Driving in Snow: A Cautionary Tale
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johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 13, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
We have chatted a lot on DCSki about the efficacy of having snow tires and about how rental cars don't always come equipped with them. Here's a story about what happened to me last season in the mountains of Slovakia when I attempted to negotiate a mountain road in the winter sans snow tires:

http://www.slovakspectator.sk/clanok-20027.html
Ullr
June 13, 2005
Member since 11/27/2004 🔗
531 posts
Thanks for the story John. Since it is the slow season, I want to take this thread in a little bit of a different direction and ask you about your comment on the trains. My wife and I have been wanting to explore some ski areas in Europe and have thought about taking a train. We are looking at:

Verbia
Zermatt
Insbrook
Kitzbule
Chamonix

Can this be by train with little hassle? If so where should we fly into? Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciate. I thought about PM'ing you, but thought others may benefit from the info. Thanks,
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 13, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
Quote:

Thanks for the story John. Since it is the slow season, I want to take this thread in a little bit of a different direction and ask you about your comment on the trains. My wife and I have been wanting to explore some ski areas in Europe and have thought about taking a train. We are looking at:

Verbia
Zermatt
Insbrook
Kitzbule
Chamonix

Can this be by train with little hassle? If so where should we fly into? Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciate. I thought about PM'ing you, but thought others may benefit from the info. Thanks,




Sadly, Europe's mountains are not as train accessible as one might think. That's why Ski-Europe and other tour agencies often recommend car rentals despite the hassles and expense of renting cars in Europe--especially automatics.

With that caveat being said, Switzerland has some of the best train accessible skiing in Europe. Zurich Airport has its own train station, which connects to most major ski areas in Switzerland. Of course, connect is the operative term. Getting to Zermatt, for example, takes 1-2 changes and about 4 hours and forty five minutes of train travel. St. Anton is a bit easier-it requires just once switch on average and less than three hours of travel. Verbier requires up to 5 changes and takes close to 5 hours. To war-game rail travel to various Swiss venues, check out the Swiss Rail web site:

http://mct.sbb.ch/en/index.htm

With Innsbruck, you are better off flying IAD to VIE on Austrian Airlines and then connecting to Innsbruck via the Tyrolean flight.

For Kitzbuhel, fly to IAD - VIE - INN, and then train or ground shuttle/ski taxi to Kitzbuhel (about 1 hour and 24 mins).

http://fahrplan.oebb.at/bin/query.exe/dn?

I don't know about Chamonix. As a general rule of thumb, try to fly as close as you can to a resort in Europe, using the relatively affordable regional flights and then take a shuttle, cab, or train to the resort--whatever is most convenient. Believe it or not, it was easier to get to Lech from Zurich via the Arlberg Express bus than the train (no connections and just about door to door). When traveling with a lot of gear, you want to travel in ways that don't involve much schlepping of luggage. That generally means air and dedicated ground shuttles as opposed to trains, where you often have to negotiate stairs, long platforms, and luggage racks poorly suited for skis--especially in second class.
BushwackerinPA
June 13, 2005
Member since 12/9/2004 🔗
649 posts
why would you rent a automatic then go try to drive in the snow?
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 13, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
Quote:

why would you rent a automatic then go try to drive in the snow?



B/C I never learned how to drive a stick.
Ullr
June 14, 2005
Member since 11/27/2004 🔗
531 posts
Thanks John. We will do our homework before we try it.
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 14, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
Quote:

Thanks John. We will do our homework before we try it.




Another airport with ok train connections to ski resorts is Munich and there are direct flights from IAD to Munich. But again, I'd still rather take a regional flight to say, Innsbruck, because you can check your bags through.

Most skiers who arrive in Innsbruck hire a shared cab to some of the nearby ski centers or take a coach shuttle, which picks you up right at the airport.

The best train accessible ski center in my opinion is St. Anton. The train station is just 50 meters or so from the lifts, and it's less than three hours from STANTON to Zurich and even closer to Innsbruck. It's also not too terribly far from Munich.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
June 14, 2005
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,699 posts
Car repairs are expensive in any language!

I have a lot less Euro travel experience than John, but even for just two trips to Austria in last five years (one ski, one business) I was very motivated to leave the driving to others. I successfully did this on 2003 ski trip to Salzburg when I used a city-run snowshuttle to take me to 5 resorts in a week (http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=446&mode=search).

About 20 years ago (before kids) my wife and I rode the European rail network extensively when we bought three week Eurail passes and visited places like Zermatt, Garmisch, Grindelwald (also Paris, Munich, Rome, etc). This was a summer trip, but we easily reached several resorts well known for skiing in winter as there is a train station in every town, however this was done in the lightweight backpacker mode and as John said, logistics might be more troublesome when dragging heavy ski gear. You can use the following website to strategize about possible train links (http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/fares_schedules/), but if you get serious you might want to talk to a travel agent or someone very familiar with the rail system to be sure you are considering the most direct links between destinations.

The Glacier Express is a very famous train link between Zermatt and St. Moritz. Here's a few details: http://europeforvisitors.com/switzaustria/articles/glacier_express.htm
Very doable I think: a triad itinerary of arrival at Zurich and train to Zermatt (you must switch to a cogwheel train the last 1/2 hour) for several ski days, then a one day ride on glacier express to St. Moritz (or Davos) for a few more days of skiing, then back to Zurich for flight home. This would be an incredible, unforgettable car-less trip, but also rather pricey.
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 14, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
I like Jim's suggestion of a two resort trip: Zermatt and St. Moritz by train. It's a very doable itinerary.

