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To Ski by Train ...

Updated: Apr 3

I love taking the train. One of the things I’ve discovered in recent years is that you can take the train to go skiing in a huge number of destinations all over the world! We have become so tied to our winter routines of a Saturday morning flight to Geneva that we sometimes forget that, often for the same amount of money and certainly a smaller carbon footprint, it is possible to take the train to many of our favourite destinations.


In this post, I’ve set out to detail some of the classic resorts, as well as some surprises, that can be reached by train. Some of them will require short onward connections by public transport, and some of them (particularly more long-haul destinations) will require a flight to the continent first, but all embrace the gloriousness of modern train travel!


The best thing about taking the train is having the ability to stop, slow down and stare out the window, watching the world go by. I regularly use taking the train as an opportunity to see the world around me, and it is therefore no surprise that I love the opportunity to explore the mountains by train.


So, here we go. In no particular order, some of the best ski destinations to explore by train around the world!

 


 

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Scotland

I love the Scottish Highlands. I have spent many a special moment up the side of a Scottish mountain, both West Coast (aka the Best Coast) and East Coast, or more technically the Grampians. Scotland is home to five alpine resorts: Nevis Range, Cairngorm Mountain, Glencoe, Glenshee and the Lecht. Of these, the two former resorts are imminently accessible by train, with excellent connections to the nearby towns of Fort William and Aviemore.


From these towns, Glasgow and Edinburgh can be reached by train in 3-4 hours. Even better, both are on the route of the Caledonian Sleeper; fall asleep in London and wake up the next morning ready to go in the heart of the mountains – what could be better?

 


French Alps

By far easiest “real” (sorry Scotland) destination to get to is the French Alps. A Eurostar from London connects with the TGV in either Lille or Paris, from which countless resorts can be reached. Tignes, Val d’Isére, Les Arcs, La Rosiere, Sainte Foy, Three Valleys, Chamonix, St Gervais les Bains, Flaine – all accessible via TGV and connection, either by coach, funicular or narrow-gauge railway, from Paris or Lille.


Val d’Isere is a resort I have travelled to several times by train. The railhead at Bourg Saint Maurice lies a little over 45 minutes away, and offers connections to all corners of France – Paris and Lille for onward connections to London, and Lyon and Geneva for a cheap and stress-free transfer alternative. The route winds its way along the shores of Lake Annecy and passes through several Alpine towns with beautiful stations buildings showcasing a bygone age of train travel in the Alps.

 


 


 

Austria

Whilst resorts are slightly less well connected, the benefit of Austria is that it is effectively made up of two big valleys, running west to east along the length of the mountainous part of the country. Night trains connect Brussels and Amsterdam (both reachable via Eurostar) to key stops in Austria, especially Innsbruck, Ötztal and St. Anton. From key stations, most valleys are served by post buses and connecting transfers. Another option to fall asleep and wake up in the mountains! Innsbruck offers free shuttles to the 11 resorts that surround the city, simply an incredible spot to sample the best of Austrian skiing.

 


 

London St Pancras International, gateway to the continent.

 

Italy

There are only a handful of Italian resorts reachable by train, but those that are have made skiing by train a really worthwhile experience.


The Via Lattea, a collection of six resorts just southwest of Turin, are all accessible via two stations at Oulx and Bardonecchia. Both are served by regional services from Turin, and both are served by long-distance high-speed trains from Paris – Oulx by TGV and Bardoncchia by Frecciarossa.


Even better, Via Lattea now run a dedicated shuttle service from Oulx station to the key resorts of Sauze d’Oulx and Sestriere, as well as the more minor resorts of Cesana Torinese and Claviere, alongside the regular resort buses.


Even better even better is that, upon presentation of a Trenitalia ticket to Oulx or Bardonecchia (and proof of membership to one of two Trenitalia loyalty programmes), you can save 20-25% on the cost of a lift ticket. This is an incredible amount to save, over a day’s worth of skiing on a 6-day lift ticket!

 


 

Away

USA

Whilst the US is not known for its train travel, there are several destinations that are reachable by train from major cities:


  • Winter Park – One of Colorado’s top destinations, Winter Park’s location close to Denver and sitting right on the historic Denver & Rio Grande Railroad means it is a prime candidate; luckily, Amtrak agrees, and operates a special weekend- and winter-only (The Winter Park Express) service to the heart of the resort from Denver. The 56-mile route climbs just over a kilometre in elevation from Denver on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. You can also catch the long-distance California Zephyr service, running between Chicago and Oakland, CA, which stops at Fraser-Winter Park just down the line in the town of Fraser and connected by local bus to the resort itself.

