Best resorts to spend Christmas
There can be fewer more atmospheric places for the festive period than huddled round a log fire after a day in the snow, clasping a hot chocolate (in a Powderhound mug of course), reminiscing on the day of Christmas skiing fun.
So we’ve picked the ten best ski resorts for Christmas skiing – don’t forget to pack a few Powderhound gifts to put under the tree while you’re there.
Written and compiled by Abi Butcher
With slopes up to 3,899m, skiing is guaranteed all year round in this magical Swiss resort — especially at Christmas. There are 360km of pistes, scores of wonderful mountain restaurants, tree-lined runs, a view of the Matterhorn that never gets old, and a car-free village where horse and sleigh or carraige is one of the main modes of transport.
Zermatt is fab for families — children up to the age of nine travel free on ski lifts and trains (with the Wolli Card) and there is a special beginner pass for older kids and adults learning to ski for the first time. On Christmas Eve a large furry sheep (called Wolli, rather than Santa Claus) will give away gifts in the church square and there’s an ice rink as well as church services and music concerts throughout Christmas week.
Another car-free village, Wengen oozes traditional, chocolate-box charm set on a sunny plateau in the Lauterbrunnen valley and sharing a ski area with Grindelwald in the majestic Jungfrau region. Wengen’s long, intermediate pistes are perfect for Christmas family cruising, with gentle nursery slopes in the heart of the village for beginners and wonderful mountain railways making it easy for non-skiing family members to get about, too.
Over Christmas, the streets come alive with decorations and there’s a traditional midnight mass with hot chocolate and ringli (homemade donuts) served afterwards.
As well as more than 200km of skiing (up to nearly 3,000m), there are taboggan runs, curling and outdoor skating, too.
Yes this isn’t the highest ski resort but it beats so many others on Christmas atmosphere, and has one of the longest seasons of any non-glacial ski resort in the Alps — thanks in part to some impressive snow-making and summer snow-farming.
Every December, the medieval village is transformed into a winter fairytale from the very start of advent, with decorations, carol singers and regular Christmas markets with stands selling everything from regional handicrafts, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and fruit punch.
As well as downhill skiing (on the Streif, if you dare follow in ski boots of racers who tackle the Hahnenkamm) there is cross-country skiing, tobogganing, horse-drawn carriage rides and no shortage of places to eat Christmas lunch on the surrounding mountains.
Stay until New Year for three spectacular firework displays over three days from 30 and 31 December then on 1 January – the “Rasmusleiten”.
Val d’Isère, France
With its high, snow-sure slopes, including two glaciers, Val d’Isère is a sure bet for Christmas skiing. To get everyone in the mood, there is a free Christmas Village and a whole range of festive events — from ice sculptures, torchlit descents, face-painting, concerts and carol singing. On Christmas Eve children can meet Father Christmas outside the tourist office in the early evening and on Christmas day you’ll spot Father Christmas and his elves giving out sweets at the lifts and on the slopes to young and old.
Of course, for a livelier Christmas party there’s the Folie Douce — and you can even stay high up in the mountains in Le Refuge de Solaise, the highest hotel in France (2551m) in France’s oldest cable-car station.
Nowhere does Christmas as well as North America, and the resort of Whistler-Blackcomb, with its lively village base and extensive tree skiing is the perfect Canadian ski resort for a Christmas holiday. British Columbia is cold so while the mountains aren’t phenomenally high (Blackcomb is 2,285m and Whistler 2,180m), there is usually decent snow in December.
In the very heart of Whistler Village, where all the trees are lit with coloured lights, sits an outdoor ice rink and the restaurants across Whistler offer special brunches, dinners and lunches for families and friends congregating for the holiday.
On Christmas Eve, Whistler hosts a carol service, and for 15 days over the holiday period a free “Whistler Holiday Experience” for the little ones with bouncy castles, crafts, a mini putt course and table games as well as coffee or hot chocolate for parents. At New Year, Whistler puts on a fireworks display.
Aspen is a dreamy place to ski at any time of year, and with its four mountains open by the third week of December, why not head to Colorado for Christmas. Every year this quintessential ski town hosts a huge 93ft Christmas tree on Main Street, and decks itself out for “12 days of Aspen” (20-13 December) with activities from ice-skating and eating s’mores to meeting Santa and his reindeer, cookie-, ornament- and stocking-decorating, art workshops and more. For adults, there’s the “12 Days of Après” culminating in a New Year’s Eve firework display to end all the celebrations. Aspen is a cultural town, and its Wheeler Opera House hosts Christmas-themed performances during Yuletide including its annual staple The Nutcracker. Hotels, restaurants and taverns get involved with special Christmas buffets, brunches and dining with church services and carol singing across town.
The snowy village of Lech might only be set at 1,450m but there’s plenty of skiing to be had by Christmas — and thanks to the huge ski area it shares with neighbouring St Anton, there’s terrain for every level of skier or snowboarder over the mighty 305km pistes of the Alberg.
Often voted “Most Beautiful Village in Europe”, Lech is idyllic at Christmas time, nestled beside the eponymous river and with a festive mass held in its 13th century church, aptly named St Nicholas. Lech holds a Christmas market at Rüfiplatz throughout the month of December, perfect for perusing with a glühwein in hand. There are also horse-drawn sleigh rides, walking paths and tobogganing, as well as a natural ice rink in nearby Zürs.
The cobbled, car-free centre of this Italian village sitting in the shadow of Mont Blanc is another fabulous place to spend Christmas. The resort has its own version of Father Christmas, a figure called Rhémy de Noël — a fabled chimney sweep who was born in Courmayeur on Christmas Day. As legend tells it, he climbed Mont Blanc one Christmas Eve to find out why the town wasn’t covered with snow. No, it wasn’t climate change on this occasion but because the snow had all been trapped by a very lonely giant — and when Rhémy went to keep him company, snow began to fall on Courmayeur and turned the town white. Every Christmas Eve, the chimney sweep visits the town and gives presents to children who light a lantern to show him the way. If that’s not reason enough to ski in Courmayeur this Christmas, along with its incredible restaurants and family-run hotels, we don’t know what is.
Some of the prettiest skiing in the Alps with a chic resort crafted from a traditional farming village by the Rothschilds, only an hour’s drive from Geneva and with beautiful views beneath Mont Blanc — there’s very little not to like about Megève. It’s not high altitude, from 1,113m to 2,350m, but the snow cover is usually reliable given its proximity to Mont Blanc and the abundance of artificial snowmaking if nature fails.
In early December, Megève holds a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and festival, complete with Father Christmas, in the town square, where an enormous tree decorated with Swarovski crystals has proudly taken centre stage for more than 50 years.
While staying over the festive period, skiers can enjoy the Megève Christmas village, visit the nearby reindeer farm, Domaine le Coulairon, and watch the parade on Christmas Eve when Santa and his elves give out presents. There’s also no shortage of top restaurants in which to enjoy Christmas lunch, and Midnight Mass is special in the 13th Century church.
If you’re looking for proper festive atmosphere and tradition, why not go all out and head to Lapland for a Scandinavian Christmas? There are no shortage of reindeer in Finland and as well as skiing and reindeer sleigh rides you can go husky sledding and watch the Northern Lights.
Levi is Finland’s premier ski resort but it’s also a winter sports destination so while skiers can keep themselves more than entertained on 43 slopes over around 50km of skiing, there is also ice-fishing, ice-karting, snowmobile safaris, cross-country skiing, snowshoe tours and ice-skating. The gently rolling forested hills are great for beginners and intermediates — totally uncrowded and exceptionally beautiful.
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