Ski resorts by train

Snowcarbon Newsletter from 28th June

Tue 06 July, 2021


Daniel Elkan

Ten days ago I sent a Snowcarbon newsletter with an update about the Ski Train and indirect journeys.

I realise that it might be useful to put this on the blog too, and I might start doing this regularly.  Of course, by joining the newsletter you'll be the first to know.

The Snowcarbon newsletter goes out 'once every sometimes',  and you can sign up for the newsletter by putting your email into the sign-up form at the bottom of the Snowcarbon website.  Anyway, this is what I wrote:

Hello everyone,
Hope you are doing well.
Mark Twain once said: “I apologize for such a long letter - I didn't have time to write a short one.”
Similarly, I did intend to keep this newsletter brief, but it grew longer. Anyway, you know where the delete key is.
The Ski Train
I contacted Eurostar’s press office to ask what’s happening with the Ski Train. They told me: "A decision has not yet been made on the ski train - demand is of course going to be dependent on travel restrictions and quarantine requirements."
I also phoned Eurostar Reservations, to see what they would say. Similarly, they said that internal discussions about the Ski Train are happening at the moment, and expect a decision toward the end of July.
If Eurostar is genuinely trying to see if it can run the Ski Train this year, then that’s good news. I guess it all comes down to whether Eurostar — and the investors that bailed it out — consider running the Ski Train a risk worth taking. There is always the chance that a third/fourth/fifth wave of the pandemic could cause problems this winter. Having managed to secure a bailout at the last moment, Eurostar is probably more risk adverse than ever.  
Indirect journeys
Now for something that seems bonkers.  
Eurostar has now put its London to Paris, Brussels, Lille and Amsterdam trains on sale for all dates until April 2022. That’s further in advance than before, to encourage early booking. However, because of the uncertainty around the pandemic and travel restrictions, the winter timetable is minimal.  That’s understandable.  However, the timetabling for Saturdays doesn’t yet work for skiers returning from the Alps.
The outbound schedule looks OK.  There are Eurostar trains leaving from London to Paris on Saturday mornings, such as the 07:52.  You will be able to combine these with TGVs, no doubt, once TGVS come on sale in autumn.
However, at the moment, for the return journey on Saturdays (Paris to London), the last winter departure of any given Saturday is the 13.03 Eurostar from Paris to London. The problem with that is that if you are returning from a ski resort by TGV, it’s difficult to get to Paris in time to catch the 13.03 Eurostar. Ideally, you’d want a usual Eurostar departing Paris at around 3pm instead. Without a later train than the 13.03, you’d have to arrange to stay in Paris on the Saturday night and then get a Eurostar back to London on Sunday morning.
There are two bizarre things here:
Firstly, this schedule scuppers the normal opportunity to return from the Alps the same day, on a Saturday. And yet on other days of the week, Sunday to Friday, there is a later train returning from Paris to London at 17.03. Saturday is the busiest day for skiers (even though Sunday is popular too).  So why aren’t later trains on Saturday on sale already?
Second, Eurostar’s press office told me, in regard to these journeys: ‘Eurostar is committed to running every service we put on sale - offering reassurance to customers planning ahead. Depending on demand, we may also increase the number of services.’ This ‘depending on demand’ policy doesn’t really make sense, in terms of journey schedules. You can’t gauge demand for something by not offering it. What is Eurostar expecting, that skiers will write in asking for a 15.03 Saturday train back from Paris? Or that take up on other days of the week will be a reliable guide to demand for Saturday services? There are very few products or services that you can reliably test for by not allowing people to buy them. How does Eurostar’s Revenue Management department come to these decisions? You don’t need to be a master marketeer or a psychologist to work this out.  You just have to ask yourself ‘What would I do as a traveller / skier?’
Exchanging tickets
With every week that goes by, more skiers wonder whether they should be snapping up Eurostar tickets to Paris, or waiting. I’ve written a blog about this subject, to offer some thoughts.  But the key thing, for those travelling to Ski Train destinations (as opposed to other parts of the Alps) is that if you buy a Eurostar ticket to Paris, and then the Ski Train to Moutiers/Aime/Bourg St Maurice goes on sale, at the moment won’t be able to exchange your Paris ticket for a Bourg St Maurice one. That’s because Eurostar’s exchange rules only allow you to change to a different date/train for the same destination.  So, if you bought tickets for Paris now and then Ski Train goes on sale and you want to exchange your Paris tickets for Ski Train ones (and pay any difference in price, of course), you can’t. So that would feel like a bummer. Plus, there isn’t a viable return on Saturdays yet anyway.
Now I would bet any money that if things continue to go improve, pandemic wise, Eurostar will add plenty more trains on. It’s known that they want to do this.  They don’t want to only run two trains each way to Paris, per day. And they might run the Ski Train on sale (for those going to the Tarentaise, of course). So my general advice would be to hold fire before booking Eurostar trains yet.
In the meantime, the Save The Ski Train campaign will be writing to Eurostar’s CEO shortly to urge Eurostar to consult with the ski-travel industry in order to help make the best success of whatever Eurostar decides to run. This applies both for the direct Ski Train and indirect journeys.
Eurostar’s pre-pandemic modus operandi used to be to make decisions seemingly entirely by itself, without consultation. If it’s to service its purpose and be success, it really needs to start listening to people outside its head office.  I believe this is starting to happen.
I’ll be back in touch with more news soon,
Best wishes,
Daniel Elkan
Snowcarbon Founder