Protect Our Winters activist Lauren MacCallum on the fight to save the Ski Train

As it now seems unlikely that the much-loved rail service from London to the Alps will return for the 2020/21 season, Lauren MacCallum of Protect Our Winters explains how the campaign to save it is starting to focus on the future

Friday, 11th September 2020, 12:11 pm
Lauren MacCallum, general manager of Protect Our Winters UK PIC: Hannah Bailey / Neon Stash
Lauren MacCallum, general manager of Protect Our Winters UK PIC: Hannah Bailey / Neon Stash

The Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping the global economy with unprecedented speed, but it is perhaps the tourism sector that has felt its impact most forcefully, with airlines on their knees and hotels lying empty all around the world. Some environmentalists might feel inclined to cheer the fact that the aviation industry’s CO2 emissions have just fallen off a very large cliff, and there’s certainly a case to be made that, in the short term at least, the coronavirus outbreak has done more to slow global warming than anything our politicians have managed since the first UN Climate Change Conference in 1995.

However, it isn’t just the more carbon intensive forms of transport that have been affected by the current crisis – rail travel has also taken a hit, and one of the many casualties has been the Eurostar Ski Train service, which, in a typical winter, transports as many as 24,000 skiers from London St Pancras to the French Alpine towns of Moutiers, Aime la Plagne and Bourg St Maurice, giving access to 16 major ski resorts, including Méribel, Courchevel, Tignes and Val d’Isère.

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In July, as reported in this slot, a “Save The Ski Train” campaign was launched by the environmental pressure groups Protect Our Winters and SaveOurSnow, along with ski-by-rail specialists Snowcarbon and Ski Flight Free, in a bid to persuade Eurostar to put the much-loved service back on. The petition has now racked up over 10,000 signatures, but – according to Lauren MacCallum, the Highlands-based general manager of Protect Our Winters UK – while there is still hope for 2020, the focus has now begun to shift to the winter of 2021.

The various organisations campaigning to save the Ski Train are now starting to take a longer-term view

“2020 is still what we’re still gunning for,” she says, “but a success would be to make sure [the Ski Train] is back for 2021. We need to work with Eurostar to build a healthy relationship and look at getting it reinstated for 2021, because historically when services are cancelled they are rarely put back on the timetable.”

If Eurostar stick to their decision to cancel the Ski Train this winter, the only other viable ski-by-rail alternative open to eco-minded snowsports enthusiasts in the south of England would be travelling to one of the five Scottish ski resorts via the Caledonian Sleeper. Leave London Euston at 9.15pm on a Thursday in February, for example, and you’d arrive in Aviemore at 7:40am on the Friday, leaving plenty of time to locate your accommodation, change into your ski gear and hop on the shuttle bus that runs from Aviemore to the base station at Cairngorm Mountain. In the absence of the Ski Train, is the Cally Sleeper something Protect Our Winters would support as an alternative?

“Yeah, that’s something we’ve identified,” says MacCallum. “At the moment what we’re trying to do is get people to sign the petition to show public support for the Ski Train, but yes, of course we would back [the Caledonian Sleeper]. If we really want to build back better, we need to make sure there are more options for sustainable travel, not less.”

Protect Our Winters (POW for short) was founded in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones; he saw that more and more ski resorts were being forced to close due to a lack of snow, and as he couldn’t find any organisations focused on mobilising the snowsports community to take action on climate change he decided to set one up.

Pressure groups like POW might not have the same reach as more established environmental charities such as Friends of the Earth, but MacCallum is very clear about what they bring to the table.

“One thing that has been identified as a really effective way to create change is to engage people through their passions,” she says. “POW gives people who enjoy skiing or snowboarding or hillwalking or mountain biking or climbing a platform to engage and feel that they can make a difference. So it’s a really effective way to get people on board, but it’s also a way to effect behavioural change.”

Speaking of behavioural change, MacCallum is a big believer in trying to persuade people to make small changes to their lives, rather than insisting they become carbon neutral overnight.

“POW isn’t trying to beat people over the head with climate science so they go and live under rocks in the Cairngorms,” she says. “There’s a carbon cost to life, that’s just the system that we live in. Even if you’re riding on your electric bike and you’re not creating any emissions, there’s still a carbon cost to that bike.

“Trying to create perfect people inside an imperfect system is never going to work, so we really focus on that, and we focus on what does the new system look like? What does a low-carbon society look like? We try to focus on what the solutions are – because we may be part of the problem, but we are also part of the solution.”

For more on Protect Our Winters, see https://protectourwinters.uk

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