Does taking the train to ski resorts in the Alps really save you time or money? We put it to the test

Our two writers set out to explore whether taking the train or flying to the Alps will leave them triumphant
Our two writers set out to explore whether taking the train or flying to the Alps will leave them triumphant

One plank or two, fondue or schnitzel, off-piste powder or smooth groomers – there are many debates when it comes to ski holidays. But one that never fails to pick up pace among skiers and snowboarders is the decision of whether to fly to the Alps or take the train.

In an age when climate change threatens the future of holidays on the slopes, travellers choice of transport is a hot topic – with the carbon credentials of travelling by train increasingly important to British holidaymakers. But so is cost – when the price of going on a ski holiday has risen across the world’s top resorts. And time – with the majority of British skiers, particular families, restricted to travelling on specific dates during the winter every minute on the slopes counts.

To settle the debate of time, cost and carbon footprint, our two writers set out to explore whether taking the train or flying to the Alps will leave them triumphant – the race to the Alps is on. Follow their accounts below  to see who will be crowned winner.

On your marks…

Leaving home

Abi writes:

“I leave home at 6:45am and get a lift to Redhill station in Surrey. It’s dark, cold and I’ve had a fitful sleep anticipating the journey ahead and a weekend skiing. I challenged Paul to this race back in November and the tension has been building all week — we both know he’s going to win the ‘time race’ and to rub it in he rang me mid-week to suggest I stayed overnight in Paris on the way ‘to make it worthwhile’. (I ignored him.)

“The Redhill train goes directly to London St Pancras — much easier than lugging heavy ski bags on the tube, which mysteriously lacks escalators when you need them most.”

Paul writes:

“It’s 9am and I stretch luxuriously in bed before hopping into the shower. I don't need to be at the airport until midday, so I take things slowly – I've given Abi an almost three-hour head start, so confident am I in winning this contest.

“Abi phones from her second or third train wondering why I have yet to post a video update. I calmly explain that time is the flyers friend. I leave the house at 10am, strolling zen-like to the underground. All my kit is in one long ski bag with wheels. I'm taking my skis because I won't have to lug them between five or six different trains. It’s also cheap. The total price for my British Airways return ticket to Geneva, including skis, is just £184. The tube is also great value for this particular journey: just £5.50 all the way to Heathrow Terminal 5 with no changes”.

Get set…

At the airport/station

Abi writes:

“I meet our four friends who are joining me on the train for coffee at 8:15am, before going through passport control. I text Paul to find out how he’s doing but no reply suggests he’s either still in bed or packing frantically.

“I can only see two others who look like they’re going skiing — on previous Eurostar trips to the Alps, London St Pancras has been awash with skis and bulky ski luggage on Friday nights and Saturday mornings throughout the season. But, since the ski train was cancelled during Covid, only the Friday night direct train has been resurrected as part of a package with TravelSki, meaning the more complex journey on a Saturday, involving a trip across Paris to change train, is the only other option for us, along with very few others.”

Paul writes:

“Terminal 5 is serene and I’m through security in a jiffy. It was once the same for the Eurostar at St Pancras but since Brexit in January 2020 it's been up the swanny. I used it in the spring to go to Paris and it was a nightmare.

“I’ve got an hour to burn and find myself at the Giraffe Cafe with a full English and a nice woman called Liz from Texas. We address the thorny issue of climate change over a drink. According to the consultancy firm Ecollective, I’ll burn 114kg of CO2 on each leg of the flight – 10 times more than Abi. But as Liz points out after a quick scan of the internet, it only costs about $5 to offset it. Can this really be true?

“Charlie Cotton from ECollective says off-set prices vary and that you need to take care. ‘Fenix Carbon has a marketplace of different projects around the world. They’re big on trust and transparency, and all projects meet global certifying standards,’ he says. I take a quick look at the Fenix website and find I can off-set my flights for under £10.

