Christmas in our family, like many, is always a complicated affair. By the time we take into account divorced grandparents, five aunts and uncles with their own families and a great-grandmother’s birthday on Christmas Day, pleasing everyone is almost impossible. So, my preferred approach is to offer to host everyone, then spend more hours in the kitchen than I do in the whole rest of the year, doing my impression of the great Christmas bake-off while my wife does the diplomacy in the sitting room. However in 2016, things fell in to place and when I offered everyone the chance to spend a guaranteed White Christmas together, none could refuse. This is what I learned…
• If anyone can’t make it, the whole thing starts to fall apart fairly rapidly so you need to get organized and get early commitment from all parties
• Take everyone! With a bigger chalet you get more space and more bells and whistles like pools and hot tubs so it pays to assemble a big group
• You have to be a bit more sparing with the Christmas presents – or at least leave the bulky ones at home. On the day this turned out to be inspired as our children actually played with the presents they opened rather than going on a frenzy of unwrapping, leaving brand new toys abandoned across the floor
The food and drink
• Talk through the plan with the chef and host and they can tailor things to incorporate all your Christmas traditions to make it feel like a proper family occasion – 80’s inspired prawn surprise starter for my family, melon and parma ham and brandy butter with Christmas pudding made it feel uncannily like home
• Not having to do the shopping, cooking and washing up is nothing short of inspired
• What we hadn’t expected was the relief of not having to graze endlessly on leftovers and being able to eat normally after Christmas Day
• At the fourth attempt at a Scott Dunn chalet vacation we have finally found the solution to avoiding death by fine dining. Our delightful chef Ed delivered family-style meals (big dishes plonked in the middle of the table) every other night so that everyone could adapt a portion size to their own appetite and taste and we came home only slightly fatter than we left
• The big industry secret is that Christmas in the Alps just isn’t that busy. Almost everyone spends Christmas at home before hundreds of thousands flock to the Alps for New Year to battle lift queues, crammed restaurants, overbooked ski schools and scour the snow into boilerplate ice. Skiing with a fraction of the people before the snow gets compacted by sheer weight of skiers is a totally different experience
• Don’t go expecting great off-piste conditions in December (although we found some) but you might just be pleasantly surprised as we were. Of course, choice of resort is key – don’t be confused by the resort height – look at the average height of the ski area and the exposure. Val is at 1850m (and mainly north-facing) and so ostensibly are many others, but while the villages of La Plagne, Courchevel, Avoriaz, La Rosiere and Les Arcs (to name a few) are at 1850m, they are halfway up the ski area. From Val, you can only go up and the artificial snowmaking is unbelievably quick to cover the mountain – which goes a long way to explaining why Val had great conditions while the newspapers re-printed their favorite pictures of cows grazing on the piste elsewhere.
• Teaching my 3 and 4 year old to ski will be a memory to treasure and made this a really special Christmas. I have set myself an aim not to be overtaken by them until I hit 50!
• Find out what’s on in resort – we watched fireworks and torch-lit descents and even went to see Santa arrive in the village
• Look at it as a vacation first and a ski trip second. Playing games and chatting with our families replaced frayed tempers in the kitchen and skiing with children and grandparents together for what may be the only time was pretty special
• It is important to be nice to your chalet staff – as my wife and I know only too well it’s Christmas for them too and working throughout can be tough. Look after them and they will do the same for you.