Christmas ski holidays can be magical. Families spend the day Christmas skiing in the fresh mountain air, followed by hearty dinners and cosy evenings in front of open fires. At night, pistes ring with the sound of popping fireworks and torchlit ski displays. Child-free skiiers can embrace the festive spirit with spiced wine sipped at sundown under snow-covered trees, and apres-ski parties. Christmas ski holidays really can be the most festive of times.
That’s not to say they’re without their challenges. Ski holidays need careful planning, with goggles, thermal underlayers, salopettes and all the other specialist ski gear you need. Put that together with organising presents, crackers and other treats, and Christmas family ski holidays can be double the work. But there are some hacks and shortcuts that we discovered, on our Christmas ski trip to Passo Tonale in Italy. Here’s what we learned.
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Best ski resorts for Christmas: what to look for
Make sure your resort is snow-sure
Late January to February is peak snow season in most European and north American ski resorts. Snowfall in the period running up to Christmas, and even Christmas itself, can be patchy. So if you want a guaranteed white Christmas, check to see how snow-sure your resort is. Most ski breaks advertised online give an indication of a resort’s altitude. Higher resorts usually have more consistent snowfall. Some resorts have skiable glaciers, which will of course be covered in snow. But check the altitude of your actual accommodation if you want to make sure you wake up to snow on Christmas morning. Lots of ski resorts now have snow-making machines, to be doubly sure the slopes are covered in a blanket of snow at all times.
Look into airport transfer time
It’s worth checking to see how long it takes to get from your airport to the ski resort. The airport transfer can be an exciting way to take in the festive scenery, driving through pretty villages with Christmas trees all lit up and wooden chalets with snow-topped roofs. Some transfers can be hours long, though. If that’s the case, a few little pre-Christmas gifts to unwrap on the journey might help prevent the excitement from turning into tears.
Does the resort have any non-ski activities?
You may be a family of ski hounds, and just want to ski, ski, ski all the time. But in my view (as a novice), Christmas is the best time to slack off for an afternoon or two, and take advantage of some of the other Winter activities available in ski resorts. Riding on a horse-drawn carriage that tinkles with sleigh bells, whizzing on a sleigh pulled by huskies, or tramping through Narnia-esque forests on snowshoes, are just a few of the winter activities on offer at ski resorts. Check to see if any are available when making your choice of resort.
What to pack for a Christmas ski trip
Buy Christmas gifts strategically
Wherever you are, if you’re spending Christmas away from home, you need to think through your gift choices. You won’t be able to hide a brand new kids’ bike from prying eyes, however cleverly you package it up before your flight. When we spent Christmas in Passo Tonale with Crystal Ski Holidays, with our children as well as six relatives from D’s family, we had a lot of people to buy presents for. So we bought non-physical gifts wherever possible. Theatre tickets, a star-gazing experience, vouchers for a spa, a day trip to Paris – these are just some suggestions. You can see more ideas on gifts for people who prefer experiences to things here.
Make sure your presents are easy to pack
The few physical gifts we did buy were mainly for the children. We bulked out their stockings with books and other mid-sized items (shhh! don’t tell the kids. It was Santa really!). That meant we didn’t have to travel with too many tiny bits and pieces. We focused on electronics for the larger, non-stocking presents. Games consoles and tablets can be big-ticket presents, and they don’t take up much space in your luggage.
Wrap your presents – but beware
So that the kids didn’t accidentally discover their Christmas gifts while rifling through the suitcases, we gift-wrapped them before we packed, and put them inside plastic bags for a double barrier against peeking.
But be careful with this strategy. If a package looks suspicious, airport security guards might ask you to unwrap it. This happened to me pre-kids, when I was flying to Newcastle to meet my family for Christmas. I’d wrapped up a set of chocolate garden tools for a family member who’s a keen gardener. Inside the scanner, the chocolate tools looked weapon-shaped, so I had to unwrap the parcel to show them it was just innocent chocolate. Luckily nobody was around to see the present I’d bought for them. If this does happen to you, make sure one of your group is primed to whisk the kids away before they see what’s inside their giftwrapped present.
Don’t forget the Christmas gubbins
As well as all the usual stuff you need to take with you on ski breaks, there are some extra bits and pieces you’ll need for Christmas. Although you might be able to find some of these things in your ski resort, it’s not guaranteed. And you don’t want to be chasing round looking for sellotape when you could be sitting drinking gluwein in front of a roaring log fire, do you?
Here are some items to pack for ski holidays with children at Christmas time:
- Christmas stockings
- Wrapping paper and sellotape
- Scissors – but make sure you don’t pack them in your hand luggage
- Crackers for your festive meal. This is a ‘just in case’, as some resorts will set out crackers with Christmas dinner. Our Italian resort didn’t, so if you like to follow the tradition of pulling crackers over dinner, then make sure you take some.
- Christmas cards. This was a tip I borrowed from the in-laws. With environmental awareness, Christmas cards are a bit of a dying breed. But if you’ve been sent cards, setting a few out on the table is a way of making those loved ones feel a little closer when you’re eating Christmas dinner
Manage expectations – it won’t be the same as back home
Like any Christmas spent away from home, things will be different. While this can feel liberating for the adults (no cooking – hurrah!), children may feel a little unsettled if they’ve been used to celebrating Christmas at home. Our two worried about how Father Christmas was going to get into our hotel room to deliver their presents. We have a chimney at home, but we explained that not all homes are like that. In our case he’d probably sneak in through the balcony. Anyway, he’s magic – so he’d find a way.
Food can be another sticky subject when travelling with kids over Christmas. You’re unlikely to get the same dishes the family’s used to eating at home. Trying new foods is one of the exciting things about travel, but kids often don’t see it that way.
For our Christmas meal at the Grand Hotel Paradiso in Passo Tonale, Italy (which you can read about here), we were treated to salads with aubergine and grilled vegetables; speck, rocket and orange; a choice of main courses, like cannelloni with ricotta, mushroom risotto, pork cheek with apple sauce, and potatoes with rosemary. It was all delicious, but the children stuck to the conservative option of pasta. We let them go wild with the desserts, though. With choices ranging from five different types of panettone, flans, soufflés and mousses, and sponge cake drenched in chocolate, the children were perfectly happy not to have their usual roast for Christmas dinner. We just let them know beforehand that Christmas dinner would be different this year, and they were fine.
Do you have any tips for Christmas ski holidays, or the best places to ski at Christmas? If so, let me know.
Some images are from Pixabay
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