Where to ski at Christmas

2nd October 2014 | Patrick Thorne

Resorts in this article: Hemsedal, Kitzbühel, Les Arcs, Les Gets, Levi, Megeve, Samnaun, Seefeld - Gschwandtkopf, Seefeld - Rosshütte, Zell am See - Schmittenhöhe

Festive streets of Zell.

Festive streets of Zell.

Copyright: Credit Zell am See Tourism.

Christmas on the ski slopes is always a magical time, particularly for us Brits who long for a white Christmas each year and hardly ever get one, or at best a fairly lacklustre few millimetres.

If you need more convincing to escape the damp grey gloom, there are plenty of other factors in favour of spending Christmas on the slopes. Not only can you escape all the terrible corporate Christmas TV ads and shops stacked with plastic Christmas junk, but there’s no need to bother with Christmas trees, decorations or Christmas lunch – your hotel or chalet will take care of it all. 

Becky Horton, the UK representative for the Tyrol, an Austrian region synonymous with Christmas cheer in its numerous pretty ski villages, says, “There’s also no need to worry about buying large, expensive gifts, sadly your luggage allowance is reserved for skiwear only.”

Of course one of the biggest reasons to ski at Christmas is that you don’t need to take up much of your annual leave entitlement – you’ll be using bank holidays anyway so you can get a week’s holiday on the slopes for just three days off work.

Of course for the full Christmas card image some resorts are a better choice than others.  It’s generally those pretty, ancient villages, twinkling under fairy lights with deep, fluffy snow that really deliver the Christmas wow factor.

Here's our pick of where to ski at Christmas:

Megeve, France

Megeve has a magical atmosphere at Christmas with its horse-drawn carriages, boutique-style shops and central ice rink.  For the full-on quintessential white Christmas, the village decorates a huge tree in the square with Swarovski crystal decorations and super lighting. Father Christmas finds time to visit the square of course and there are also ice figurines of the nativity.

“We do the whole Christmas thing in the chalets with carols, trees and of course Christmas dinner,” says Elizabeth Cahir, boss of Stanford Skiing, specialists in the resort.

Megeve village at Christmas.

Copyright: Credit Simon Garnier

Zell am See, Austria

Christmas Markets are big in the Alps and a million times more enjoyable (that’s not an exaggeration) than the UK High Street. Just wander around with a cup or warm glühwein in your hand, ogling the candlelit wooden stalls accompanied by the gentle sound of Christmas carollers. Picturesque Zell am See has extensive skiing but also a Christmas market is located right in the pedestrianised centre - a festive factor which bumps it up into our "Where to ski at Christmas" list. When not skiing or shopping you could ice skate on the frozen lake or just relax in one of the atmospheric cafés.

Crystal offer holiday packages to Zell am See as well as special twin centre ski and Christmas shopping holidays with three days in Salzburg where nearly 100 artisans offer their wares in the magical market that’s been there around 600 years. The other four days are spent on the ski slopes.

Festive streets of Zell am See, Austria

Copyright: Zell am See Tourism

Hemsedal, Norway

You don’t have to go high in altitude for a snowsure Christmas; you could go high in latitude and head to Norway, the country that sends us our big Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square each winter. Hemsedal has one of the largest ski areas in the country, with many people opting to stay in large apartments, each equipped with its own private sauna, for their family Christmas. One unusual option here is that it is normal practice upon arrival in the village, pre-Christmas, to head a little way in to the surrounding woodland armed with a small saw, pick your Christmas tree, chop it down and take it back to your apartment to decorate.  Best to check with the tourist office before you head out where’s best to go for easy-to-cut trees and so you don’t wander off in to the white wilderness.

Family skiers in Hemsedal, Norway

Copyright: Nils-Erik Bjorholt

Samnaun, Switzerland

A slight cheat here as, although Samnaun is very pleasant for a Christmas holiday, it really makes the "Where to ski at Christmas" list because this is the venue of the annual Santa Claus World Championships staged three-to-four weeks before the big day, each winter, so that the winning Santa has plenty of time to prepare. The championships begin with a parade of Santas through the village, towering over which is a giant inflatable Santa, before a day of competition beginning with essential skills like map reading and gingerbread decorating, and ending up with chimney climbing to deliver presents and Santa karaoke.

