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Advice for travel from North America to Alps

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
First time snow-head poster here. I am travelling to Verbier and then Chamonix from Miami, Florida for about 10 days of skiing in the second half of January. Extremely excited to ski Europe again for the first time since I was a teenager (some time ago!), but having never skied Switzerland or France have a few logistical concerns.

First, how easy is it to stow ski bags (padded out with ski clothes) on the trains in Switzerland/France? I will be flying out of Miami Thursday night, January 17th and transferring through London (Gatwick I believe) to Geneva arriving on Friday, January 18th. I’m pretty comfortable with checking my skis on the plane and will have all my gear in the bag with the skis, other than my boots in a boot bag with most of my first day gear (in case skis get delayed). However I’m curious as to how much of a hassle it is lugging and stowing an approximately 40-50 pound bag of ski’s and gears on the swiss trains and tele-cabin up to Verbier from Le Chable), bearing in mind I’ll have been travelling for 12+ hours with only a bit of wine induced sleep at best. It will be on a Friday afternoon (arrive in Geneva around 14:30 on the Friday) if that makes any difference. I’ll be staying in Verbier for 4 days and then sloughing over to Chamonix (likely on the train) for another 6 days, so any info/tips on that route would be helpful as well. My only other luggage will be the boot bag (which is a carry on size at least on this side of the pond) and a small ski backpack.

Second, and sort of related to answers on the first issue, how much would you estimate for rentals in the two resorts mentioned and is there likely to be a good selection? If it looks like lugging a big ski bag around on the trains is going to be a major headache then I might leave my skis behind (Rossignol Soul 7s) and try out some demos over there. I will bring my own boots regardless, so it’s just the skis I would need in that case. When I’ve rented over here in North America the going rate seems to be about 20-25 pounds a day for demo skis (good selection of brands and types). Curious what rates I can expect over there.

Finally, just for background I’ve been skiing since I was about 10, and I’m at a fairly advanced level, but certainly not an expert Skullie . I get about 20-25 days a year in these days, over multiple trips. I’ll ski pretty much any in-bounds terrain over here in North America (without much style admittedly), and do some limited hike-to terrain. I know the system is different in Europe with the off-piste unpatrolled and not avalanche controlled, but I will be hoping to get in with a guided group for at least a few of the days for some off-piste itineraries. Generally I’d like to spend the majority of my time off-piste, but not sure if that’s advisable in the Alps without a guide. I do like the bumps, steeps and trees so curious how much of that type of skiing is easily accessible without a guide if any one has any local knowledge on the two areas.

Any advice on any of these issues is much appreciated.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
no idea about the trains although you could try a few of the rental websites to see how much equipment would cost.

https://www.skiset.co.uk/rental/ski-rental.html

https://www.alpinresorts.com/en/ski-rental?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIj--gz-DC3gIVw7XtCh1hQQa4EAAYASAAEgJzcfD_BwE

https://ski-hire-sport2000.co.uk/

https://www.snowrental.co.uk/
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@skiscouse,

Welcome to Snowheads!

You can get discount equipment rental at Alpinresorts.com, with the discount code ALPISKI

That code (valid until 14 Nov) will get you 60% off. Our friends used them in France last season and everything was fine.

We've travelled a few times from Geneva by train (to France) in the last couple of years and always found space for a double ski bag. You should be ok -- especially not travelling on a Saturday.

Sounds like a great trip! Remember to let us know how you get on!

Were you originally from the UK (with that username) Puzzled
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US based here too, and ski in the Alps every couple of years, so I will try to help. You will be able to find room on the train for your skis. Normally you need to leave them at the end of the coach where you enter and exit because you need to stand them up to minimize use of floor space, and you can't do that where you have seats. There will be overhead storage above seats, but that usually only accommodates smaller bags (i.e, carry on equivalents). The difficult part is lugging things on and off during train changes, so just be ready for that.

Regarding Chamonix, you are aware that one of cable cars is down for the season due to a fire, right? If you did not know that, do some research to confirm it will not materially impact your plans. If it will, think about changing directions. There are numerous other opportunities that you could easily move onto from Verbier. Many of them will be easier than travel to Chamonix for that matter. If you stick with Cham, look into this too: http://www.ski-chamonix.net/chamonix-to-verbier.html#axzz5WCNe8nc1

There will be a good selection of rentals available at those high profile resorts you are visiting if you opt to go that route. In my experience, almost every aspect of skiing in the Alps is cheaper than in North America, except for ski rentals, which are equivalent, or maybe even a little more expensive than in North America. If you rent, be prepared for them to offer up something shorter and skinnier than what you are used to skiing. You will need to be very specific if you want something similar to the Souls. They will be available, but they won't be the first thing offered.

