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What regions are easily reachable by train from the Netherlands and are (almost) sure to have snow in winter? I'm trying to avoid skiing areas as those are crowded, expensive, sold out and geared towards skiing. We are just looking to have some time in the snow, build an igloo, have some snowballfights.

Norway, Sweden and Finland are sure to have snow but are too far away. Most of Germany is not high enough. So this leaves France, Switzerland and Austria (Italy also but Austria and Switzerland are nearer).

Currently I am tracing train tracks on Google Maps with the height map turned on because destinations above 1,500 m are very likely to have snow. Maybe there are better resources?

When choosing a destinations should I also consider the orientation of slopes? If we are going to spend time wandering around during the day, does it matter much if we are on a South or North (East or West) face of a mountain?

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    All areas in Europa which are snow certain will have wintersports. So excluding wintersport areas will make this impossible to answer.
    – Willeke
    Jan 3 at 11:32
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    If you don't want skiing, what do you want? Just to see some snow? Get some picturesque photos? Sledging, snowball fights? Do you just want to ski for free without having to pay resort fees? Explaining what you are actually looking for, rather than what you don't want, will help people answer.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 3 at 15:39
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    Another option is the Pyrenees. You can almost reach Andorra by train from Amsterdam, but it might be cheaper and quicker to fly to Norway. Jan 3 at 15:54
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    @Willeke - not sure I agree. For skiing mountains are needed. It can be snowy in flat areas too. Jan 4 at 11:56
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    Where in the Netherlands are you based? How long do you wish to stay at your destination? What is a reasonable max travel duration? (From Amsterdam, even the Jura or the Vosges are easily 8 hours away). Do you plan to use only public transportation, or is renting a car at your destination OK? (Outside of big ski resorts public transport is often limited). How long in advance will you be planning your trip? Which month would you target? Even well over 1500m it can be quite difficult to have guaranteed snow all winter, while a week in advance you'll know. Can you avoid holiday periods?
    – jcaron
    Jan 4 at 18:22

9 Answers 9

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When all you want to do is actually to walk (and play) in the snow, if you do have a strong preference for train riding, and if you are not bound to make a fixed booking long in advance, you should consider the Harz mountains (Germany):

  • Not 100% snow proof, but
  • most easily accessible by train from the Netherlands (e.g. some 6h from Amsterdam), and
  • not primarily a skiing destination (so less crowded).

Check local weather forecast (or webcam) and, when promising, book accommodation in one of the picturesque towns at the mountain foot (there may be rain then), and go up into the forest on the next morning. Take a bus, or –

The Brocken Railway (a steam heritage railway with regular schedule) runs right up to the summit at 1140m; that is where having snow is the most likely. The trip to the summit costs a fortune, but you may get off one station earlier for walking (with snow not uncommon at/above elevation 690), and pay a moderate fare. (Anyway the train happens to terminate early in severe winter conditions, but that will be good enough then.)


There are alternative destinations in Germany:

  • Winterberg (Sauerland) is even a shorter trip, but is a ski resort,
  • going to the Black Forest will take a bit longer (but that depends on where you are in the Netherlands).
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  • There was a comment here (deleted) mentioning that there was not much snow in the Harz recently. This is true, and it is not the first time that winter is virtually absent in northern Germany, but not a rule either. This one is for the spontaneous quick trip - whenever weather allows - from NL; better book in advance and go to the Alps (more answers here) when you want to be certain about snow. Jan 5 at 1:08
  • The Harz has actually sparked this question! I've been there in the snow and it was absolutely wonderful. The views along from the top of the hills/mountains, the forests, the canals for the waterworks, the nice little towns. It is very beautiful in the summer too end even in winter without snow it is nice. The last three times we were there in winter there was no snow, so I decided to put some work in finding a similar destination but with a higher probability of snow.
    – Ivana
    Jan 7 at 20:42
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You could look at a weather map, and try to identify regions that have precipitation and temperatures below 0°C.

There exists a snow map too: https://www.snow-forecast.com/maps/dynamic/europe?hr=6

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  • A snow cover map might be even more useful. Conditions can change rapidly though. But you could use it to identify a useful destination, check the weather forecast for the coming week to make sure it won't get too warm and then travel within that time period. Won't work if you need to plan your trip a or two month in advance though.
    – jkej
    Jan 4 at 10:57
  • @jkej Nice, I had been looking for a map like that but couldn't find anything
    – Berend
    Jan 4 at 11:09
  • meteoblue also has various snow maps: meteoblue.com/en/weather/maps/#coords=7.64/42.494/…
    – Aaron F
    Jan 4 at 17:41
  • Weather information is indispensable in planning a winter trip. The hard part is but intersecting this information with the transport (trains) and tourism (accommodation) data layers. Jan 5 at 0:10
  • For snow cover I can recommend meteociel.
    – user141552
    Jan 5 at 0:16
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There are places in France that have snow, hills or smaller mountains, and are not ski resorts, or minor ones. I spent winters in my childhood in places like Limousin and Auvergne.

