes we pull the La Daille car park at the bottom of Val d'Isere.
  • 4:30 pm - With an hour left until the lifts close the Folie Douce will have to wait for another day, we head up the Funival and from the Rocher de Bellevarde we ride down the 3i piste to the Tommeueses chairlift.
  • 5:00 pm - At the top of the Toviere the only way down with our time limit is the long steep Trolles, flying down the black run and praying that we can stop at the bottom, this may not be the most extreme piste on the planet but you can accelerate as fast as you dare on this run.
  • 5:10 pm - With minutes left to complete the challenge before the lifts close its up the Aeroski gondola, in Tignes Le Lac, then down the Edelweiss followed by the OK back down to La Daille. With time to spare it's paper scissor stone to see who's driving before popping into the Folie Douce for a beer. After a quick drink it back on the OK to La Daille, back into the car and a two minute drive into the centre of Val d'Isere.
  • 6:28 pm - Drop the car off and head to Cafe Facé or the Saloon Bar for some celebratory drinks. Job done.

OK, so we would have to sacrifice the idea of heading to La Plagne, and counting Meribel-Mottaret as a resort is tenuous, but with the right skiers, some French style driving, and a whole lot of sugar based drinks in 9:58 you could just about squeeze in ten ski resorts opposed to 138 games of tennis.

Now, just to convince the boss to pay for the trip!

Written by Stephen Adam

What's Your Favourite Ski Run?

clock 11th June 2010 | comment1 Comments

The summer is now well and truly under way, you know four days of sun followed by weeks of grey skies and muggy weather. To get through this difficult period the team here have been reminiscing about our favourite ski trips and have shared the thoughts on our favourite resorts and apres ski bars. I've previously blogged about where to get your summer snow fix and what festivals are worth heading to this winter but one thing to yet grace these pages is maybe the most important topic of all, what is your favourite ski run?

Everyone has a favourite run, whether it's the piste where you first linked your turns, the most terrifying powder stash you've taken on or your favourite spot to find yourself intentionally inverted, or at least dreaming about it.

For each and everyone one of us skiing and snowboarding gives us something different. I love nothing more than a short hike with friends to an untracked powder line, it doesn't matter whether it's through the tree's, flying down a couloir or charging down an empty waist deep piste. I put this to the Igluski experts, who are a mixed bunch of hedonists, and an analysis of snow parks, precarious moments and motorway pistes were the discussion of the day.

With so many amazing pistes to choose from, I found it hard to decide for myself, Vaujany has some hidden treats and there are so many lines in Avoriaz but on reflection my favourite run of them all is Jerusalem in St. Martin. Taking the Olympic Express chair out of Meribel and dropping into the gentle yet enjoyable off-piste on a powder day before joining up with the legendary red run and straight-lining the rollers is definitely among my most memorable boarding experiences.

Here's what the guys at Iglu went for.

I'm having trouble deciding between the most fun best run I know or my most memorable moment on a mountain. On a rather significant birthday a few years ago in a particularly good snow season I was in Jackson Hole, USA standing on the edge of Corbett's Couloir looking down at a 30 foot drop. The cornice at the top was so steep and high that year that I couldn't even see the landing zone. It was a complete leap of faith. When I leapt into that empty space I reached a certain nirvana that I doubt I'll ever match again. However, if I was to do one run again for the rest of my life it would be the Rock Garden in Lake Louise. To blitz that field of snow covered rocks you need blistering foot speed, instinctive decision making, and the delicate touch of a dancer - AJ

My favourite park has to be in Tremblant. The resort has a few parks the biggest and most advanced has a charge to enter. I think this is fantastic because the park is exceptionally well groomed and not busy. So you can hit any of the massive kickers or rails with no queues, or without massive crowds of people waiting to see the outcome if it all goes wrong, although it is nice sometimes if there are a few cuties around. - Nick HH

Mont Gele to Verbier - Held in the same high esteem as Val d'Isere and St Anton, Verbier scores heavily over its two rivals with an abundance of challenging terrain. Evocatively named runs such as Stairway to Heaven hint why this Swiss mega resort is full of ungroomed runs suitable for intermediates and hotshots alike. With plenty of high altitude steep terrain and good quality snow, these hybrid runs officially marked but not pisted make for some truly epic skiing.