Be prepared for the Geneva airport. It's typically a bit of a zoo. Not quite as organized and tidy as most of Switzerland in my experience. It will help that you arrive on Friday rather than the regular changeover day of Saturday, however, and, on a 10 day trip, you will avoid the Saturday depart too. Sundays are hectic too though less so, so allow plenty of time if that's your getaway day. Good call to have everything you need for a ski day in your carry on. My ski bag was delayed last year into Geneva airport and didn't show up for 4 days. Unfortunately, my wife's ski jacket was in it, so I got the pleasure of buying another for 500 ChF the first morning of our trip. Ultimately, British Airways did compensate, however.

I usually take my skis to the Alps, and just pack lightly on everything else. The only exception was a trip to the Dolomites with a 2 days stop in Venice on the way in. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of taking them in and out of Venice, so I rented there.

In Verb and Cham, you will have very little access to trees because most of those areas are above treeline. Both have quite a bit of on-piste steeps, however. Technically, anything off-piste in the Alps is unpatrolled and not avalanche safe. Practically speaking, I have skied just beside or in between pistes on mellow terrain in the Alps anytime I have skied with good visibility, normally paralleling my wife skiing on piste. A European will post soon to point out that such behavior is risky and stupid. I won't disagree, but I find the risk acceptable in those circumstances, and I have excellent insurance, including global evacuation. The degree, if any, to which you go off piste is your call, but I do not go very far afield solo.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Both chamonix and verbier are unusually good for being able to rent more ‘exotic’ skis. Quite a few brands have demo centres there.
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Le Chable and Chx are a doddle on trains with skid. You can also get shuttle vans to Verbier and from Chx if you want to the door service- certainly better than the train changes and short walk you need to get back from Chx to GVA.

You'll transit through Martigny for the Le Chable leg and btwn le Ch and Chx. Ramps in the station if you have a wheelie coffin so easy.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Another US based skier who cross the pond to ski from time to time.

If your ski bags have wheels, easy. If not, it depends on how strong you are and how you feel about shouldering all that weight around all the transfer points. Some of the stations are big and your connection maybe on a platform 1/2 mi away! Geneva is easy, just get a luggage trolley and wheel your stuff all the way to the train station.

From Chamonix to Geneva, I think most people book "shared transport" aka mini-bus that drop you right off at the airport. So your ski bag is not an issue.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
mr. mike wrote:



Technically, anything off-piste in the Alps is unpatrolled and not avalanche safe. Practically speaking, I have skied just beside or in between pistes on mellow terrain in the Alps anytime I have skied with good visibility, normally paralleling my wife skiing on piste. A European will post soon to point out that such behavior is risky and stupid.


This is a widespread practice and probably something that most of us have done (or still do), without avalanche equipment. Of course I'm not endorsing off piste without a guide - but there is often a lot of mellow, powder that can be skied immediately next to a piste.
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Often the trains will have places specifically to store skis. I've travelled from one side the Alps to the other on the train without a problem with skis. However as others have said I too would be looking to do this with a shared taxi. It will be much quicker and probably cheaper given the short distance you are going.
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@skiscouse, "I know the system is different in Europe with the off-piste unpatrolled and not avalanche controlled, but I will be hoping to get in with a guided group for at least a few of the days for some off-piste itineraries. Generally I’d like to spend the majority of my time off-piste, but not sure if that’s advisable in the Alps without a guide. I do like the bumps, steeps and trees so curious how much of that type of skiing is easily accessible without a guide if any one has any local knowledge on the two areas."

A guide isn't essential for off piste skiing in the Alps. Companions certainly are for anything other than messing around near the pistes. However, can't imagine why you would want to come to Urp to do that. It is not uncommon to link up with other skiers via this very website in both Verbier and Chamonix for off piste skiing.

There is no shortage of bumpy or steep skiing in both areas you will be visiting. As someone above alluded to, trees can be at a premium. There are bits of tree skiing at either end of the Chamonix valley at Les Houches and Le Tour, and a small area at the Grands Montets that gets skied out pretty quickly. However, that's not really what Chamonix is about. It is big mountain terrain.

If the weather is a bit dodgy with bad visibility, there is very good tree skiing available in neighbouring resorts such as St Gervais, Megeve, and Combloux. If this is an option you would like to keep open, think very carefully about the lift pass you purchase.

The one situation where I might advise you to link up with a guided group might be if you fancy any skiing on the glaciers. There is good skiing and adventures to be had in Chamonix's glaciated areas, but you need to know what you are doing.