These are certainly two of the most expensive resorts in Europe (if not the world), but you'll get your money's worth of unforgetable skiing and scenary plus the greatest rail trip in Europe--the Glacier Express.

I've never travelled to Zermatt but know that it is a carless area, so you don't need one. With regard to St. Moritz, you can get everywhere by shuttle busses and trains (local trains accept your ski pass). Bad is nearest to the main rail station, Dorf is the fanciest venue and the most convenient to Piz Nair, and Cellerina, a quieter hamlet to the side with good lift access to Piz Nair.

http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=130&mode=search

If you haven't purchased this book, by all means buy it. It will prove invaluable:

http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=384&mode=search

Where to Ski and Snowboard Worldwide: The Reuters Guide to the World's Best Winter Sports Resorts.
Edited by Chris Gill & Dave Watts.
therusty
June 14, 2005
Member since 01/17/2005 🔗
422 posts
I've done two European ski trips by train. The first was on a 15 day Eurorail pass from Amsterdam to Kitzbuhl to St. Moritz to Val D'Isere. The second "trip" was part of a 1 month combo business trip and came in two parts:
1) a night train from Cologne to Zermatt, 2 days in Zermatt and a train to Geneva
2) a round trip from Milan and a week in Zermatt

Lessons learned:
1) First class is the way to go
2) Changing trains with a full load of gear and a weak knowledge of local languages is doable, just barely doable.
3) Zermatt is a great walkable town.
4) Zermatt has a personality disorder. In early December it's kids on vacation (lot's of Italian, German and Swiss to be heard). Closer to Christmas, it's mostly Brits. Other than the slopes, I would have sworn it was two different places.
5) St. Moritz is walkable if you are in shape
6) St. Moritz had a wonderful youth hostel
7) The shuttles at Val don't run in the evening. The cabs are a ripoff (the one we had got "lost" until we coughed up more money), but that turned out to be worth it anyway.
8) Val is walkable town
9) Do NOT get on the back end of the Beograd Express with hangover!

I chose my terminus points for other reasons than skiing. The Amsterdam to Kitzbuhl piece was a gruelling all day, stop in Innsbruck and quick jump in the morning affair. It was a bit too much, but the Sylvester (New Years) party in Amsterdam was well worth the extra hassle. Figuring out the logistics ahead of time is easy. Figuring out how to get from track to track when you change trains can be harder than you would think. Otherwise, choosing a different jumping off point than the closest city does not make a huge difference. Being able to look at the scenery through a train window is a lot more pleasant than wondering if you will live through the next close encounter on the roadways.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
June 14, 2005
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,699 posts
Ullr, the idea of using a train to go on a ski vacation is real appealing to me. It's fun, novel and very relaxing once you get rolling. Here in the States it's not very practical unless you're retired and have tons of time because the travel distances are so great. Planes and rental cars are as cheap (or almost) and much quicker. But training around the Alps is more feasible. You might try posting your question on the www.snowheads.com, UK ski discussion board.
Here's a recent thread which is not exactly the same question, but shows the kind of knowledge they can impart about which Alpine resorts might be easiest to reach using trains, planes, and autos:
http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?p=131551&highlight=train+travel#131551
I'd be curious to know which top Alpine ski resorts they'd recommend for quality skiing AND close proximity to a major international airport? Certainly St. Anton would be one, but there are probably some good Swiss and French suggestions too.

Regarding ambitious trips like The Rusty's Amsterdam/Swiss trip, I'm as guilty as anyone about trying to pack a lot into one trip. Main thing though is to stop long enough (like 3 or 4 days) at each major destination to make your trip more about visiting places, rather than about traveling to and from places. My earlier suggestion about Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz is very expensive and analogous to telling a European to take a two part US ski trip to Vail and Deer Valley. Much of Austria is generally cheaper than Switzerland or France and places like St. Anton, Kitzbuhl (watch out for low elev), and Innsbruck (perhaps cheapest of all) could still be done fairly affordably in this era of strong Euro. Here's more about skiing around Innsbruck without a car: http://www.goski.com/rau/innsbruck_review.htm This set-up is much like my Salzburg trip, sort of a commuters vacation with some the great ambiance and culture of a city, but not the cozy, convenience of staying right at the base of a ski area.

When I used the Eurail pass it covered first class train travel and I believe this is still true, but sometimes for convenience we used it for second class on short trips. I didn't notice that much difference, second class is like our AMTRAK and for individually purchased rides offers a good price break over first class. If you need to do a lot of train travel entirely within one country it is cheaper to buy a national train pass instead of the international Eurail pass.
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
June 15, 2005
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,918 posts
In terms of convenience and comfort, I agree with Jim: there's not much difference between first and second-class train travel in Europe: I almost always travel 2d class. However, first class might be worth the extra money because you get a little more overhead luggage space (good for skis). The Dakine Concourse soft bag with rollers is the way to go-lightweight and small enough to fit on most overhead bins. The other possibility is to rent skis-European resorts generally have good demo style rentals.

I forgot to mention TGV. It's possible to take it from De Gaulle airport in Paris to the Rhone Alps region (Trois Vallees etc). However, I'm not a big fan of TGV. The seats in 2d class are more like airline style seats, and there's not much room for gear. Also, it travels so fast that you can barely see anything out the window-it's more akin to flying than taking a train. Still, it connects seamlessly with the airlines at CDG and there are two Air France non-stops a day from CDG to IAD. You can also enjoy a side-trip to Paris should that tickle anyone's fancy: TGV also stops downtown at Montparnasse Station.
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