“At the gate, I talk to a trio of young people about the climate change debate, but Johnny, Grace and Gracie don't seem too worried. ‘It’s easier and it's quicker to fly, so why wont I?’, says Johnny. ‘We’re students so we haven't got very much money and flying is much cheaper’, adds Gracie. My conscience soothed, I step onto my flight and immediately fall asleep”.


On the journey

Abi writes:

“Paul texts to say he’s still at home as we board at 9:15am. My seat on a standard premium carriage is on a par with a premium economy flight — breakfast (fruit salad, yoghurt, coffee and chocolate croissant) is included. Two and a half hours later we arrive in Paris, descend onto the Metro and two stops — and one pick-pocket attempt — later we’re at Gare de Lyon. I’ve been trying to wind Paul up about being able to enjoy authentic French food along the way, but end up grabbing a mediocre baguette before boarding the TGV to Bellegarde for a 2:10pm departure and another three-hour journey.

“I settle in to read my book but fall asleep quite quickly — my early start catching up on me. When I wake it’s nearly dark outside so I’ve missed much of the scenery, and time for the last train change from Bellegarde to Cluses. I’m impatient on this 90-minute journey and cabin fever sets in among my friends. What’s more, the race is heating up as Paul is at Geneva using a European passport to bypass any queues…”

Paul writes:

“I wake up as the flight is coming into land. I’m at a window seat and the person next to me gives me a slightly off look despite there being an empty seat between us. I suspect I’ve been snoring.

“Then the doors open and I’m off. I get to passport control quickly but there’s a very long for British travellers. Thanks to my dual UK/EU citizenship I pull into the fast lane and don't have to wait at all. I’m in baggage reclaim for 10 minutes and then out into Switzerland. The air is crisp and there is snow falling across the Alps. I feel that surge of excitement I’ve had with every ski holiday since childhood, and I smile”.

The race is on

Transferring to resort

Abi writes:

“The train, like every other, arrives on time (6:52pm) and the five of us bundle straight into the pre-booked taxi waiting at the station (there’s no connecting public bus to Flaine) but we still have an hour to go. Paul texts to say he’s ten minutes away from our Pierre & Vacances apartment, I’m definitely going to lose. Irritating. I take the moral high-ground though and start to quote the carbon equivalent (CO2e) my journey is using (14.7kg) compared to Paul’s flight (139.8kg).”

Paul writes:

“In the arrivals hall I meet Lynsey who’s travelled by train from Verbier to meet me. She’s had a tough time with cancellations but has somehow found the time to buy some celebratory drinks for our onward journey by taxi. Outside we meet Johann, our driver, who is waiting to whisk us up to Flaine in a sleek black estate. My ski bag slides neatly through the little cubby hole under the seats and we’re off. Lynsey pops the cork and we talk ten to the dozen for about an hour and a half and then we are there.”

And the winner is…

Arriving in resort

Abi writes:

“By 8pm Paul is ensconced in the bar, and crowing about his victory but although my journey has taken around five hours longer and involved five trains, I’m not feeling any more or less tired than I would have done by plane. I hate airports and sitting whiling away the time on a train has been easy, despite all the changes involved.”

Paul writes:

“I’m enjoying a drink in front of the fire when Abi finally stumbles in. She puts on a brave face but I can see it's been a very long day. Nevertheless she’s a trooper if ever there was one. We crack open some wine and pretty soon we’re talking about all the powder we’re going to ski in the morning.

“It reminds me: it doesn't really matter how you get to the alps as long as you get there”.

The final verdict

Abi writes:

“This journey isn’t for everyone. It was more expensive, for a start, as well as longer. For the train to really start to feature highly in the Great British ski holiday conversation we need the regular  direct train back, bookable independently rather than solely as part of a package. Granted, I would have probably beaten Paul if we were racing to Val d’Isère, because the transfer from Geneva is several hours by car and the train delivers skiers directly to Bourg-St-Maurice, which is 40-minutes drive to resort.