It doesn't sound from your post as if you are equipped for or interested in touring. This may or may not limit the possibilities for linking up with people with good local knowledge out there. It will depend on conditions I suppose. I would be happy to meet up with you and show you around some of the skiing in Chamonix for a day if you would like? You might need a high tolerance of slow old blokes however.

As for the burned down lift, I wouldn't worry. You do lose easy access to some spectacular Glacier skiing, but there is plenty of other stuff to go at. You won't ski it all.
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Bergmeister wrote:
@skiscouse,

Welcome to Snowheads!

You can get discount equipment rental at Alpinresorts.com, with the discount code ALPISKI

That code (valid until 14 Nov) will get you 60% off. Our friends used them in France last season and everything was fine.

We've travelled a few times from Geneva by train (to France) in the last couple of years and always found space for a double ski bag. You should be ok -- especially not travelling on a Saturday.

Sounds like a great trip! Remember to let us know how you get on!

Were you originally from the UK (with that username) Puzzled



Thanks for the discount codes Bergmeister, and for putting my mind at rest on bags on trains. Indeed I am originally from the UK, and apologies in advance to any mancunians, cockneys, leeds folks, etc.., for my username. snowHead It goes largely undetected on US based forums, but might get me in a spot of bother here on Snowheads. After leaving England at age 2, and spending life as an expat in various spots, I doubt the real scousers would own up to me anymore anyway NehNeh .

I'll be sure to post a trip report after my adventures. Really looking forward to getting a taste of the Alps again at last and thanks for the welcome to the forum.
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Lots of great advice on here to digest. I did find out about the burned down lift at Chamonix, after booking my refundable lodging, but not before some others in my party had gone ahead and book non-refundable lodging. Fortunately they are coming a few days later, so I took the opportunity to spread out to Verbier for the first few days. Based on HammondR's feedback and that of others it sounds like there will be more than enough to keep me busy even without the top lift at Grand Montets (sp.?). Given the rave reviews I've heard about the terrain off that top lift, I might try and gin up the energy and equipment to skin up the last stretch if that's even possible.

On the trains and shared taxis this is some really good info a number of you have given me. Sounds like the ski bag on the trains will not be a problem provided I can muster up the energy and strength to lug it about (doesn't have wheels) after the trans-Atlantic haul. Interesting to hear that there can be up to a half mile between platforms. Based on everything I've gathered I'll probably bring the skis, but might try the shared taxi option, especially for moving between the resorts. Will also look into investing in a ski coffin with wheels as suggested.

Mr. Mike and ABC - thanks for sharing your experiences and tips as US based skiiers who've made the pilgrimage multiple times. I've lugged my ski bag all over North America, but usually rent cars over here so that makes it a bit easier. At any rate, if I'm going to be claiming I'll try to hike up Grand Montets, with the lift burned down Very Happy , I'll have to keep up appearances and say I'll find the strength to cart the skis around a mere train station. Neither might prove to be true.

HammondR, cheers for the in depth explanation of all the options in and near the Chamonix valley. Over here in North America the resorts are pretty spread out generally, so with a few exceptions once you've settled on a resort you're sort of committed. Sounds like in Europe it's a lot easier to just slip on over to another resort where the conditions and terrain might be quite different. You've created a good mental picture for me of the options in the valley itself. Thanks for the generous offer to show me about for a day. I think however it would be you who might need the patience to wait for a slow, old bloke from sea level to catch up with you. Do you mind if I PM you on here on Snowheads once I get situated to see if we might meet up? I'd love to see as much as I can of what Chamonix has to offer, but very much agree with you and other's advice that partners in crime are a prerequisite if going any more than a little off piste. I do not currently have a touring setup, but it is something I'd like to get into, so I might make the investment. That said, gear aside, I'd probably need to get experience in a more familiar locale before touring in a place such as Chamonix.

Once again, thank you for all the tips on luggage, trains, coaches, shared taxis, rental options, etc.., as well as for the posts giving a feeling for what the skiing is like generally and these mountains specifically. It's definitely a different set-up to over here, but one I can't wait to get my skis into. Roll on January Snowheads snowHead
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@skiscouse,

If you can manage your luggage the train would be a good option from Geneva to Verbier, via Martigny. Martigny is a relatively small station - so no half mile hikes! wink

Further transfer info below:-

https://www.verbinet.com/transfers/guide
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Quote:
Interesting to hear that there can be up to a half mile between platforms.

I may have exaggerated there. But work out how many transfer you have to deal with to get a sense of how much hoofing you’ll need to do in the worst case. There’re times the transfer is just to the train on the same platform! Smile
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
There's no half mile anywhere in a station. Only complexity is dealing with France to Geneva trains but as we've advised getting a shuttle back from CHX like everyone else that isn't an issue.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
@skiscouse, no probs with you PM'ing me. Give me a bit of notice, and don't forget to remind me who you are. Never noticed the scouse thing, probably just as well!

