October 2008: This piece was featured in The Telegraph and on Telegraph.co.uk.

Property Overseas

Mary Wilson on skiers making tracks on the snow train (original press clipping below transcript).

Have a cabin to yourself, sit back and relax - or sample the delights of the on-board disco - and arrive refreshed to newly fallen snow. Mary Wilson reports on the station-to-station appeal of heading for the slopes by rail.

With the ski season only a couple of months away, you may be looking to buy a chalet or apartment in your favourite ski resort. The only trouble is getting there. Flying can be a chore (unless you really enjoy hanging around airports), and flights are becoming more expensive - not to mention your carbon footprint. But there is another way: the snow train.

Increasing numbers of winter-sports lovers have discovered the convenience of travelling direct from London St Pancras. There are two options: the Eurostar Direct Ski Train, which travels via Ashford International to three destinations in the French Alps - Moûtiers, Aime la Plagne and Bourg St Maurice; and Rail Europe's Snow Train, which leaves St Pancras and Ebbsfleet International, changing at Paris Gare du Nord, to the above destinations, plus Chambéry, Albertville and Landry.

The journey takes between seven-and-a-half to 15 hours, with return trips costing from £155 to £279. Rail Europe even lays on a disco carriage (yes, a mixed blessing).

The train services started running 10 years ago, and they have made a difference to the property market, says Andrew Hawkins, of Chesterton International (www.chesterton-international 020 3040 8210), which sells properties near Chamonix and Megève. "More of our buyers are after properties near stations, especially for the ski train," he says.

"Families can have a cabin to themselves, relax and play games. The efficiency of the French rail system is a huge pull. Trains are rarely late, they are quick, comfortable and many routes cross some amazing countryside."

The ski train's fans include Robert Senior, 43, chief executive officer of Saatchi & Saatchi UK. He owns a chalet in the village of Le Griotteray, 15 minutes' drive from Bourg St Maurice, and has been travelling there by rail for a couple of years, either by snow train or by a combination of Eurostar and TGV, changing in Paris.

"Both train journeys knock the spots of flying," he says. "The whole journey takes about eight hours. I bring some work, read and arrive refreshed, whereas I am stressed out if I fly. I also worry that short-haul flights are dubious on an ethical basis."

He either travels alone or with his Dutch wife, Inge, 45, and their three children, Lotte, 11, Bas, nine, and Sanne, seven.

"I like to be able to go suddenly if there is a fresh fall of snow, and it's an exciting way to travel," says Senior. "The mountain scenery during the last two hours of the journey is amazing: it's a really uplifting way to start a holiday."

Senior bought his chalet from French Mountain Property (01264 980 566 www.frenchmountainproperty.com) which specialises in conversions of old chalets in "real" Alpine villages. It is selling three chalets in La Côte d'Aime, a typical Savoyard village with breathtaking views across the Peisey Valley. The chalets, with three or four bedrooms and parking, are a 15-minute drive from Montchavin, which is part of the La Plagne ski area. Prices start at about £600,000.

In addition to the snow trains, the TGV runs year-round. "Eighty per cent of our purchasers buy with the intent of staying in the summer as well as the winter," says Gareth Jeffries of Winkworth France.

"Many also need rental income and like the fact that they can let it out in the summer, especially if they have a garage, as this is an important mountain-biking area."

Telegraph 08