Eurostar links up with TGV Lyria to take skiers from London to Valais

Eurostar has launched a new weekly ski service to the Swiss Alps with tickets on sale from Thursday 11 October.

The new ski service will carry skiers and snowboarders from St Pancras International and Ashford International to the Valais region, giving access to resorts such as Verbier, Zermatt and Saas Fee from Saturday 22 December until Saturday 13 April 2013.

Passengers transfer in Lille from a Eurostar train to to a high-speed TGV, and can alight at Aigle, Martigny, Visp and Brig stations for onward transfers to their ski resorts. Eurostar and TGV Lyria will allow ski passengers to carry on-board an extra item of luggage in addition to the normal luggage allowance, such as a pair of skis or a snowboard, at no extra cost.

Eurostar ski train
Eurostar ski train (c) Eurostar 2012

Nick Mercer, Commercial Director for Eurostar said “With the highest runs in Europe, spectacular scenery and reliable snow, Swiss skiing offers something for everyone. With the resorts located just a short distance from the train stations, passengers have a much more seamless journey than travelling by air.”

The trains leave London at 6.57am and Ashford at 7.28am on Saturdays, and arrive at Aigle at 3.47pm, Martigny at 4.13pm, Visp at 4.57pm and Brig at 5.08pm. This realistically makes all the resorts of Valais and Vaud accessible via this service, using the excellent Swiss transport network completing the journey. From Martigny, Verbier is less than an hour away by train whilst from Aigle, Champery in the Portes du Soleil, Villars, Leysin and Les Diablerets all less than an hour away. Saas-Fee is less than an hour and Zermatt is almost exactly an hour from Visp. Brig gives access to the outstanding Aletsch Arena, with the resorts at Riederalp and Bettmeralp only 45 minutes away. There are also a clutch of smaller, lesser known resorts in Valais easily accessible from the ski train.

The news of this service has not been so well received by the Tourist Agencies in the Bernese Oberland and Graubünden. Britain has more tourists visit Switzerland than any other overseas country apart from Germany, but the strong Swiss Franc has led to a decline in visitors. I suspect that some visitors who would otherwise go to other parts of Switzerland may be tempted to sample Valais or Vaud, and let the train take the strain, at the expense of the Bernese Oberland and Grabünden. However, despite the undoubted convenience of the Eurostar service, all of Switzerland is accessible by train (see here for details).

The return train also departs on Saturdays. Return fares start from £189. For more details visit or call 08432 186 186.

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Glacier 3000

Glacier 3000 is a dysfunctional resort. It is halfway between Gstaad and Les Diablerets, and is claimed to be part of both their local ski systems; it reckons itself to be in Vaud but much of the ski area is in the Bernese Oberland and Valais; it promotes itself for it’s glacier skiing, but the more adventurous skiing is not on the glacier. In essence it is two areas, the north-facing area below the glacier with terrain down to Reusch, Col du Pillon and even Gstaad if the snow is good, and a glaciated plateau with dizzying views over Valais and beyond.

There is little to commend the glacier skiing. Flat blue runs, bitterly cold in Winter, inevitably serviced by t-bars and only accessible via a long schuss from the cable car – and most skiers and snowboarders will find they get insufficient speed from the very steep incline off Scex Rouge to make it across to the first lift (surely a case for a rope tow). However the glacier has a superb snow record and a long season, and there is some lovely, gentle off-piste, especially when there is fresh snow. If it has snowed overnight get to the top as soon as you can to make it to the off-piste outside and between the runs from Quille du Diable.

The runs away from the glacier are tough. The red run to Oldenegg would be a black at most resorts.There are also some trails and a range of demanding off-piste, including a devilish drop-off from the back of the eponymous Mario Botta-designed restaurant at Scex Rouge. Talking of eating, there are a good range of hostelries on the mountain, and the view from the terrace at Refuge L’Espace is one of the most breath-taking in the Alps. The Botta Restaurant sports Formula 1 images, reminding diners of Bernie Ecclestone’s investment in the resort.

Gstaad Mountain Rides classifies Glacier 3000 as sector 4 in that system, and it is priced for 2010/11 at CHf 60 for an adult for one day, only slightly cheaper than the main sector 1 area. There are a courtesy ski bus and a scheduled post bus linking Glacier 3000 with Gstaad and Les Diablerets. From the gondola station servicing Isenau in Les Diablerets it is possible to ski on a red run down to the Col du Pillon base station at Glacier 3000. The other lift system in Les Diablerets, Meilleret, which connects up with Villars and Gryon, is about a 15 minute walk from the Isenau base station, and the railway station in les Diablerets is equi-distant between the two lift systems.

Glacier 3000 is rarely crowded, even at weekends, although if you are driving it is worthwhile getting there early to get a good parking space. Parking is free.

Glacier 3000 is a bleak resort when it is cold, and would not be a destination I would normally choose over the nearby Rinderberg/Hornfluh, Videmanette/Eggli (both Gstaad Sector 1), Meilleret, Leysin or Chateau D’Oex slopes. However for early season excursions or on sunny Spring days it provides the best (or only) skiing and snowboarding in all the Vaud resorts, and on a clear day the views from the top make it worth a trip.

Details on the resort in Dutch are at the Swiss WinterSports web site.

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Chateau D’Oex

Chateau d’Oex in the Pays-d’Enhaut is the most Easterly French-speaking winter sports resort in Switzerland. It is denoted Sector 3 of the huge but largely unconnected Gstaad Mountain Rides network, most of which is in Saanerland in the Bernese Oberland. It is one of the few valley stations in the circuit that is easy to reach by public transport (Zweisimmen being the easiest) but is also fairly easy to reach by car from Berne, via Bulle and Gruyeres. Indeed, Gstaad Mountain Rides is probably the only winter sports area in Switzerland where a car is a good option – for those flying in by private jet to Gstaad airport there is a good Range Rover rental company nearby!

Chateau D’Oex is most famous for its thermals and balloon festival in January, and once was a favourite ski resort with the Brits, but probably fell out of favour because of it’s height – the top station at La Braye is only 1630m. There are a number of quibbles you can have with the resort as well as it’s altitude. No valley run except to nearby Gérignoz,  the awful t-bar from Bois-Chenau which you need to take up from the Gérignoz chairlift to get back to La Braye, old equipment,  a modest vertical, only one mountain restaurant…

Chateaus d'Oex

But on the bright side, it’s a lovely, friendly resort with 40km of pistes for all abilities and it is usually totally uncrowded at weekends. After the frequently-run valley cable car gets you up the mountain you can rely upon the efficient covered two-person chairlift to give you access to virtually all the terrain, including blue, red and black runs and some off-piste and a fun park. The runs are mostly North-facing and through the trees and are generally wide, well-groomed and easier than their designation. The restaurant at La Braye is good and (like everyone here) very friendly, and also doubles up as a ski-in, ski-out b&b at a respectable CHF25 for adults (less or free for kids; half-board is also available). The ski school seems good and English is widely spoken at the ski school, restaurant and lift office. The lift pass in 2010/11 is CHF42 for an adult for a full day, much cheaper than the main Gstaad area, sector 1.

An up to date resort report is located at the Swiss Winter Sports web site and a Dutch language version here.

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Villars is free!

Well, for one day at least – on the 18th December 2010. Apparently it is to celebrate the inauguration of 85 new environment-friendly snowmakers. Electronic keycards are not needed on this day.

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