Thursday, July 7

Ski trains to resume between London and the French Alps | Eurostar

With more Eurostar trains now running again on routes from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, travelers have been waiting for news of ski trains to the French Alps and the reestablishment of other services.

But recent news from Eurostar has not been good. This week, the train operator announced that services to Marne-la-Vallée (for Disneyland Paris) would not run until the end of March 2022. He then said that no Eurostar service would stop at Ebbsfleet or Ashford in Kent until 2023.

“As business begins to recover, we must focus on the main destinations where demand is highest,” said a Eurostar spokesperson.

So, with Eurostar catering to its core business, the prospects for any direct train from London to the Alps looked almost nil for the winter season. If the two Eurostar stations in Kent were off the map, surely the seasonal service to the Tarentaise region would not be working.

Now it seems that Moûtiers and Bourg-Saint-Maurice will once again rub shoulders with Margate and Bedford on the starting boards at St Pancras station. Friday December 17 is touted as a likely start date for a weekly train, leaving London in the evening and heading overnight to the Tarentaise Valley. A source close to Eurostar suggests a likely departure time at 7.45pm, arriving in Moûtiers around 5.30am the next morning and arriving in Bourg-Saint-Maurice 45 minutes later. The return trip from the Alps to London will be a day service with a travel time of eight hours.

Les Arcs in the Tarentaise valley, one of the ski resorts served by the Travelski charter train.
Les Arcs in the Tarentaise valley, one of the ski resorts served by the Travelski charter train. Photograph: Annie Green-Armytage / Alamy

The problem is that it is a charter train. It is therefore managed by Eurostar, but passengers cannot book tickets through Eurostar or the usual train ticket sales channels. The French resort and theme park operator Compagnie des Alpes (CDA) is effectively taking the financial risk by chartering an entire train from Eurostar. CDA’s subsidiary Travelski will handle package bookings that include lodging, ski passes and transfers, but only for CDA-managed resorts. These include Méribel and Les Menuires in the 3 Vallées ski resort.

Resorts that are not part of the CDA empire are upset. “This is not good news for Courchevel,” said a representative from the local tourist office. CDA has effectively overshadowed competing resorts in Tarentaise, including Courchevel, which has long been a favorite with British visitors.

Travelski will promote and manage the new included rail routes, and the Eurostar train will be called the Travelski Express, making it one of five named trains serving St Pancras. However, Travelski Express does not evoke the rich historical associations of Robin Hood or Master Cutler; Both names have been on timetables for more than 60 years.

Skiers who book the Travelski Express overnight to the French Alps will not have the comforts of a sleeper car, now enjoying a renaissance across continental Europe. Instead, there will only be regular seats for the trip.

It’s not yet clear how Travelski will manage Covid’s confusing maze of cross-channel travel restrictions. An adjustment to traffic lights in Britain may still wreak havoc on plans, and so far there is no indication that ski and rail packages booked with Travelski will be refundable if Covid’s travel rules change.

Reservations will open later this month. Furthermore, Eurostar is likely to maintain its no-alcohol rule, introduced in late 2015 on night trains to the Alps. Little has changed since the world’s first charter train when, 180 years ago, Thomas Cook organized an excursion of the temperance movement from Leicester to Loughborough. “No drinking” was the rule then and it seems that it will apply at 7.45pm from St Pancras to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

Nicky gardner is co-author of Europe By train: the definitive guide, whose 16th edition is now available.

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