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Greta approved long weekend: Serre Chevalier by sleeper train TR.

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Having become more aware recently of just quite how big an impact flying is for my carbon footprint, I thought I would try and make all my trips to the snow this winter without flying. For a long weekend from London with @robb0, there are a few options, with Eurostar to Paris and then SNCF sleeper to Briancon coming out best for us. I am lucky that I can be a bit flexible with my hours and so after arranging an afternoon meeting in Farringdon, a 16:30 train from St Pancras was possible. I arrived in Paris Gare Du Nord 11minutes late but the metro connection was easy and I met robb0 who was already in Paris at Austerlitz with 25minutes before the sleeper departed. (Note: one other option was a train to Ax or Andorra in the Pyrenees and this train leaves 2 hours later which would have created more time). Time to find our couchette! Ours was a 2nd class 6-berth and the train seemed to be pretty full which was good to see. We managed to tetris our bags in to the compartment before opening our bread and cheese. The train is quite old but the bunks were clean and comfy, our 4 new French companions were quiet and I was rocked off to sleep soon enough.

Day 1

Waking up in the mountains 1200m higher and 700km further south than when you went to sleep is an exciting way to start the day!



It had snowed heavily a few days before and whilst it was forecast to warm up, a crunchy frost on the platform and the Sun starting to poke over the tops of the mountains bode well for the piste conditions. It would have been possible to make first lift but we were lukcy to have one of the SOPiB 's guides, Richard, pick us up to take us to our appartment we had rented from Mel Crosby in the Cite Vauban. A quick change into ski-clothes and we were on the lift, having got hire skis and lift passes, by 10am.
We cruised about the empty pistes in the sun finding our legs between coffees and lunch on a terrace.



Dinner was fondue and red wine in La Caponniere tucked away in the Cite. Everywhere was booked on the main street but our meal did not disappoint.

Day 2

Today was to be our guided day! Richard picked us up at 8.20 and we drove (Sorry Greta) to Monetier les Bains which is the highest of the Serre Chevalier areas. The forecast was for clouds to roll in and so we were keen to get up the mountain as soon as we could. Avalanche transcievers checked at the freeride checkpoint at the top of the Bachas, it was up Yret to start our offpiste adventure. The first line was Jacksons, tracked in places, but wide enough to get plenty of fresh turns and high enough to be above the clouds. Then it was a 20minute hike up to do the the Vallons des Corneilles in the mist:



The clouds hadn't quite made it onto the descent and neither had much sun nor many skiers and so it was great snow, still almost powder at the top whilst not yet particularly dense in the trees nearly 1000m lower.



The rest of the day was spent following Richard doing what he does best finding the best snow. As the clouds and sleet and snow rolled in and out we did the Montagnolle, a couple of the Neyzets chutes, La Balme and various other great little pockets of the soft stuff. Fair to say we had earned our veggie tartiflette in Le Gavroche that evening!

Day 3

Rain! This was forecast and if we were out for longer we may have skipped the day but we had arranged to meet up with @Hells Bells and @Mr Bodangles. In the end the weather was much better than forecast, especially in the morning, with the sun poking through regularly and the showers being sleety snow much of the time.



Lunch was at L'Echaillon by the fire to dry out as much as possible before deciding to ski back to Briancon on soft pistes in the rain



Day 4

...was an adventure in high winds! We started off in Monetier waiting for Bachas to open and it eventually did at 9.45. Pretty big queues and crowds meant we sacked it off after one runand got the bus to Chantemerle where more was open. More queues later and we made it over to the more sheltered Prorel side to get a bit of spring snow before it got slushy.



More and more lifts closed so we stayed high where the pistes were still great fun and getting very empty. We made it to the bottom by 3pm for a shower (thanks Mel for letting us use the appartment!) before exploring the Cite and mooching back to the station as night fell via a few bars and the reverse of the outward journey.





It was a great trip and I can't wait to head back for the Off Piste Bash in March, again travelling by sleeper and this time with a bigger group to have a couchette to ourselves! Even if you are not convinced by the whole carbon footprint thing, travelling by train ended up being a very cost effective and time-efficent way of doing it. We could have skied from first lift to last for 4 days, there was no faffing about with transfers or car hire and I wasn't charged extra for my board bag. I also slept much better than I would have catching a red-eye flight and I made it back to my office in Croydon at a reasonable time this morning. I would suggest that people seriously consider it!


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Tue 4-02-20 21:46; edited 2 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@leggyblonde, great report. If we lived 300 miles further south and didn't have the dogs we'd consider it, I love train travel. We try and limit ours by not just coming out for a week, but making it a longer stay if we drive. I don't know when we last flew here, but our last flight anywhere was to Venice for a birthday bash.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
How much did the train cost?
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@leggyblonde, nice report - thanks for taking the time to share.

I’ve used the Cologne-Innsbruck sleeper for various trips to play in Tirol, and took the Prague-Zürich one to the PSB... v keen to try the Briançon one soonish...such a nice way to travel Happy
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Hells Bells, I realise how fortunate I am to have St Pancras as an option.

@mikeycharlton, Eurostar was about £50 and the sleeper Eur50 E/W booked a few weeks out. They can be had from £29 and Eur29 if booked earlier.

@Inboard I see they have just opened a Brussels Innbruck nighjet which I'd like to check out next season
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Good effort. Croydon should be proud of you!
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@leggyblonde, yep that should make it even easier!
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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!
@leggyblonde, nice one!!
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Quote:

I see they have just opened a Brussels Innsbruck nightjet which I'd like to check out next season


@clarky999, wink
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@leggyblonde, Looks good, and a good price too – I've done the day train from Leeds to Bourg St Maurice a few years ago (change at Kings X/St Pancras) but it was over £200pp and took about an hour or so more than flying – that extra leg from the north really makes a difference. I could never have slept on it though – did you get a decent kip? I often don't sleep well in strange places, so I'm not sure how well it would work for me.

