Green ski holidays
Ten eco-friendly winter activities, from skiing without leaving the UK to snow shoeing in the French Pyrenees...
1. Take the train
Not only is travelling by train to the Alps much greener than flying, it's also a lot less hassle if you want to take your own skis and gear. Confusingly, there are two train services to the slopes: The Ski Train is a direct service in standard Eurostar trains (so no couchettes) to the Trois Vallées, Espace Killy and Paradiski ski areas from £179 return (0870 518 6186, eurostar.com). RailEurope's Snow Train is an overnight sleeper service with six-berth couchettes and a "bar disco" carriage. You have to change platforms at Paris Gare du Nord before making the onward overnight journey to Chambery, Albertville, Moutiers, Aime la Plagne, Landry and Bourg St Maurice. The service will run from Jan 18 to April 12 and costs from £219 rtn (0844 848 4071, raileurope.co.uk).
Above photo © raileurope.co.uk.
2. Or the coach...
Coach travel to the Alps is a schlep, but a cheap one. National Express's Eurolines service runs from London Victoria to the following 9 resorts in France and Switzerland: Chamonix, Courcheval, Les Menuires, Meribel, Valmorel, Val Thorens, La Plagne La Rosiere and Les Arcs. The trip costs from £109 rtn and you can take skis or snowboard for free (nationalexpress.com/eurolines). Snowcoach runs package ski holidays by coach from various points in the UK to St Gervais, Valmeinier and Val Cenis in France and Mayrhofen and Kirchdorf in Austria, though you can book to go by coach only - a return costs from £99 (01727 866177, snowcoach.co.uk).
3. Snow shoeing, French Pyrenees
Ditch the skis and explore the mountains on a pair of snowshoes - just strap the light frames to some waterproof boots and away you go. And away from the crowded pistes, you're more likely to spot wildlife. Mountainbug holidays runs trips from an 18th-century stone chalet in the village of Barèges. From there it's just a few minutes' shuffle into the Pyrenees where you can follow the tracks of chamois, hare and ermine.
· A week costs from £300pp (0033 5 62 92 16 39, mountainbug.com). Train from London to Lourdes (change in Paris) from £126 rtn, (0844 848 4070, raileurope.co.uk). Transfer from Lourdes station, by arrangement with owner, costs €20pp...
4. Green chalet, France
Base yourself at a new eco chalet just outside Bourg St Mauriceki and ski the three mountain areas of Les Arcs, Sainte Foy and La Rosiere. As well as the usual in-chalet entertainment - sauna, Nintendo console, table football and bar - the power is bought from a good energy supplier, all the food waste is composted and the owners are installing a solar roof and wood-pellet fired hot tub. It's 5km from Bourg and you can go bar-hopping in the other resorts courtesy of a minibus taxi service run on restaurant waste oil.
· A week costs from £385pp, inc all meals and taxi transfers. There's a 10% discount if you arrive by train (0033 479 0842 06, green-rides.com). Ski train from London to Bourg St Maurice from £179 rtn, (0870 518 6186, eurostar.com).
5. Ski touring, Switzerland
There are some breathtaking ski-touring routes over Switzerland's backcountry. The Ski Club of Great Britain ( 0845 458 0784, skiclub.co.uk) specialises in guided ski touring holidays (hut to hut) and ski safaris (based from one hotel), including a week's ski touring on the reverse Haute Route from Saas Fee to Chamonix (£795pp) and a week's ski safari, based at the Hotel Tannenhof, Zermatt (£625pp). Both prices include qualified guides. The Ski Club has unpackaged many of its ski holidays, so you can now book your own train travel to the slopes.
· The train from London to Brig (change at Paris and Zurich) costs from £200 return; at Brig take the "post bus" to Saas Fee for CHF35.20 return (sbb.ch). Train from London to Zermatt (change at Paris and Brig) costs from £195 return (0844 848 4070, raileurope.co.uk).
6. Green hotel, Italy
Ski operator Neilson now includes a Responsible Tourism Award for those hotels on its books that have shown a commitment to going green. It has given a gold award to the family-run Hotel Savoy Edelweiss in the centre of Sestriere, Italy.
· The hotel has a restaurant and spa and is minutes from the ski school and lifts. A week costs from £495pp half-board, inc London-Geneva flights and transfers. (0845 070 3460, neilson.co.uk/ski).
7. Ski without leaving the UK
Closer to home - and providing there's a decent snowfall - the Slochd, near Inverness, offers cross-country skiing and low-level ski touring in the forested trails of the Spey Valley, part of the Cairngorms National Park.
· There are dorm beds in a bunkhouse with wood-stove and hot showers for £14 a night or a stone cottage for six from £200 per week, self-catering. Ski hire costs £15 a day. For a change of scene, try your hand at curling and ice-skating in Inverness (01479 841666, slochd.co.uk).
8. Cross country skiing - Goms Valley, Switzerland
Learn to cross-country ski at Blitzingen in the Goms Valley where there's access to some of Switzerland's best cross-country trails. You'll be given two lessons at the start of the week to learn the basics, then you'll be free to practise your skills at your own pace before a final review lesson at the end of the week.
· A week's half board at the secluded Hotel Castle costs £895pp, inc flights to Geneva, rail transfers, equipment, lessons, ski pass and a travel pass for the upper valley so you can use local trains and buses to access the network of trails. Departs Jan 28 (01653 617906, inntravel.co.uk).
9. Europe's greenest resorts
The Green Resort Guide on the Ski Club of Great Britain's website (skiclub.co.uk) lists the green initiatives of over 200 resorts worldwide, so you can see which ones are doing their bit for the environment and which ones offer little more than tokenism. Two of the greenest are Lech in Austria - where 90% of heating energy comes from a biomass communal heating plant -and Switzerland's high-altitude resort Saas-Fee, where cars are banned and there's a free bus service around the resort.
· A week's half-board at Hotel Omesberg in Lech costs from £799pp inc flights to Innsbruck, transfers and use of the sauna and steam room (0870 160 6040, crystalski.co.uk). See also lech-zuers.at. A week at the solar- heated three-room Chalet Butterfly at the edge of Saas-Fee costs from CHF735, about £305 (+41 27 957 26 24, chaletbutterfly.ch). Train from London to Brig (change at Paris and Zurich) from £200 rtn (0844 848 4070, raileurope.co.uk), then "post bus" to Saas Fee (CHF35.20 rtn, sbb.ch) from where the owner will give you a lift to the chalet in an electric taxi.
10. Mountain refuge Swiss Alps
The Refuge, the latest project from Whitepod founder Sofia de Meyer, offers basic rooms for two or dorm beds in a converted cattle shelter. You're a 45-minute snow-shoe walk from the Whitepod camp with its igloo-style pods and all its facilities, including spa treatments, five marked snowshoeing and guided wildlife walks, as well as use of Whitepod's new private 600m ski run with two button lifts. [Note from Editor: Although this mountain refuge is open this winter, the actual Whitepod camp is closed for the whole of the 2008/2009 winter season 'for renovation'. I understand it is due to open again next year - in time for the 2009/2010 season].
· From £35pp pn full board, inc skis or snowshoes and transfers from Aigle station (0041 24 471 38 38, whitepod.com). Train from London to Aigle (change Paris and Geneva) from £142 rtn (0844 848 4070, raileurope.co.uk).
This article, by Richard Hammond, was first published in the Guardian.
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