Best places to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing by train
Downhill skiing isn’t for everyone and many people are now opting for winter activities which have less impact on the environment. Those eco-adventurers are also opting to head for white landscapes by train. To escape not only airports but also the crowds, carbon heavy snow machines and cable car queues try out some langlauf in Germany, ski de fonds in the Alps, sci di fondo in the Dolomites, Nordic skiing in Denmark or Sweden, or snowshoeing in a wealth of winter walking wonderlands.
The Tyrol, Austria
North of Innsbruck, five villages make up the Seefeld region, with what feels like a snowy chocolate box with layer after layer of trail treats. This region has been home to the Winter Olympics on two occasions and, therefore, boasts over 300km of tracks or loipes, as they are known in the world of cross-country skiing. There is also a superb infrastructure of hotels, guides and tours in the region, all accessible from Seefeld station, just 30 mins from Innsbruck. St Anton am Arlberg station in Austria is also a great gateway station to more than 40km of Tyrolean trails.
Black Forest, Germany
The Black Forest has as many ingredients for a keen langlauf-er and snowshoer as its famous gateau. You can easily escape the crowds in these blanketed pine forests, a designated national park, and the icing on the cake is that it is easily reached by train, from Freiburg. The Black Forest’s most famous trail is the Black Forest High Road (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse) which runs over 60km from Freudenstadt to Baden-Baden. Take a train to Baden-Baden in under 3 hrs 30 mins from Paris, with the same journey time from Munich.
Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy
Far from the madding Alpine crowds, Gran Paradiso is a cross-country and snowshoeing paradise. With over 700km of trails, you can walk on white for weeks here if you like. The nearest main station is Turin where you can gain access to three cross-country ski slopes of Sestriere, Claviere and Pragelato. Examples of places to hire guides or take short breaks to the sci di fondo trails include Vertical Life and Trekking Alps.
Combine a city break to the Swedish capital with some snowshoeing, Nordic skiing or ice skating around the archipelago. Be sure to get a local guide, with the likes of True Nature Sweden taking you for some truly Swedish snow experiences in Nacka Nature Reserve or Natur Guiden who guide you out onto the ice for some wild skating around frozen islands. You will never be able to skate on a rink again after this natural playground.
The ancient, isolated paths of the Pyrenees National Park, well trodden by walkers in summer, become the crown of cross-country en hiver. The Pyrenean pistes can be packed but the trails around the thermal spa town of Cauterets, for example, proffer the Pyrenees at their most peaceful. Take the train to Lourdes and then a 1hr bus journey to Cauterets and a sublime, snowy Shangri-La.
La Plagne, France
Although more well known as a downhill ski region, and one of our most popular European ski regions accessible by train at Aime-la-Plagne, there are also 186km of cross-country skiing tracks here. Less remote than some of the others mentioned in this blog, it does have a great infrastructure for beginners with, for example, starter lessons on the Dou du Praz loop. La Plagne is also known for its cross-country competitive events such as the family-friendly Derby Nordique which takes place at night or the more advanced Grand Bec marathon. There is a plethora of information on La Plagne’s website if you are looking for guides, events or trails.
Ecrins National Park, France
One of France’s lesser known parks, and yet thirty times bigger than the Chamonix Valley, this Hautes-Alpes region boasts over 1000km of trails, making it superb snowshoeing and cross-country skiing terrain. Highlights include trails up to Plateau of La Coche, around frozen lakes and through the St-Léger-Les-Mélèzes forest. Good stations include L’Argentière-la-Bessée, 8.5 hrs from Paris or 4.5 hrs from Marseille.
Image credits top to bottom: Black Forest landlauf trails ©Dennis Wegewijs, Winter walking in Gran Paradiso National Park iStock ©fbxs Ice skaters in Sweden iStock ©MarkHarr Final two of cross-country skier in the Alps, ©AndyThackray one of our Travel Geeks at Rail Europe UK.
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