With the effects of climate change already wreaking havoc on snow conditions across the globe, what steps can be taken by the ecologically- and economically-aware traveller to enjoy a few days on the slopes with some decent snow? Arguably, by choosing to interrail and visiting lesser-known destinations is the way forward. If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve provided a quick insight into how to travel to some of France’s best known and loved resorts by train, as well as bringing your attention to a few other locations that tend to slip under the radar.
Famous for ‘Les 3 Vallées’, featuring the vast Val Thorens, and home to the Paradiski and Espace Killy ski areas, which share five different resorts between them, France is no stranger to welcoming skiiers and snowboarders to its slopes. Airports such as Chambery, Grenoble and Geneva all serve the French Alps region and can become incredibly crowded, with expensive flights and ludicrous prices for airport transfers. However, one easy way around this is by making the best of the seasonal Eurostar trains that connect Amsterdam, London, Brussels and Paris to the resort stations of Moûtiers, and Bourg Sainte-Maurice. Holidaymakers can then jump on the shuttle buses to the resorts, or in the case of Les Arcs, the 100%-electric Funicular that carries 600,000 people up to the mountain towns at no expense to the passengers who arrive into Bourg Sainte-Maurice by train. The infrastructures have been purpose-built to accommodate the seasonal increase in the numbers of travellers, for example, Moûtiers station easily welcoming 30,000 people every weekend in the winter, compared to on average of only 300 during the summer.
The transport systems are in place to facilitate efficient and comfortable travel and so now all is left to do is make the most of them. With tickets from Paris to Bourg in under five hours from €60, it seems crazy to generate almost ten times as much carbon dioxide and more than twenty times as much nitrogen oxides all for the sake of a plane as a more familiar form of transport. Not only do planes jeopardise the quality of snow waiting to greet you at your destination, but as any experienced traveller will tell you, the journey can be equally as exciting as the final location.
Now we’ve discussed the possibility and advantages of arriving to the French slopes by train, which resorts are further afield that can be explored using European railways?
More commonly associated with heat and pizza, Italy in fact also proudly boasts 349 different ski areas, the third highest number in Europe. Val Gardena, found in the north of the country in the Dolomites, was voted the best out of all the resorts in Italy, achieving five stars in snow reliability, the variety of runs available and gastronomy. As well as this, it makes up part of the Sella Ronda ski touring circuit, offering something for everyone, and with the area’s successful woodcarving history, a local souvenir is a must.
So, how to get to Val Gardena by train: with return tickets available through the Trenitalia website starting at €23.10 for an adult, arriving at Val Gardena by train is possible from Trento via Chiusa Klausen station. From Chiusa Klausen a bus then carries people up to the resort where the 175km of slopes lie within reach.
If the Dolomites don’t take your fancy, but the thought of Italy still spikes your interest, maybe consider Bardonecchia in Piedmont. Bardonecchia welcomed the snowboarding events during the 2006 Winter Olympics Games, which saw Shaun White win his first ever Olympic gold in the Men’s Halfpipe. Freestyle lessons are now offered in the snowpark at Bardonecchia so any budding freestyler can begin honing their skills under the watchful and insightful eye of their instructors. The hourly trains from Turin to the centre of the resort begin at only €7.30, so the sound of the piste under your skis is only ninety minutes away from the region’s capital.
Poland is a popular Interrail destination and while many seek out the cities of Warsaw and Kraków, the country also hosts many ski resorts in the mountain ranges near the borders with Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Western Tatras mountains are the main ski area in Poland and are where you should head if you’re in search of Kasprowy Wierch. Admittedly not as well-known as the infamous resorts in the Alps, Poland’s Kasprowy Wierch does have a long history as a ski resort, demonstrated by the existence of one of the oldest gondola routes in Europe. Accommodation in the resort for two in the height of the season can be as little as €22 a night so you can enjoy a week with snow, skis and slopes without breaking the bank. From Warsaw, Kraków and even Gdańsk, Kasprowy Wierch is accessible by train via Zakopane, which has been described as ‘the unquestionable winter holiday capital’. With one Polish zloty equating to roughly twenty Euro cents, the prices of the trains also seem too good to be true, and so Poland is certainly a good idea for a great ski holiday on a budget.
The ski resort of Szczyrk lies 120km further north-west of Kasprowy Wierch, and holds many of the same financial advantages of Kasprowy Wierch. However, if size is what you’re looking for, as Poland’s largest resort, you won’t be disappointed. You may also bump into some of the Polish Winter Olympics athletes as the skiiers and ski jumpers use the resort for their training. Ski passes start from as little as €30 and so yet again, Poland proves to be a reliable yet economically viable option. Having said this, after saving money on transport, accommodation and ski passes, who could blame you for wanting to reward yourself with a trip to a spa? Therefore, it’s worth noting that 4* luxury Hotel Meta Resort Vine & Spa can be found in Szczyrk, offering wellness treatments and massages, especially for those with aching legs after a long day skiing. Like all the resorts mentioned in this article, Szczyrk is of course accessible by train, with Wisla as the intermediate station from elsewhere in Poland.