“Rather like UK train travel, this mode of transport is a conscious lifestyle choice and will remain so until the prices with flights even up. For the train to be viable, you need to view it as part of the holiday, not a means to an end. Ski holidays aren’t light on the environment, but by taking the train and making better choices in resort, accommodation, clothing and food, and we can substantially change the impact of our trips.”

Paul writes:

“When Abi phoned in November to propose a race to the slopes I knew I would win. Train travel to the Alps is worse than it has ever been – and I say that as someone with a host of amazing ski memories that involve trains. I've experienced the wonder of pulling in to Zermatt in a glass-roofed carriage in the shadow of the Matterhorn, and the exhilaration of skiing through the trees above the tiny station at Langen am Arlberg in the Tyrol, from where you can catch a train back to St Anton.

“And who could forget the old ‘SnowTrain’ that ran overnight from Calais to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, just 40 minutes from Val d’Isere and Tignes, one of the greatest ski areas on earth. You could bunk down early and make the most of the extra day's skiing, or go large in the legendary disco carriage.

“I flew in this race with a heavy heart. There could be – and there should be – dozens of direct sleeper trains heading to every corner of the Alps overnight from London and Paris during the ski season and beyond. If there were, prices would plummet, as would our carbon emissions. For the enoyment and an extra two days skiing (let alone the planet), the train would be my choice every time”.

Need to know

Abi and Paul were racing to reach the French resort of Flaine. The largest of five French resorts in the Grand Massif ski area, Flaine offers family-friendly convenience, with pretty tree-lined runs and traditional villages just a few minutes away. The 265km ski area suits all abilities from beginner to expert and snow reliability is good, with 80 per cent of pistes facing north and a fair amount of snowmaking.

A seven-night stay at five-star premium residence Les Terrasses d'Eos, starting March 11 2023, costs from £338pp based on four sharing a two-bedroom self-catering apartment, with Pierre et Vacances (0870 0267 145; For more information about Flaine visit

How to reduce the carbon cost of your holiday

by Abi Butcher

There are several ways to reduce your carbon footprint on a skiing holiday - MARCO BERTORELLO
There are several ways to reduce your carbon footprint on a skiing holiday - MARCO BERTORELLO

From my investigations into the effects of climate change on ski holidays, I realise more than ever how better choices beyond transport make a difference.

Where to stay

We stayed in a self-catering apartment in Les Terrasses d’Eos, a Pierre & Vacances residence that has been awarded the Green Key label for their commitment to reducing impact on the environment. Sheets and towels weren’t changed and no cleaning products used over the week. According to carbon consultancy ecollective (, who calculated our overall emissions, this choice used 3.2kg CO2e per night — whereas a five-star hotel costs 12.1kg CO2e per night.

How to ski

My preferred option is ski touring (0kg CO2e off piste), but with bad weather and an injury on this trip I had little option but to ski on the pistes using lifts, which for one day has a 1.4kg CO2e cost per person. A day’s heliskiing, by comparison, works out at around 600kgCO2e per person.

Where to go

Flaine is working hard to reduce its environmental impact and since December 2022 has been fuelling piste groomers with vegetable oil — their emissions were previously the biggest carbon cost in resort. They are no longer offering free paper piste maps — skiers can use the online app instead, and if they prefer paper there is a €1 charge.

What to wear

This season I’ve chosen to wear a well-used, eight-year-old outfit from Peak Performance with Odlo baselayers and Falke wool socks I’ve had for even longer. My only new additions this winter are a merino midlayer from small British company Snow Finel (manufactured in the UK) and a POC ski helmet and goggles — all of which will be used over many years to come. “The amount of information we have to calculate clothing emissions is very low,” says Charlie Cotton, founder of ecollective. “But we can work on a general estimate of around 1kg of Co2e per item per day for larger items, based on around 30 wears — that goes down the more you wear an item.”