Most snow lovers chuck the skis in the back of the car and head for the nearest airport to start the journey to the Alps for their week on the snow, but for the thrifty skier other options are available. Over the years I have taken to the plane, bus, car,boat and train to make it to the Alps and strap into the skis. However now living in Londoner with a bit more disposable income, I am constantly having the debate over the Snowtrain or the Plane. Most of us assume the plane is a much quicker and convenient way of getting to the slopes and, yes its more expensive but, it’s worth it right? Lets look at the numbers:
Let’s say you live 1 hour away from Gatwick or Heathrow (sorry northerners), you throw the skis in the back of the car and trundle along to the long stay car park at the airport. A model flying passenger (aren’t we all) rocks up to check in 2hrs before departure and dumps the ski bags before heading to the bar in the departure lounge. Flight times from London to Geneva are usually 1hr 30mins to 2hrs wind permitting, you touch down and spend at least 45mins- 1 hr faffing with passport control and baggage collection before heading outside to meet your transfer company.
Transfer times vary from Geneva to different resorts of course but you are looking at 2hr 30min to 3hours if you are heading to the Espace Killy or Paradiski region, assuming the condiitons on the mountain are good and “drives” does not have to bumble around putting the snow chains on! So with these assumptions, we are looking at around 9 hrs door-to-chalet door.
The cost – Swiss Air are usually pretty good for heading to Geneva and January flights are around £240 rtn and they throw in free ski baggage up to 20kgs. I’ll let you off the petrol costs, and lets say a weeks parking at the airport is £50 and you can find a decent return transfer for around £70, totalling £360.
For Londoners like me, we can jump on a tube or in a cab and get to London St Pancreas in 30mins. Their general check-in process is pretty smooth and you are required to be there 30mins before the train leaves. I went through a stage of having to take a least 2 pairs of skis and a snowboard (plus boots) for a weeks ski trip; excessive, but with the Snowtrain you effectively have no baggage allowance limits compared with the 20kgs on the plane, so this option was great (alhtought I think Eurostar have picked up on bag hoggers more recently!).
The train heads through Paris, Lyon, Chambery and finishes up in Bourg St Maurice taking around 8hrs in total, and a little longer on the overnight train. Once in Bourg you can hop off the train in no time avec bags in the hub of Tignes, Val D’Isere, Les Arc and La Plagne – all accessible within 1 hrs bus or taxi, with villages of La Plagne less than 25mins away. Les Arcs, for the thrifty skier, is accessible for free with a lift pass via the fenicular rail located next to the train station. Total time to La Plagne is around 9hr 30mins. One other benefit of the Snowtrain is that a service is run Saturday evening leaving Bourg St Maurice around 8pm and runs through the night arriving in London Sunday morning, meaning opportunity to take advantage of a 7th day on the slopes.
The cost – The Snowtrain in January from La Plagne to Bourg St Maurice is to around £240 rtn, comparible to the plane, the tube cost to St Pancreas is nominal, and the transfer to and from La Plange is around £30 per head, totallng £270. The real savings come either side of the stations in comparisons to the airports.
Obviously we are making a few assumptions here in that you are keen to ski in France and within a commutable distance to London St Pancreas or Ashford stations, however the Snowtrain is a comparable commute time and a cheaper way to get to the slopes for the thrifty skier. If you live in the South or South East of England it’s definitely worth some consideration if you are looking at alternatives to the traditional ski package holiday.