They’re a different breed to the sun-worshippers; waiting for winter to come so they can hit the slopes. So if you get your kicks out of hurtling down the side of a mountain on two planks of wood, or with your legs strapped to aboard, the wait is over. Ski season is here. Got your ski suit, wrap around sunnies, thermal gloves, chapstick and a tube of SPF30? Now, how about your train ticket?
Yep, finally the ski crowd are starting to come round to the idea of travelling to the snowy slopes by rail rather than by plane. After all, it makes sense. Rail travel is carbon-friendlier than flying. You get to skip those mind-numbing waits at airport customs (and you won’t be forced to stuff your deodorant and contact lens solution into a miniature sandwich bag). A train cabin is infinitely more comfortable than a cramped plane seat. And best of all, if you take a sleeper, you can arrive early, ready for a full day’s skiing, and save yourself the cost of a night’s accommodation. Need we go on?
Dan Thomas, founder of Snowcarbon.co.uk, a one-stop site for everything you need to know about travelling to the slopes by train, adds the clincher. “Once I’m sitting up there at the top of a mountain, I like to think to myself: Well, thank god I’m not on the Tube…” Amen to that. You can travel to all these star skiing locations in a matter of hours.
Les Arcs, France
From London to the slopes in: 8 hours
Daredevils and death wishers flock to Les Arcs to get their extreme snow sports fix. There’s top-speed tobogganing, and ski joering, which involves being pulled over the snow behind a horse. But if you’re seeking a canon-blast of adrenaline,you just have to give speed riding a go. Part-paragliding,part-skiing, this experience is about as exhilarating as it gets. Those who prefer to keep skis firmly on the snow will still find plenty of intermediate slopes to suit in the Paradiski area, which links to neighbouring La Plagne by the biggest cable car in the world: the Vanoise Express.
Apres Ski: The nightlife isn’t quite as amped-up as the skiing, but there are plenty of spots to enjoy a civilised bevvy such as Red Hot Saloon at happy hour. redhotsaloon.com
Recommended Route: Depart St Pancras on the 10am Eurostar Ski Train, arriving at Bourg St Maurice at 6.51pm,then it’s a seven-minute ride by funicular train to Arcs 1600.
Alpe d’Huez, France
From London to the slopes in: 8 hours, 20 minutes
There’s almost always bright sunshine over the 250km ofterrain at Alpe D’Huez, where four distinct skiing sectors are linked by lift. First-timers will find the decent network of beginner slopes great to practice on, while everyone else can swish speedily down the long reds at Signal l’Homme.
Apres Ski: There are plenty of bars to while away the evenings in, along with live music venues and late-nightclubs. Try the friendly O’Bar (Chalet La Clé, Route d’Huez) for a well-earned tipple or two after a day on the slopes. Chalet du Lac Besson is by the frozen lake above across-country track. It can only be reached on skis or by snowmobile; well worth a visit for grills over an open fire.
Recommended Route: Depart St Pancras on the 7.31amEurostar, change in Paris and take the 12.41pm TGV, arrivingGrenoble at 3.37pm; then a 75-minute transfer.
From London to the slopes in: 9 hours, 15 minutes
Pretty, unpretentious and good value, Montegenèvre is highly recommended for first-time skiers because of the bright and sunny nursery slopes that lie right by the village. There’s plenty of off-piste action when it snows in the Gondrans bowl, Rocher de l’Aigle and off the Col de l’Alpet – take a guide to show you the best routes. Montegenèvre has a solid boarding scene, too.
Apres Ski: It’s all about old world charm rather than hardcore partying here, so spend your evenings making the most of the local restaurants. Try Le Capitaine’s (La Praya) wood-fired pizzas, or if you’ve cash to splash, gourmet grubat La Table Blanche. hotellechaletblanc.com
Recommended Route: Depart St Pancras around 9.30am onthe Eurostar, change in Paris and take the TGV, arriving Oulxat around 7.30pm; then a 25-minute taxi ride. Book rail travel with Rail Europe. raileurope.co.uk
Sauze d’Oulx, Italy
From London to the slopes in: 9 hours, 15 minutes
Intrepid? Adventurous? Like to get off the beaten piste? You’ll go gaga for this area, as there are plenty of secret forest routes local guides can help you discover. Sauzed’Oulx’s tree-lined red runs are best suited to intermediate skiers, but advanced skiers can make the easy connection to Sestriere and the black runs at the top of Mount Mottaand Mount Sises.
Apres Ski: This Italian village with its sweetly cobbled streets used to be known as ‘Ibiza-in-the-snow.’ This thought might fill you with either excitement or horror, but either way, the resort is still quite a boozy fave with Brits. That said, Sauze d’Oulx is more cocktails than clubbing these days, so start off the night with a few aperitivi at Caffe della Seggiovia (Piazza Assietta 4).
Recommended Route: Depart St Pancras about 9.30am on the Eurostar, change in Paris and take the TGV, arriving at Oulx around 7.30pm; then it’s a 15-minute taxi ride. Book with Rail Europe. raileurope.co.uk
From London to the slopes in: 18 hours
If you’re planning a trip with mates of mixed skiing ability, Söll is a pretty good bet. The Ski Welt is the largest linked ski area in Austria, and has plenty of easy blues for beginners and harder reds for the more experienced. Advanced skiers will have to look a little harder to find a challenge, but there are some very steep runs at the Hohe Salve. Night skiing is huge here and the floodlit run from Hochsöll down to Söll is nothing short of exhilarating.
Apres Ski: The slopes here might be gentle, but the nightlife is quite the opposite. This cutesy Tirolean village gets raucous later and you’ll find skiers dancing on the tables at Moonlight Bar and other spots around town practically every night of the week. There must be something in the schnapps. moonlightbar-soell.com
Recommended Route: Depart St Pancras around 3.30pm on the Eurostar, change in Paris and take the City NightLine sleeper train, arriving Worgl around 9.40am, then a15-minute taxi ride. Book with Deutsche Bahn from £215 return in a six-berth couchette. bahn.com