Rarely is the skier who hasn’t sat for hours in the back of a coach, minibus or taxi, bored and tired, stuck in traffic on the way from an airport to a ski resort.
We’re all done, but with half term starting this weekend, France’s ski areas are still on high alert after protesting farmers blocked roads across the country, with snow falling in some areas , traffic levels could be at an all-time high.
“I’m not sure the protests are over yet – and a truck full of horses on a mountain road is a very popular choice for farmers in the region,” said Angus Kinloch, managing director of Ski Line. “It’s important that we warn skiers to be prepared for delays when heading to the French Alps this week, many with young children.”
Road blockades aside, snow is currently falling in France, which is likely to increase problems on the roads, increasing the risk of accidents and delays as drivers stop to fix snow chains. All this adds to the cost of switching too.
With long days on the road, post-Brexit inflation for staff wages, insurance, fuel and vehicle servicing, the all-important journey from the airport to the resort can cost more than flights.
Rich Smith is the managing director of ski lift company Ski-lifts.com which has been operating for 19 years. He explained: “Airport transfer costs are directly related to the length and time of the journey. Ski resorts are challenging places to get to, with long distances and often poor weather and road conditions, resulting in long journey times.”
In France, school-age children get two weeks off for half term, with the country divided into three zones each taking a different fortnight, resulting in heavy traffic every Saturday during February and the first weekend of March. And it’s not just France – Interstate 70 in Colorado, United States of America, is often congested at weekends with skiers escaping Denver for the mountains, and in Austria where many resorts are maintained including Iscghl and Kitzbuhel from a single-file road from the motorway and the resort. the pressure increases because children from the Netherlands, Germany and Austria have the same time off school.
Richard Shead, a yacht sales manager, said he had a “13-hour shift from hell” in 2017, when his family and two others – with seven children aged five to 12 – traveled to Les Menuires.
“It was New Years and we took an early flight to get to the resort early, leaving Geneva around 12.30pm on a group transfer with Family Ski,” he said. “The coach was full, and we took the usual route through Loch Aine but there was snow on the ground from a very heavy storm the night before. With diversions, driver breaks, long queues of chaining cars, we rolled into the chalet at about 3am where the hosts tried to provide us with a very burnt cottage pie.”
Mr Shead had the foresight to stock up on food and drink – although he admits toilets were involved – and their driver plowed into them (despite questions about the legality of doing so) and other coaches stopped, which ‘left guests stranded overnight in the Albertville sports halls.
“It was so terrible that one of the families we traveled with has not skied since,” he said, adding: “We now drive and stop at night on the way down.”
One former transfer driver in Méribel, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph: “Disasters happen, especially with only one road in or out. But all the reputable companies work together, with hives on transfer days monitoring real-time traffic and alternative routes, flight delays and so on, so they usually have knowledgeable drivers and are on top things.”
The number of moving companies has decreased due to Brexit, and it has made it very difficult to find drivers: “Moving companies have a limited number of drivers to choose from and they are accepting drivers with little skills from Eastern Europe and from Bulgaria, which creates language and cultural differences in road safety.”
Alison Roberts, a former bus driver, has been operating Morzine and Back Transfers for 13 years. She had a number of 16-seater buses before Brexit, employing British coach drivers. “They would come over for four or five months and work on seasonal French contracts. But after Brexit it’s too long and too expensive to get their visas so I’ve sold my big buses and now I only have one small minibus that I drive myself.”
Roberts said accommodation in resorts has become difficult to find and expensive, and Switzerland also requires all staff to pay Swiss rates when driving in Switzerland. The price of fuel has also doubled – its shared transfer price has risen from €25 per person to €48 per person, while private transfers, for up to eight passengers, are up from €200 to €300.
There is, and always has been, a black market for holiday transfers, where seasoners undercut established and insured businesses by bringing lifts to fund their skiing. But these are uninsured.
To counter the price increases, Ski-lifts.com is offering more shared transfers this season. “This is a great option for customers, offering door-to-door transfers at a lower price,” said Smith. “We have also introduced electric and hybrid ski transfers to provide our customers with more sustainable travel options. We want to help our customers get to and from the ski resort as safely and cost-effectively as possible.”
Another option for traffic-sick families could be to steer clear of popular French resorts – not only is traffic lighter in Italy and Spain, where the holidays aren’t half as busy term per UK, but the transfers are cheaper.
“Door-to-door transfers, when you’re greeted at the airport, will always be the most popular and convenient,” said Ski Line’s Angus Kinloch. “We can organize this at a fraction of the cost of France, using local taxi firms in Italy, where there aren’t the large numbers of British skiers who create this need for British-speaking coach drivers.”
How to deal with the transfer of traffic and cost
Take the train
It’s cheaper and, when there’s traffic at the weekend, it’s often faster. There are many train stations in the resorts of Switzerland directly, as is St Anton in Austria. But Italy, France and other parts of Austria’s resorts can be less convenient, with a train ride between two short taxi rides.
Go all in
The organizational pressure is removed from leave including transfer.
Avoid peak times
Radio DJ Chris Evans has listeners moaning about his 2:00am departure for a family ski holiday in Valmorel this half term, but he’s not so wrong. Peak time on mountain roads is between 11am and 3pm, with ring roads and busy motorways either side of that too. Club Med offers Sunday travel and transfers are included in the holiday price.
Don’t skimp on safety
Always wear seat belts and never be tempted by a free lift from someone you meet in a bar or from a friend of a friend. Insurance is vital in the mountains and although accidents, such as last February’s accident near Albertville between a taxi and a minibus, are rare, they do happen.
Don’t trust sat nav
If you’re self-driving, beware of Google Maps directing you across a mountain road that’s closed during the winter.
Load up on food, drinks, games, movies, music and patience (for the whole family) in case the worst happens.
Contact the driver
If anyone is sick in the car, tell the driver and arrange for them to sit in the front. If a passenger is going to vomit, signal this again so the driver can pull over before it’s too late.
For more advice see our ultimate guide to driving to the Alps.
What are the closest ski resorts to European airports?
Chamonix, France: Geneva (82km), 1 hour
Kitzbühel, Austria: Innsbruck (97km), 1 hour; Salzburg (72km), 1 hour 30 minutes; Munich (165km), 1 hour 45 minutes
Verbier, Switzerland: Sion (55km), 1 hour; Geneva (161km), 2 hours
St Anton, Austria: Innsbruck (95km), 65 minutes; Friedrichshafen (130km), 1 hour 30 minutes
Cervinia, Italy: Turin (121km), 1 hour 30 minutes
Val Thorens, France: Chambéry (122km), 1 hour 30 minutes; Geneva (200km), 2 hours, 30 minutes
Les Arcs, France: Chambéry (121km), 1 hour 45 minutes; Geneva (210km), 2 hours 30 minutes; Lyon Saint Exupery (204km) 2 hours 30 minutes
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy: Venice (150km), 2 hours; Treviso (140km), 2 hours
Val d’Isère, France: Chambéry (145km), 2 hours; Geneva (223km), 2 hours 50 minutes
Zermatt, Switzerland: Geneva (230km), 2 hours 40 minutes; Zurich (254km), 3 hours 35 minutes; Basel (227km), 3 hours 25 minutes
*Transfer average time by car, without traffic.