Hit the slopes for a Noël to remember
From serious skiers finding fun on the piste to those keen to avoid the festive washing up, a Christmas break at a French ski resort is an increasingly popular option says Samantha David
Going skiing at Christmas has its own special magic, especially for families. Ski resorts use designers to turn their villages into twinkling wonderlands, the shop windows stuffed with wooden toys and candy, a Christmas tree outside every traditional wooden chalet, the cafés offering hot chocolate with your choice of whipped cream and brandy, Santa at every corner, and a choice of Christmas activities on and off the snow.
So there’s no need to spend hours struggling to get the fairy lights working, no need to shop for tinsel because the dog ate so much of it last year. Visually, ski resorts offer guaranteed festive glamour.
Guaranteeing snow is slightly trickier but the higher your resort, the better your chances of a white Christmas in the resort itself. With modern water canon and snow management pistes, especially high-altitude, north-facing ones, are always open. Many operators are so confident of this they even offer formalised snow guarantees. What could be healthier than getting some fun exercise in the fresh mountain air, rather than spending Christmas slumped comatose in front of the telly?
There’s another advantage to going skiing at Christmas, however. Being liberated from the backstage chores of making the magic happen means parents are far more relaxed and can enjoy more time playing with their children. Paddy and Sarah Daly and their daughters Isabelle (13) and Helena (10) are big fans of skiing at Christmas and their favourite resort is Reberty, 150 metres above Les Menuires, which is at an altitude of 1,850m. Their most recent holiday was with Powder N Shine, and they stayed at the Flocon des Neiges chalet, which sleeps 15.
“It’s a chance to relax with the kids, and not worry about having to decorate the house, do all the shopping, the cooking, the hassle of it all,” says Paddy.
“You can just enjoy Christmas Day, especially when someone is doing all the cooking and you get brought a glass of champagne or some canapés just like magic. The Christmas dinners are just spectacular, incredible even! I won’t forget the one cooked by the Michelin standard chef Heather Frew (all Powder N Shine’s chefs have recent experience in Michelin starred restaurants).
Plenty of activities
Once Christmas dinner is over there’s no clearing the table or washing up – you can just go for a snowball fight, relax in the hot tub or head for the sofa.”
Paddy’s wife Sarah isn’t particularly keen on skiing. He says she tried it once and decided it wasn’t for her, but their daughters love it. This isn’t a problem, however, because, he says, the resort has something for everyone.
“There is so much on offer, spas and fitness, shopping, it really doesn’t matter whether you ski or not. Sarah has become the family’s sleuth when it comes to finding the best hot chocolate, and has become a real expert on spas – although she is adamant that they all have to be tested in careful detail – especially the well-being treatments!”
Generally, the tendency is for ski resorts to move away from large concrete blocks of flats in favour of more traditional wooden chalets. And as skiing becomes increasingly popular, putting pressure on the lifts and crowding the slopes, there’s more emphasis on providing other activities and attractions.
Every ski station has its own character, however. Some, like Chamonix, attract a young international crowd of adrenalin junkies and extreme sports enthusiasts, others like Les Saisies are far more orientated to families, and don’t offer much in the way of wild nightlife.
The pull of the piste
Skiing, however, is the main draw, whether its downhill or cross-country, mono-ski, free-style or wide skis. “The girls have learned to ski amazingly fast, and love events like the flaming torch-lit descent,” says Paddy. “I’m so proud of their skills, and think it’s great for kids to be out doing something healthy instead of sitting indoors looking at a screen.”
He and Sarah calculate that although a Christmas skiing holiday isn’t cheaper than staying at home, it isn’t necessarily more expensive either, taking into account everything which is included
in a catered chalet holiday.
It’s just a different purchase. “At home, we’re rushing about buying festive foods, and decorations and presents, putting decorations up and wrapping presents and then it takes hours in the kitchen to cook everything, and in the end a lot of it is just consumerism. You end up buying Christmas themed kitchen roll and what for? The kids won’t remember what they received from Santa.
“Going skiing means we’re buying them an unforgettable experience, and we’re buying the whole family a relaxing time together. The first time we went skiing at Christmas Isabelle said ‘this is the best holiday ever, the best Christmas I’ve ever had,’ and that says it all to me.”
Powder N Shine make an effort to match families all staying in the same chalet so that the children are more or less in the same age-group. “Staying in a chalet is a great way to meet people, and some of them go on to become permanent friends. The kids are never bored because they’re all together. Also, there are often other activities for them on days when they’ve had enough skiing.”
And finally, he points out the advantage of getting some winter sun. “People tend to think skiing is all about getting cold and wet but it can be just the opposite.
“On sunny days you can actually pick up quite a tan, and you need your factor 50 on because the sun at altitude can be so strong! On our last trip we were skiing in the morning and eating lunch outside in the sun, wearing t-shirts. At Christmas!”