I remember a slightly crappy ski resort called Le Lioran, with its own train station. The place was actually quite nice, although by now my memories are fuzzy. And the place is humid and cold, so we had snow every year.

I'm pretty sure there are similar places around France.

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  • Le Lioran is not guaranteed to have snow anymore, it's fairly low in altitude
    – njzk2
    Jan 4 at 21:37
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The easiest guarantee of lots of snow is in the Alps. For an overview of skiing areas, have a look at the interactive map provided by BERGFEX (map icon top-right). You'll find plenty of gaps. You could double-check for snow on some live webcams, for example at Windy.com.

Just randomly zooming in on BERGFEX brings me to Erstfeld, where there seems to be no skiing infrastructure whatsoever. Then a quick look at Bahn.de gives you an itinerary by train with just two transfers, or just one if you're willing to take a sleeper train to Basel. You can also book through nsinternational.com.

And if you really want to travel on a budget and away from the crowds, just get off at any train station in the high alps, and within two hours walk you can be beyond the reach of all but the most adventurous skier. Just bring some food, a warm sleeping bag and a shovel to dig a snow hole or indeed build an igloo.

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  • Erstfeld is at 475m, there will be rather little snow (unless climbing up the mountains) Jan 4 at 23:41
  • Looking for gaps in the infrastructure will bring you to places with no infrastructure, which may be anything: residential, industrial, agricultural, military, or just desert void (certainly each one being a unique experience). Erstfeld is known for its railway installations (historic locomotive depot), and for the portal of Gotthard base tunnel. Jan 5 at 0:00
  • @JanBlumschein Not sure what the point of your second comment is. As for the first comment; if you follow the approach described here you'll find many places. Erstfeld is just an example. But a quick check on Windy.com gives a webcam just 2km from Erstfeld, showing a thick blanket of snow yesterday: windy.com/-Webcams/Switzerland/Uri/Attinghausen/Br%C3%BCsti/…
    – user141552
    Jan 5 at 0:07
  • Anyone care to explain the downvote?
    – user141552
    Jan 5 at 0:11
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    Ah! That webcam belongs to the top station of a lift, 1000m above the station of Erstfeld (plus 2km horizontally). This is ski infrastructure, family-friendly though - hit for the OP! Jan 5 at 0:37
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Although there are limited winter sports areas in Scotland they are limited. You can get Eurostar from Amsterdam/Rotterdam and then either travel by rail the same day from King's Cross or get the Caledonian sleeper from Euston (a short walk from King's Cross/St Pancras where Eurostar arrives) and be in the north the next day.

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  • There's also an overnight ferry from Amsterdam/IJmuiden to Newcastle - you might have snow in the hills around Newcastle. or take a train into Scotland. Jan 7 at 16:47
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I suggest web searching for non-skiing activies such as:

france snow tubing

children snow play area france

One kids park I found is https://www.valfrejus.com/en/equipement/kid-park-valfrejus/

I wouldn't rule out ski areas. Because they are used by lots of people there are many trains and buses serving them. Because they have so many hotel rooms, many have a range of prices and good availability. But smaller "family" mid-price areas will probably be best for you.

Good luck--this is a worthwhile idea that should be fun for your family.

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  • True, it is not possible to search for 'not necessarily skiing' but it is possible to look for: trails, snowshoe trails, tubing, tobbogan etc.
    – Ivana
    Jan 12 at 13:55
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The other, more obvious answer points to Switzerland, into the mountain regions served by metre-gauge trains operated by Rhätische Bahn and Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn: Engadin, Bernina pass, Albula and Rhine valleys, Upper Valais … Exemplary train service running through scenic winter landscape, with plenty of snow guaranteed. Hop off anywhere for a snowballfight, and continue your trip after 59 more minutes.

Next to busy and glamorous holiday resorts, there are some comparably quiet places (mandatory church, optional supermarket) still served by frequent & reliable trains (not sure if permanently booked out). And there is even a prepared sleigh ride from one train station to another.

Unfortunately these destinations involve a longer journey (like ~12 hours from Amsterdam CS), and they are not cheap.

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Tyrol? There's a sleeper train from Amsterdam/Utrecht/Arnhem to Innsbruck, which is one of the best know Alpine regions.

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    So surely OP will want to avoid that? Jan 3 at 22:41
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France

In the winter season's weekends, TGVs direct from Paris Gare de Lyon serve Saint-Gervais-les-Bains Le Fayet, are also served directly, Les Arcs through Bourg-Saint-Maurice (and a 10min funicular ride afterwards), La Norma through Modane (+ 15min shuttle ride).

St Gervais being a 4h50 direct ride, Bourg-Saint-Maurice 5 hours, and La Norma being served from Saint-Michel Valloire due to the Maurienne landslide destroying the tracks between France and Italy

You can also push to the Mont Blanc, through Saint-Gervais and the emblematic Mont Blanc Express or take the Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (again through the Mont Blanc Express).

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    Most of those actually ski resorts, which OP apparently wants to avoid.
    – jcaron
    Jan 3 at 17:17
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    And OP hasn't even said they want to ski: but to avoid skiers. Jan 3 at 20:41

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