If you have the urge to tour anywhere while in Chamonix there is no shortage of good quality renal gear.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
"renal gear"? Is that to detox the body after excessive apres consumption? wink
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
HammondR wrote:
@skiscouse, no probs with you PM'ing me. Give me a bit of notice, and don't forget to remind me who you are. Never noticed the scouse thing, probably just as well!

If you have the urge to tour anywhere while in Chamonix there is no shortage of good quality renal gear.


Cheers HammondR. I'll be sure to give you some advance notice. Wouldn't want a fake scouser in a shell suit showing up on your door unannounced I'm sure. And good thought on the ren(t)al of tour gear, vs. buying.
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@skiscouse Here are a selection of prices from last season 2017-18 from one of the hire shops where we have our apartment in La Tzoumaz, which is a satellite of Verbier. The shop uses a rating of 'Standard' vs superior 'VIP' category of equipment. The insurance is the usual 'helicopter lift off the mountain and/or ambulance' thing, not cover for hospital costs, but even if it overlaps with your own, it's only CHF 5 or so a day and will just streamline the process of handling your helicopter transfer off the mountain (one thing less to worry about if you have an accident).

Skipass:
- Adult 4 Valleys 6 days incl. insurance CHF 590
- Adult 4 Valleys 4 days incl. insurance CHF 300

Equipment Hire for 6 days
- Adult Skis/Snowboard (Standard-VIP) CHF 136-190
- Adult Boots CHF 80-110

Heli-ski
- 1x Person in a group + guide CHF 480-530

You get to Verbier by train by taking the Brig train from inside the airport, changing at Martigny for a local trin to Le Chable. Then get the bus or télécabine to Verbier from the valley. They've just spent a fortune refurbishing the station at Le Chable which is now open. It's all modern now and just a 100yd walk from the platform to the télécabine which goes up from the station car park, right into the centre of Verbier. To see if your flight schedule means you can do it this way go to the integrated travel timetable at www.sbb.ch/en and timetable From «Génève-Aéroport» to «Verbier TV»

For the Verbier ski area, there are a few apps you may find useful. As usual, it's much easier to download them at home before you leave than when you're in transit in Switzerland. You can also get excited looking at the webcams for Verbier ahead of your trip.

«MeteoSwiss» National Swiss Weather Service - Good animated precipitation forecast.
«Verbier 4 VALLÉES» Official Verbier App - Webcams are really useful for checking conditions 1st thing.
«GVA » Official Geneva Airport App- Good flight status notifications
«SBB» Official Swiss Travel Timetables - Integrated train, gondola & bus timetable and problem notification.


Last edited by You need to Login to know who's really who. on Thu 8-11-18 15:07; edited 8 times in total
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
GeorgeVII wrote:
"renal gear"? Is that to detox the body after excessive apres consumption? wink


If such gear is available in the Alps, that would be another selling point over the North American experience. Haven't seen that over here snowHead
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@LaForet,
cheers for the links on equipment, insurance and even heli. I looked at the trains, and given I arrive at 14:50, assuming no big delays should be able to be on the 17:02 out of Geneva, through Brig, arriving in Le Chable at 19:17. Perhaps I might even manage an earlier train if all goes to schedule. Do you recommend pre-booking the train or given it's not a Saturday, and the vagaries of air travel, should I just be able to get walk up ticket once I'm ready? I will definitely be getting insurance - both for transport off the mountain and medical, and will be keenly watching those webcams you gave me.

Thanks again for the links and all the very useful info.
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I’ve never pre-book trains and always able to get on the next one.

But I’ve never traveled on that particular route.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@skiscouse 'Do you recommend pre-booking the train'

No, I've always got a seat and there shouldn't be a long wait 'till the next one even if you have a problem. Also, given the uncertainties of flights and immigration/baggage claim, it doesn't seem worth it. You might even arrive early. Also, previous years, they've sometimes run an additional 'Snow Train' at the Weekends, with limited stops, so keep an eye out for that.

One thing I would caution: like anywhere, Switzerland has its share of petty criminals and the airport train is a good target, as people have others in the group and baggage that distracts their attention from coats and rucksacks with valuables in them. Not a big issue, but just be aware.

Buying your train tickets shouldn't be difficult as most of the clerks will speak English. It might be worth talking a look at the Swiss National Tourist website re tickets (https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/transport-travel/tickets.html and any special offers. Also you might like to wander 'round the site - Verbier is in the Valais Region. They will usually send you brochures which make for pleasant coffee-table reading, although I'm not sure about to the USA.
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