Campaigners have launched a petition to save the popular ski train that runs between London and the French Alps after Eurostar cancelled the service for this winter. The twice-weekly service usually operates between December and April from London St Pancras to 16 ski resorts, including Courchevel, Les Arcs, Tignes, Sainte Foy and Val d’Isère. It carries 24,000 people each season, takes eight hours to cover the 830km to Bourg St Maurice, and offering a low-carbon alternative to flying or driving. A flight to the Alps would emit about 11 times more carbon dioxide compared with the train, according to ecopassenger.org.
A spokesperson for Eurostar said coronavirus had forced the decision, which was announced on 8 July, specifically “the compulsory wearing of masks, and significantly increased hygiene measures and high-frequency cleaning”, which are “more challenging to maintain on long distance routes”. Eurostar has also cancelled summer routes to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille as a result.
Eurostar added: “We are focusing our timetable on our routes between capital cities, which have the highest demand from customers at the moment and, shorter journey times.”
The SaveTheSkiTrain petition is calling for the service to be reinstated and is backed by green snowsports organisations, including SnowCarbon, Ski Flight Free, SaveOurSnow and Protect Our Winters UK. It describes the decision as “disastrous” for “the many thousands of skiers that use this service and the climate crisis”.
Daniel Elkan, founder of the SnowCarbon website which helps skiers find train routes to the mountains, said: “The loss of the ski train is a massive step backwards for sustainability and travel. Eurostar cited concerns of demand, but the ski train sells out hours after tickets go live. They could sell the train out many times over if they had a more engaging approach. We need long-distance, direct trains to rival flying.”
It will still be possible to reach a wide selection of French ski resorts from the UK by taking Eurostar to Paris and changing to a TGV train, but Elkan argues “that doesn’t compensate for a direct service”, especially for first-time, long-distance train travellers.
“Eurostar has a monopoly on the train into Europe [for passengers from the UK],” he said. “So we need better. We’re going to gather the entire ski industry as one voice and ask Eurostar to rethink.”
Xavier Schouller, chairman and founder of French Alps tour operator Peak Retreats, also voiced his concerns about the decision.
“The reaction across the ski industry, from both operators and the clients we have spoken to, really underlines that this is a short-sighted decision by Eurostar,” said Schouller. “Given the current circumstances, many skiers will be looking to avoid flying, and this would have been a great opportunity to introduce more skiers to the train as a convenient, viable alternative.
“The environmental benefits were already making it a more and more popular route. Demand increases every year, and with enquiries and bookings building for next season it would have seemed logical to consult more widely and wait to assess demand rather than take a pre-emptive decision.
“We’re already seeing many clients opting to drive to the Alps, and we think that this move away from flying will only accelerate. Hopefully Eurostar will review this decision soon.”
Cathy Rankin of leading French ski accommodation company Pierre & Vacances, added: “It’s a real shame for our Les Arcs customers as the Bourg St Maurice Eurostar service was perfect for them. It is a very sad day for us.”
Eurostar said it is too early to comment on whether the train will return for the 2021/22 ski season.
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