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Skiing by Train - Abi Butcher

Freelance journalist and travel writer for The Telegraph, National Geographic Travel UK and other nationals. Strong interest in sustainability.

When booking a ski holiday, one of the first considerations is which airport is closest to the resort of our choice. Often, the answer is none. Tignes, Val d’Isère and the Three Valley resorts are a three-hour transfer from Geneva airport, for example, and often much longer on a busy Saturday in high season. 

With climate change at the forefront of our minds, taking the train to the ski slopes can be the ideal solution. The transfer from Bourg-St-Maurice to Val d’Isère is 40 minutes, Moutiers to Meribel about 30 minutes, so the journey by train often takes the same time as flying, can be much less hassle and an all-round more relaxing way to travel to the Alps.

And so it was that for my first trip of the 2022-23 ski season, I travelled by train. I was headed to Flaine, in the Grand Massif, which is an easy hop from the closest station, Cluses. Eurostar’s direct ski train from London was cancelled during the pandemic, with only one service now resurrected (and bookable only as part of a package with Travelski), so I had to take four trains from London on my journey to the French Alps, but thanks to Currensea that became part of the fun.

The trick to travelling by train is to make it part of the holiday. I once took four days and nights to cross Siberia in search of ski touring in the Khamar-Daban mountain range on the shores of Lake Baikal. It was a seven-hour flight back, but I wouldn’t have missed that train journey for the world. Rail travel allows you to actually see the country you’re visiting, to understand the distance and the barriers you’re crossing. 

Back to France, the transfer across Paris allowed me to grab a baguette as well as a tube of my favourite hand cream (the hazard of being a travel writer — you grow fond of products unavailable in the UK!) and some ibuprofen that I’d forgotten to buy before leaving home. 

Abi - purchase with Currensea

Over Christmas, I stumbled across Currensea. I’ve used other currency cards, but find it a little frustrating having to constantly top them up from my bank account. Currensea was easy to set up and link directly to my bank account — meaning I only needed one money card during my whole trip. From the croissant and coffee I bought at St Pancras to the Metro ticket at Gard du Nord to the baguette in Gare de Lyon – one tap was all it took. 

Currensea works like a debit card, linking directly with your bank account so you can use it all over the world (in 180 currencies). You can set spending limits, withdraw from ATMs around the world without an international fee (up to £500 a month on their free essential card) and use it online — all of which you can control. Every time I spend on the card I get an email detailing what I’ve spent, where, what the exchange rate was and — handily for someone who travels as I do — a location link reminding me of where I made the spend. All handy information when I’m compiling my post-trip expenses.

Anyway, after the baguette (jambon-fromage — I managed to resist the custard flan) I hopped on the high speed TGV to Bellegarde and thanks to the generous legroom and soporific motion, promptly fell asleep. One more change, from Bellegarde to Cluses, and I picked up my shuttle to the apartment in Flaine where two friends were waiting — they’d flown out, but my train journey was far better for the planet. Using a simple calculation I worked out that I’d used just 14.7kg of CO2e, compared with a friend’s flight that ‘cost’ 139.7kg CO2e.

I’ve written a lot about climate change and especially the impact on ski holidays, so feel strongly about doing as much as I can to minimise my carbon footprint with travel. So as a belt-and-braces approach to I am also offsetting some of the environmental impact of my travels by donating the money I save using Currensea (thanks to its excellent exchange rates) to Plastic Bank and Eden Reforestation Projects. Both are Currensea partners and you can easily choose to support them via the app. Offsetting carbon doesn’t atone for the process of travel but every little helps.

Back to the skiing, my return to the slopes was a triumphant one — I had two knee operations and wasn’t sure how I would fare, but all was well and the knee felt strong on my skis.

I’ve never stayed in Flaine before, and it’s a friendly, brilliant value little resort — I bought coffees for £2.13 each day in a lovely bar in town, much cheaper than in the UK and nicer, too. Currensea told me I saved 7p with each coffee than if I’d bought them using my standard bank card. 

It was snowing hard and we did lap after lap in the powder, gradually finding our ski legs and remembering how to navigate our way down a slope after a year off — laughing all the while and chatting nonsense on the chairlifts.

That’s the nice thing about skiing; it’s great fun and utterly absorbing. There’s nowhere better than the mountain to forget about the hustle and bustle of everyday life — and knowing you only need one Currensea card in your pocket really does make all the difference. 

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