Like a rabbit pulled magically out of a hat, the ski train is back. For weeks, Eurostar has been quietly telling skiers that “with a great deal of sadness” it had cancelled the service for the coming season, while publicly stating that “a decision had not been made”.
Behind the scenes, however, negotiations were taking place. Compagnie des Alpes (CDA), which operates many of the ski lifts in French ski resorts, has chartered the train to ensure British skiers have the option to travel to the Alps by rail this winter.
Although Eurostar will operate the service, it will be exclusively marketed by Travelski, a French tour operator owned by CDA, and marketed as the 'Travelski Express'. Here’s everything you need to know.
When will the new ski train run?
While pre-pandemic Eurostar ran two ski trains a week — a daytime and an overnight service in each direction – the Travelski Express will run only one train: outbound to the Alps on Fridays overnight; and back to the UK daytime on Saturdays. The first departure is planned for December 18 2021, but is yet to be confirmed, with the final return set for April 16 2022.
The overnight journey means skiers can enjoy seven days on the slopes instead of the normal six, although not all skier will welcome the prospect of trying to sleep in a sitting up position – the carriages do not come with bunks.
Timings mirror the ski train’s previous timetable, departing London St Pancras at 19:45 on Fridays, arriving at 05:32 at Moutiers and 06:15 at Bourg St Maurice. For the journey back, the train departs Bourg St Maurice at 09:34 and Moutiers at 10:14, arriving back at St Pancras at 16:13. The train won’t call at Ashford this season, because Eurostar has closed the station for the time being. In line with Eurostar policy, alcohol will be prohibited on the overnight train, but allowed on the daytime service.
How do I book tickets on the new ski train?
Controversially, the only way for skiers to buy tickets for the Travelski Express is as part of a Travelski package with train, accommodation, transfer and a seven-day ski pass. Tickets won’t be available to purchase independently, nor bookable with other ski tour operators. Travelski has indicated that specialist travel agencies, such as Ski Solutions, may be able to sell packages on its behalf. However, Eurostar vouchers from ski train journeys cancelled in March and April 2020 won’t be redeemable on the Travelski Express – potentially leaving thousands of skiers out of pocket.
Travelski Express packages are due to go on sale by the end of September.
Which resorts does the ski train visit?
While Eurostar’s former ski train gave skiers access to 14 ski resorts in the Tarentaise region of the French Alps, skiers will only be able to buy packages to six resorts with the Travelski Express: La Plagne, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Méribel, Tignes and Val d’Isère. That means that skiers wanting to travel by train to other popular resorts in the Tarentaise, such as Courchevel, La Rosiere and Val Thorens, will need to travel indirectly, combining a Eurostar to Paris with a TGV train to the Alps, for example.
Guillaume de Marcillac, CEO of Travelski, defended the decision to offer only six resorts: “We have put a lot of money, energy and effort to make this direct train service to the French Alps possible this winter. We want to offer a high-level of service and need to combine this with operational efficiency, including being able to offer transfers that take guests directly from the train to their accommodation.
“For that reason, we’ve limited our offer to the six CDA resorts for this winter. But this still benefits the entire Alpine ecosystem, and we envisage expanding the range of resorts in future seasons.”
Does this mean the end of the ski train being operated by Eurostar? No, says de Marcillac. “If this season is a success, this could help re-ignite Eurostar to offer their own normal ticket-only ski trains, with Travelski Express continuing to offer special trains.”
Ski resort tourist offices, increasingly keen for skiers to come by train, welcomed the move. Guillaume Desrues, Mayor of Bourg Saint Maurice, said: "This is excellent news. The Travelski Express will allow our British friends to come to the Tarentaise and Les Arcs with a comfortable, low-carbon journey by train.”
How do packages compare?
For £640 per person a family of four can travel to the resort of Tignes, by train from London, staying at the four-star CGH Résidences & Spas Kalinda apartments. But how does this package compare to a standard flight-inclusive deal with another operator?
A Travelski train package for £640 per person to Tignes this winter includes:
return train travel, including ski carriage and no luggage limits, with an estimated journey time of 10.5 hours (overnight)
transfers from the station to accommodation, travel time roughly 40 minutes
self-catered accommodation in a four-star apartment
seven-day lift pass
A Crystal Ski Holidays package for £700 per person to Tignes this winter includes:
return flights, excluding ski carriage and with luggage limits, with an estimated flight time of two hours
transfers from the airport to accommodation, travel time roughly two and a half hours
half-board accommodation in a three-star hotel
buy-one-get-one-half-price lift pass offer