Why travelling to Austria’s top ski resorts by train is easier than you think

Lucy Aspden
All aboard the Alpen Express - treinreiswinkel/ANTO

This winter’s timetables for the Alpen Express train to nearly 100 of Austria’s top ski resorts have been released, offering skiers and snowboarders a low-emission alternative to flying this season.

The service runs weekly throughout the ski season, with the first departure on Friday 20 December 2019 and the final return journey on Saturday 14 March 2020.

In an appealing twist, the journey offers the chance to add a stop in a European city to a ski trip. Following a Eurostar journey from London to Amsterdam or Brussels, the Alpen Express then speeds to the heart of the mountains, providing access to resorts such as Kitzbühel, Söll, Mayrhofen, Ischgl, Sölden and St Anton.

What’s more, it’s estimated that taking the train to the Austrian Alps cuts emissions by around 80 per cent, in comparison to travelling by plane.

Departing London on Fridays the journey reaches Austrian resorts on Saturday morning. 

The 11:04 Eurostar to Amsterdam from London, a route that launched last year, arrives at 16:11, skiers and snowboarders then change to the overnight Alpen Express, which departs at 18:59, giving them the chance to grab dinner in the Dutch hotspot, before arriving in Austrian resorts such as Kitzbühel at 08:42 or St Anton at 10:43 the following morning.

Inside one of the trains sleeper carriages Credit: henk zwoferink/ANTO

Alternatively travellers can take the 15:04 Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels, changing swiftly to a high-speed train to Cologne, which arrives in the German city at 20:15. After a chance to freshen up or have a meal near the Rhine, at 22:26 passengers then join the Alpen Express train that transports them overnight to the Austrian Alps.

Night travel is very comfortable thanks to the train's sleeper carriages. With three varieties on offer it’s more than just a plump-up-your-coat and sleep against the window journey. There are six and five-berth sleeping cars as well as luxury private carriages for one to three people.

Travelling by train to the Alps is not a new concept. Many skiers and snowboarders will be familiar with the popular Eurostar service direct to the Savoie region, which regularly sells out each winter and provides access to many of the top resorts in France, on a journey from London St Pancras to Moûtiers, Aime la Plagne and Bourg St Maurice. The Austrian alternative, which has been running since 2016, is less well known.

Compared to traditional ski holiday packages, which often include flights that arrive and depart on Saturdays or Sundays, taking the train and arriving early offers the chance to gain an extra two days on the slopes, as the return leg only departs on Saturday evening.

Other benefits of travelling by train include unlimited luggage with no weight restrictions, meaning skiers and snowboarders can pack all their essential equipment as well as plentiful food and drink for the journey (with more available to buy onboard), without the worry of strict security procedures. There are also often discounts for children and groups. A bar onboard and the late-night running of the Alpen Express service often means one of the carriages turn into a high-speed party for like-minded skiers and snowboarders enroute to the slopes.

“This journey combining Eurostar and Alpen Express means that there’s an attractive option for skiers looking for an enjoyable, relaxing and sustainable alternative to flying or driving. Many Austrian ski resorts have stations right in the village, meaning there is no transfer at all, and you can be making fresh tracks on the mountain in next to no time,” said Daniel Elkan, founder of rail-ski guide Snowcarbon.

Kitzbuhel is one of the many resorts accessible by train in Austria Credit: Michael Werlberger/Michael Werlberger

As ‘flight shame’, or ‘tagskryt’ to give it its Scandinavian name, rises in the UK and holidaymakers become more conscious of their impact on the environment, research by Best Foot Forward, a global sustainability consultancy, calculated that a one-way journey by plane from London to the Austrian resorts of Zell am See-Kaprun generates 111kg of harmful CO2 per person. By comparison a rail journey to the same destination generates 23kg.

“For skiers and for ski resorts, sustainability is a huge and important issue. We are really pleased that these overnight train options mean that skiers get a chance to enjoy more time on the slopes, have a quality journey and make their holidays in Austria much greener,” said Martina Jamnig, UK director of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

With prices starting from €179 for a return journey for the Alpen Express leg of the journey and return Eurostar tickets to Amsterdam or Brussels and then Cologne starting from £70 and £53 respectively, it’s by no means a cheaper alternative than flying but taking the train can certainly ease the strain on travellers' carbon footprint.