I'm interested to hear how the Brussels – Innsbruck one compares. I suspect it will cost more, though you might be able to get an OBB discount card? And we'll see you next season. Cool
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@Scarlet, I'm not a very good sleeper, when I've had an early flight and need to get up at 4am, I can never sleep till well past midnight! I slept pretty well on this train, the provided earplugs worked well, it was very dark and the bunks were narrow but comfy.

It looks as though the Nightjet will be a bit more expensive and timings will probably mean I can't squeeze it into a normal work routine but it is definitely something I will look into for next year Very Happy
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Great report , well done !! Thinking lots about carbon footprint print lately , next ski trip to alps will be electric powered for sure !!
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
I have done that trip in the past with my son, but to Monetier via free valley shuttle bus.

We also ate at l'Echaillon every day. Best food on the mountain IMO.

The sleeper train is a very good deal provided you don't mind putting up with two semi-sleepless nights and don't need to pack a lot of stuff. It's about the same price as a hotel, and you can sneak in 2 extra days of skiing.

I've also taken the sleeper train to Gap for a cycling weekend. Both times the trains have been packed, and I think that the SNCF is missing a revenue opportunity by not upgrading the rolling stock. Can't do much about the speed as the tracks won't take it.

I was told by the SNCF that the only reason the sleeper train to Briancon still exists is that it's considered as part of national security for that branch of the rail network to have service from Paris.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@leggyblonde, good effort. I thought about the train option for SOPiB20 but in the end it just takes too long from Sweden. Must try harder next year!
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Well done on promoting the 19th century mode of transport.
East Croydon Station must be a spiritual home of yours
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A timely article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/feb/06/10-best-sleeper-trains-in-europe-night-trains

I assume the Brussels to Vienna is the one that stops at Innsbruck? Is that in the middle of the night then?
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@leggyblonde, nice one. I've looked at the train options but as others have said, they didn't seem to be practical if your starting point is outside the SE.

Until the first day4 photo it read like you'd turned your back on the dark side Toofy Grin I'm getting a bit nervous that @robb0,'s progress will show the rest of us up at the SOPiBash snowHead
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@Scarlet, nice article, thanks for sharing.
As far as I understand it, the Wien and Innsbruck sleeper carriages merge/ split at Nürnberg (depending whether N- or S-bound), so the Innsbruck ones go via Kufstein/ München and the Wien ones via Linz/ Passau. That's also the point at which they split/ merge for the various destinations at the other end (Hamburg, Cologne/Dusseldorf/ Brussels). Timings for arriving or leaving Innsbruck are fairly civilised - c0900 arrival, and mid-eve departure, AFAIR. Reasonable times to be getting out of the city to a resort/ skin up to a hut, or get back and get freshened up and have a tasty beer before the trip home... wink

@adithorp, yep it's definitely not so easy if you don't have that SE starting point...I've made it work from Edinburgh by working on the train to/ from London, and possibly also the London-Brussels/ Cologne train, which is fine if you have a flexible sort of job...(and can resist the temptation to doze, listen to music and guzzle wine on the train instead, which is by far the best way to spend time on a train journey!)
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@adithorp what @leggyblonde kindly failed to mention was that my legs decided to give up after a mere 2 hours with Richard the guide - I think you're safe Razz
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@Inboard, Ah ok. I'd assumed it was running the same route as the regular Zurich – Vienna, which stops at Innsbruck and Salzburg, but that makes sense if it isn't.

One trick to remember for anyone picking up the Eurostar after travelling from outside London, is to book your ticket through from your home station in order to pick up the discounts (assuming that's still the case – when I did it the Leeds to London leg was about £12 each way, so significantly less than a standard ticket).
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Thanks for posting, we don't get enough interesting trip reports posted.
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Nice report - thanks.
The route is mentioned in an article here. www.2thealps.com/train-to-alps-cheaper-than-you-think-blog.htm
Were you able to actually ski down to Briancon?
There's a slope shown on the piste map but I'm guessing it might be a bit low for a lot of the season unless there is hefty snow-cannon coverage.
I did the Pyrennean route to Ax a few years ago. That was a great trip too although we made the mistake of not upgrading our reclining seats to couchettes!
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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!
@Neil Neige, thanks for the blog link, I looked at a lot but didn't find that one.

The slope down to Briancon was open and has been every time I've been in the last few years.
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leggyblonde wrote:
@Neil Neige, thanks for the blog link, I looked at a lot but didn't find that one.

The slope down to Briancon was open and has been every time I've been in the last few years.


Oh interesting, thanks. Looks pretty impressive on the piste map with long wooded sections, and must be nearly 1000m of VD from the top. I wonder why more is not made of Briancon generally as a ski destination. Seems like an attractive and historic place which is pretty unusual for a French ski resort. It could be the new Innsbruck!
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Slight edit, Eurostar tickets were £40 and £29.

@Neil Neige, 1200m in one go is a good leg burner!
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Dabber wrote:
next ski trip to alps will be electric powered for sure !!

Sounds interesting. I'm planning on going out in a Tesla to Alpe d'Huez in April
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
BTW re the night Alpen Express train this is how it works (click to see how train divides)
https://www.facebook.com/skiflightfree/photos/a.123951268978656/141225627251220/?type=3&theater


Great report. Really enjoyed it and have shared at www.facebook.com/skiflightfree
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