Eurostar Snow for winter 2024-25?
Will Eurostar bring back the direct Eurostar Ski Train service for winter 2025? Or will it develop it's new Eurostar Snow service (with a change of train at Lille)?
'There are more questions than answers...' So sang Jonny Nash in 1972.
When it comes to what Eurostar will do for skiers for the 2024-25 winter season, nothing could be truer.
The offering from Eurostar for the 2023-24 season was Eurostar Snow, a service where you enjoyed a Eurostar to Lille Europe, got off the train, had coffee and a cake, then got back on a different Eurostar train (a rebranded Thalys, essentially) and then enjoyed the rest of your journey down to Albertville, Moutiers, Aime La Plagne, Landry and Bourg St Maurice.
There were three strange things about the way Eurostar did this:
1. The train ran outbound on Saturdays but back on Sundays. That meant skiers would have to find an extra day's accommodation somewhere. Ski tour operators who wanted to offer the train did their best to find the eighth night for skiers somewhere (usually a hotel in Bourg St Maurice or Moutiers) but it was a pain for them and the moving hotel for just one night didn't seem a great idea to skiers either.
2. The service only had 250 seats for skiers, which was less than a third of the normal direct Ski Train capacity. And Eurostar used to run two trains each way (daytime and overnight), so that meant Eurostar Snow was taking less than a sixth of the skiers each week than the Ski Train used to do.
3. The final departure to the Alps was 27th January 2024, meaning the train would run for less then half the season.
Some people speculated that Eurostar were running Eurostar Snow this way as a test. But as a test, if you offer something that makes things more diffcult than they need to be, it certainly reduces the accuracy and value of the conclusions that you can draw.
The fact that it sold out is testament to the number of skiers who want to travel as directly to the Alps as possible. With only 250 seats each week, of course it would.
So what will Eurostar do for skiers in 2024-25?
That's what no one yet knows. Last week I was in the French Alps, attending a conference, Destination Montagnes, where all the French ski resort tourist offices meet ski-tour operators to do business and improve the way they work together. Before the conference there's there are educational tours of ski resorts. Our group stayed in Vaujany, part of the Alpe d'Huez Grande Ski Domain. The picture is of our group, with myself on the left in red, looking slightly gormless.
I had the opportunity to talk in depth with ski tour operators about the subject. They are really keen to offer train travel but have still heard nothing from Eurostar about next season. This isn't abnormal. Eurostar usually keeps its cards pressed tightly against its corporate chest. But it's not optimal either.
In a more sane world, ski tour operators would be able to start offering packages with the train right now, for next season (just like the offer packages with flights).
I'm sure that Eurostar will offer either a direct Eurostar Ski Train or continue the indirect Eurostar Snow service. How they'll develop it, I don't know.
Last year, Eurostar only announced their service at the end of August. That's ridiculously late, but OK, it was a new service.
Hopefully this year they will start talking to ski tour operators privately soon, and the public at least by June 2024. But who knows. For now, it's a bit of a waiting game.
In the meantime, at the conference, in various meetings with people agreed some next steps to try to get rail operators like Eurostar and TGV to work more proactively and better with ski tour operators (as well as directly to consumers too).
There's so much potential for rail travel to the Alps.
But it begins by being able to ask questions.