Ski resorts by train

Why doesn't Eurostar fill up its overnight Ski Train?

Tue 02 April, 2019


Daniel Elkan

This is a thoughtful email from skier Neale Upstone, who wrote to Snowcarbon (and gave permission for us to publish his email on the blog)

Neale says:

“I thought I'd let you know a bit about my last journey.
I booked my train earlier than my accommodation in order to try to get a late deal on the accommodation.  

“I noticed the train prices starting to creep up just before I booked, so I thought it was starting to fill up.  That was 4-5 weeks before departure - a late booking by most standards. On the outwards journey (Fri 1st overnight Eurostar), my carriage was around 80% full - and I've no idea of this was typical of the train.  
On the return journey (Sat 9th overnight), the carriage was around 60% - perhaps not even that.

“Walking through other carriages to the catering car, I think this was typical.
It seems to me that there could have been two planes left on the ground if Eurostar had filled it.

Do you have any thoughts on whether this is typical and/or deliberate?
Something else that was notable was the number of people that I spoke to while on holiday (at Auberge sur la Montagne in Sainte Foy), who had spent more on their travel than I did - because of costs getting to from airports at both ends.”

Neale’s email does beg the question of how a ski train to the Alps can end up with around 40% of the seats still unsold (on the return journey).

There are a lot of factors that contribute to whether skiers end up booking train travel instead of flying or driving. It would be interesting to know the percentage of seats that end up unsold for the overnight Eurostar Ski Train versus the daytime Eurostar Ski Train – which are very different experiences and have different plusses and minuses.

Neale was on the overnight Ski Train. Some skiers swear by that train. And some skiers swear they will never take it again – because you have to sit up all night, and the lights aren’t dimmed. Eurostar’s draconian alcohol ban on the overnight train means that although people can’t get horrendously leathered and cause disturbance to other travellers, those who want to enjoy a more measure tipple can’t do so either.  Also, the Eurostar Ski Train arrives very early in the Alps – perhaps too early.  05:33 at Moutiers certainly means you’ll get first tracks, but it also means you are arriving before many things are open.  Would it be better if the Ski Train ran slower arrived a bit later?

Experience and logistics are two factors.  Another is that tour operators have difficulty incorporating rail travel into their package.  In many cases, this is not for want of trying, but because train companies have not created systems that make it straightforward for tour operators to do so. This is a great shame – a missed opportunity that hopefully in the future will be taken.

If you have any thoughts about your experience of travelling by train to the Alps, we’d love to hear them.