Hitting the slopes on a ski holiday is one of the best things to do in winter - but should you travel by train or plane to a resort to get the most out of your ski trip?
Winter sports travellers heading for the continent have access to some of the world's best ski resorts, where many in France, Switzerland and Italy can be easily reached by train.
But why would you choose train over plane? The biggest advantage is for skiers who travel with their own gear and don't want to be penalised by the airlines for carrying ski boots, skis and bulky helmets. Eurostar offers a generous baggage allowance of two suitcases and one hand luggage per passenger, as well as allowing you to carry your skis and boards for free.
European train companies are always opening up new connections for winter tourists, making travelling by train easier every year. New for this season, the London to Geneva service with Eurostar and TGV Lyria (from £116 return) means that by simply crossing platforms at Lille, you can reach the Swiss city in just over six hours from London, before taking a regional train to your resort. Eurostar runs ski trains from London to the French Alps (from £149 return), with easy access to resorts including Courchevel, Val D'Isere and Meribel.
Another reason to travel by train is the unbeatable views of the countryside that you won't witness from a plane. It makes the journey part of your ski holiday fun, allowing you to relax on in a spacious carriage with your friends or family while watching the scenery pass by.
Train passengers don't need to waste time travelling miles to and from airports located outside city centres either as Eurostar's services take you from city centre to city centre, meaning less time getting there. The check in time is also less for Eurostar passengers: just one hour versus the two to three hours required at the airport for a flight.
Kate Andrews, co-founder of Loco2.com, tells us: "Many skiers assume that it must be faster to fly. But if you compare the journey door-to-door, you might be surprised - especially to the Alps."
For extra time on the slopes, Kate advises travelling on a sleeper train to add a day or more to your holiday. "Take an overnight train on a Friday for example, and wake up in the Alps ready to ski. You'll enjoy skiing on quiet slopes on transfer day while everyone else packs up early to fly home."
Skiers travelling for a weekend break will want to maximise their time on the slopes and can really benefit from rail transport.
Daniel Elkan, founder of ski train website Snowcarbon.co.uk, tells us: "Ski weekends are a popular choice for skiers who are struggling to get time off work and most assume that they need to do an after-work dash to catch a flight to a resort as close as possible to an airport. What few skiers realise, is that using overnight trains for ski weekends is one of the best ways to maximise time on the slopes.
"Take a Eurostar to Paris, and then change to a sleeper train with couchette beds, giving you a wide range of choices. Going by overnight train might seem counter-intuitive for a ski weekend, because the journey takes longer, but sleeping on the journey and waking up in the Alps, minutes from the slopes, is very time efficient - especially when you consider that flying to a ski resort normally takes six to nine hours. What's more, you can access resorts that are far from airports yet close to train stations, such as those in the Three Valleys."
Daniel adds that as an alternative, you can catch the Eurostar to Paris after work, and then stopover at a hotel at Gare de Lyon before catching a fast TGV train headed for the Alps in the morning. "You can get morning TGV trains that you couldn't have caught if you started out from the UK the same day, and be on the slopes by late morning or lunchtime, having had a relaxed and scenic journey."
So, where should you ski by train? Megeve, Sainte Foy and Courchevel in France are Daniel's top picks.
The beautiful village of Megeve with its 400km of ski slopes, for example, can be easily reached with the overnight stay in Paris. Daniel suggests departing London on the 17:31 Eurostar to Paris-Nord and taking the 07:11 TGV, arriving in Sallanches at 11:36 the next morning. From there it's just 20 minutes by taxi or bus.
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For the Swiss Alps, take the Aigle train from Geneva for the resorts of Leysin, Villars and Champery, while for Saas Fee, Zermatt and Verbier you can travel to Martigny or Visp from Geneva.
Italy is another great option for rail passengers. Oulx boasts 400km of groomed pistes in the Vialattea ski area and is ideal for intermediate skiers and après-ski lovers. Visit Voyages-SNCF to book the high speed service from Paris to Oulx which takes around eight hours from London, with fares starting from £117 return. Those who fancy a more relaxed ski break for beginners or intermediates can travel to old character village Claviere via Oulx. It boasts a charming blend of old and new architecture, as well as a fantastic snow record.
A ski train holiday is not just for adults, but the kids will love it too. They won't be confined to their seats and can move up and down the train - plus, what kid doesn't like going on a train? The spectacular scenery will keep them occupied for hours, as well as the tables giving them enough room to play games, read and draw, and the spacious carriages to explore.
Have you been skiing by train? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience below.
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