Along with being host to ‘The Santas’ Samnaun also has high-altitude skiing, linked to Ischgl in Austria and you can pop over to enjoy the free ‘Ischgl Mountain Christmas’ concert  held at the resort’s Silvretta Center on Boxing Day, with the Paznaun children's choir singing Christmas songs from around the world.  Samnaun is also a tax-free haven so is a good choice for Christmas shopping for all those highly taxed items like alcohol, tobacco, perfume and jewellery. There are also half-a-dozen tax-free petrol stations on the road up to the little village, choc full of Austrian Mercedes filling up.  But petrol is a little harder to bring home.

Annual Santa World Championships in Samnaun, Switzerland

Seefeld, Austria

Seefeld is one of the Austrian Tyrol’s most atmospheric resorts during the festive period, with a Christmas market filling the pedestrianised square with festive sounds, smells and sights. Only 30 minutes from Innsbruck, it’s also an easy one to get to for a stress-free Christmas.

If you stay at the the Krumers Posthotel in the village, the Christmas spirit is take  up a notch as packages including a torch-lit walk around the lake, celebration gala dinner on Christmas Eve with live music and a vanilla/cinnamon massage are available.

Seefeld Christmas market.

Copyright: Olympiaregion Seefeld.

Kitzbühel, Austria

Kitzbühel marks 120 years since a gentleman called Franz Reisch took his first tentative steps onto the local snowy slopes in the winter of 1892/93. The rest, as they say, is history, and Kitzbühel has grown to become one of the most cosmopolitan resorts in the Alps with a wonderful old town, the centre of which with its cobbled streets lends itself to the full ambience and festivities of Christmas including an atmospheric Christmas market from 25th November until 23rd December.

Colourful and cute: Kitzbuehel town centre, Austria

Copyright: Markus Mitterer

Levi, Lapland

We couldn't put together a 'where to ski at Christmas' list without mentioning a ski resort in Santa's home - Lapland. There may not be much daylight in Levi, Lapland, or much vertical, but the slopes are floodlit and the warming huts welcoming.

Inghams offer holidays to the leading Finnish resort of Levi, where along with skiing and boarding you can enjoy reindeer and husky sleigh rides through the snow-laden forests, meet Santa and his elves, enjoy an afternoon of games and activities at one of Santa’s workshops and tuck into a Christmas feast with turkey and all the trimmings. If you stay in the four-star Levitunturi Spa Hotel, you can check out its new Spa Water World with 17 indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

Getting to know the locals in Levi, Finland

Copyright: Levi Tourism

Les Gets, France

Les gets has built a reputation as one of the most family-friendly resorts in the Alps.  Apart from doing the usual ‘child-friendly’ things extremely well, it has some unique attractions like its chocolate workshop and mechanical music museum to excite young eyes. Santa is officially in residence along with his elves for two weeks from a few days before the big day, right through to early January and he’s always quietly appearing around the village and even on the ski slopes, you just have to look out for him.

“Les Gets oozes unspoilt, traditional village charm,” says Laura willing of the Oxford Ski Company. “And along with Santa, there’s masses of skiing on offer in the Portes du Soleil and some really fantastic chalets too like the brand new Grande Corniche.”

Santa cabin in Les Gets, France

Copyright: Les Gets Tourism

Arc 1950, France

Most of the choices on our 'where to ski at Christmas' list are centuries old villages, but we’ve made an exception with Arc 1950 in the huge Paradiski region, because, although very new and built by the same company that gave the world Whistler Blackcomb, it’s designed to be pleasing on the eye.  It’s also one of the highest options on our list, so one of the more snowsure and every property is slopeside with a swimming pool, often a full spa, so great for full-on festive relaxation.

“Arc 1950 has a full free-of-charge entertainment programme during the week,” says Jane Bolton, Managing Director of Erna Low Holidays, specialists in the resort. “They usually include some ski joering, an outside fire cauldron for toasting marshmallows, and Father Christmas arrives. Our clients tell us that we should really make more of this as it is brilliant for children of all ages.”

Aerial view of the picturesque Arc 1950

Copyright: Agence Urope, Pete Webb, Scalp



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