  • Stowe & Killington – Amtrak operates two services from New York to the heart of New England – the Vermonter to St. Albans, Vermont (via Stamford, CT, and Springfield, MA) and the Ethan Allen Express to Burlington, which travels north to Albany before hanging a right towards Vermont. The Vermonter serves Waterbury, VT, and the Ethan Allan Rutland, VT; these are both close to Killington and Stowe, two of the best resorts on the east coast, and connections between the pairs of towns are provided via local buses. With journey times taking nearly all day, these aren’t the quick hops of Denver to Winter Park, but perfect for mixing up your holiday in New York first.

  • Salt Lake City – this place holds a record similar to Innsbruck, with a cluster of world-beating ski resorts all a stone’s throw from the city centre. A combination of TRAX, the city’s light rail system, and then a UTA Ski Bus will whisk skiers from the airport and downtown to incredible resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons; Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude.

  • Tahoe – Truckee is on Amtrak’s California Zephyr route, between Reno and Sacramento. With immediate access to Northstar and seven other resorts – of varying sizes – within spitting distance it is a positive cathedral to skiing. South Tahoe resorts, such as Heavenly, are more difficult to get to. The Zephyr takes 5 ½ hours to cover the distance from Emeryville, just north of Oakland, to Truckee once a day.

 

 

Amtrak trains such as this one can take you to many skiing destinations in the US - shown here is an Adirondack service between New York and Montreal at Albany Rensselaer (L) and Plattsburgh, NY (R), with the same rolling stock serving Vermont.


 

Canada

Jasper is located on Via Rail’s The Canadian service as it winds its way through the Rocky Mountains from Toronto in the East to Vancouver in the West. Jasper is a snowball’s throw away from and acts as the resort base for Marmot Basin, offering some of the best skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Journey times are hefty, however, taking seven hours overnight from Calgary, 18 hours overnight from Vancouver, or a whopping 48hrs if you are travelling all the way from Toronto – not one for it you are rushing for a flight, but an amazingly scenic journey nonetheless.

 


Japan

Ho boy, this is a doozey. Japan is really well connected via its extensive bullet train network, known as Shinkansen. Japan put the UK to shame when it opened the Shinkansen service in 1964, just four years after Britain built its last steam locomotive. Nearly 60 years later, the service criss-crosses the nation, particularly a spine running almost the entire length of the country down its east coast.


  • Nagano – several great resorts are located in Nagano Prefecture, close to the titular city itself, which lies a mere two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. Hakuba, a series of 10 resorts strung out along a nearby valley and the region's crowning glory, lies a short shuttle through the hills away. It is possible to get to the village by train, but this involves an awkward weave around the mountains.

  • Aomori – located on the far northern tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island, the town of Aomori is the last top on the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo before it dives under the sea to emerge on Hokkaido. There is a small resort located close to Aomori, but it possesses an incredible off-piste pedigree far greater than anything that appears on a piste map.

  • Niseko – yes, that’s right, Japan’s best resort (by some definitions) lies on Japan’s amazing train network … sort of. It’s a hell of a journey north, one I will write about in more detail at a later date. The Shinkansen currently ends at Hakodate, on the southern tip of Hokkaido, four hours after leaving Tokyo. From here, an express train will weave around the tail of Hokkaido’s “J” shape to arrive at Oshamambe; a change onto a local service winds you through the hills to Hirafu, the station for Niseko Hirafu village … where you are told by the automatic announcer with a soft Australian accent that there is no access up to the village as the road is shot; great. Instead, stay on to the next station, Kutchan, and catch a shuttle bus back to Hirafu. The excellent news is that the Hokkaido Shinkansen is currently being extended, with direct service from Tokyo to Niseko and Sapporo expected to be provided by 2030.

 


Clockwise from top left: Tohoku Shinkansen "duck billed" train waits at Tokyo to head north to Hokkaido; a view from the window of ancient volcanoes on Hokkaido; the Hokuto Limited Express arriving at Shin Hokadate Hokuto ... ; and leaving Oshamambe; the local "rattler" waiting to leave Oshamambe and head into the heart of Hokkaido; Hirafu railway station.

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