Typical of the resort is the run from top of the Col des Mines to Verbier, famous for it's generous vertical and Mont Blanc backdrop. As one crests the ridge after Lac des Vaux, Verbier's chalet studded plateau appears far below with nothing but a steep west facing bowl with miles of skiing in between. Bereft of lifts, pylons or anything man made, this jaw dropping scenery is so wide crowds soon scatter. Fellow skiers look like dots on the mountain, resort buildings far below likewise. Morning runs offers lots of good cold snow, afternoon runs with the sun setting around the mountains and Rhone Valley truly spectacular. Terrain on approach to the resort becomes more compact and by bearing left skiers are treated to mogul fields flanked by trees, an excellent opportunity to mix in with the Verbier's many bumps experts.

For those who want to start above the Col des Mines, this is possible by taking the Mont Gele lift first. Suitable only for the most experienced and in proper conditions, this fearsome section rewards hotshots with the knowledge their attempts are in full view of the restaurant terraces of Attelas 2. Whether a skier or a boarder and you start at the Lac des Vaux or further up on the Mont Gele, it all makes for a very complete ski. - Thomas

Streatham Common when the roads are blocked and the toboggans are out! - Tracy (she's a bit Urban)

I may be biased because I had a great season there and got to know the local secrets but it has to be in Les Arcs. After fresh snow it's all about the black run from the top of Deux Tetes above Les Arcs 1600 into the off piste through the trees, under the Mont Blanc chair. It is the ultimate tree run! Beware the cliff! It's a long drop when you're not expecting it. - Nick J

All 11 km or seven miles for the (imperial minded people out there) of highway 7. It's the run which links Zermatt to Cervinia. You get some stunning views of the Matterhorn as you cruise over to Italy from Switzerland. Don't leave it to the last minute to catch the return cable car because there are plenty of bars en-route to top up those dwindling energy levels. - Nigel

My favourite ski-run is at Sunshine village, which starts with a five minute hike right off the Wawa Chair. You head out of bounds through what locals call, "The Back Door". The run follows a river bed, and cuts through a long natural half pipe/canyon full of powder. As the course follows along a creek bed, you're forced into skiing flat out, following the contours of the river, it feels like you are on an insane waterslide! You then end up skiing deep in the glades, for some of the best tree skiing I've ever experienced. On a powder day, this is the stuff of dreams! Enjoy. - James T

La Balme in La Clusaz. Some long challenging turns but manageable at speed, never busy, a long satisfying run that leads straight to the entrance of a bar. - Calway

The Wall - Avoriaz. It's steep, it's bumpy, it's scary! - Adam Clark (The only blader in the company has actually done The Wall on them!)

I love the stash in Avoriaz. Its a park that is made from solid materials and is in place all year round. As soon as the snow falls its ready for action and the 540 Twisty Mcfly's can commence! - Ade

Belle Plagne - The one's with snow on otherwise I tend to find it hurts when I fall over - James (Head of IT)

It has to be one of the Itinerary routes down Mont Gele in Verbier.

The trepidation starts in the cable car where everyone's geared up to the max with the all latest gadgets that I can't afford. They'll need them skiing in my powder wake. You get dropped of onto the most basic of landing stations. It's just a metal platform stuck on the edge of the mountain. After a short hike it's time to click your boots in with the highest DIN setting you dare and look over the edge. No matter which way you dare through the couloirs, gullies, drop offs, or bumps, it's either steep or very steep. On a powder day... don't get me started. - Scotty

If it wasn't for the fact that the World Cup is on a screen two metre's from me I'd probably lose my afternoon watching clips on Mpora and counting down the days until I book my next holiday!

Written by Steve Adam

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