Snow, slopes and seasonal cheer… there’s nothing quite like the feeling of skiing at Christmas. Resorts are in full swing by then so every day can be a ski day – swap your Christmas walk for some fun in the mountains, and ring in the new year on the piste too.
Check out our top reasons to get your novelty jumper on over your thermals, and find out the best ski resorts to spend the most wonderful time of the year.
What’s so great about skiing at Christmas and New Year?
Loads of ski resorts have that fairytale festive look – picture villages with traditional wooden buildings, surrounded by trees and covered in a blanket of snow. And even modern, purpose-built resorts go all out at this time of year with lights and decorations. Plus, if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, there’s a great chance your wish will come true in the mountains.
When you’re not skiing, you could be strolling around a Christmas market, listening to local musicians perform, or watching advent shows and torchlit descents – which is when instructors ski down the mountain in formation after dark, using torches to light their way. You might even get to see Santa. He makes an appearance in lots of resorts in December, or you could visit him at his home if you spend Christmas in Lapland.
Lots of European countries actually have their main celebration on Christmas Eve, so you’ll get the best of both worlds – a festive feast after the lifts close on 24 December and then a full day of skiing and fun on Christmas Day.
So whether you go with your partner, friends or whole family, this is one Christmas you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Where’s the best place go skiing at Christmas and New Year?
Zell am See, Austria
The cosmopolitan town of Zell am See has a lovely feel in December. You can take long walks along the shore of Lake Zell, listen to brass band concerts, and wander through some of the best festive markets around to shop for crafts and gifts. On 25 December, everyone in town gathers to watch the annual Christmas tree dive, when the local water rescue team sink a lit tree into the lake and then rescue it. Then on 6 January, the Tresterer come to town. These symbolic Austrian figures are unique to the region – they wear golden crowns and entertain people with traditional dances to welcome in the new year.
The official home of Father Christmas, Finland covers a whole wish list of festive activities, from reindeer sleigh rides to dog sledding. Little ones will love meeting Santa in the village. Or the whole family can spend a day at his Secret Cottage, playing games with the elves and listening to stories and songs from the man himself. Don’t miss watching the Joululintu (or Christmas Bird Musical) either. It started out as a school play and is now an annual show for the whole village, with 200 children telling a story of good versus evil, capped off with fireworks and an appearance from Santa.
Val d’Isère, France
The whole festive period is a non-stop party in the Tignes-Val d’Isère (or Espace Killy) ski area – concerts, shows, torchlit descents, ice sculpting displays… you name it. On Christmas Eve, Father Christmas rides through town and you might even spot him and his elves out on the slopes. Après-lovers can celebrate the big day at the famous Folie Douce, which goes all-out on 25 December with costumes, entertainment and music. Then on New Year’s Eve, the town centre turns into a pedestrianised zone and everyone gathers to drink vin chaud, dance to live DJs and watch fireworks light up the sky.
This place looks like something straight off a Christmas card – a picture-postcard town of wooden chalets, with horse-drawn sleighs trotting through the car-free streets, backed by views of the Matterhorn. Zermatt’s also known for the quality of its food, so take a long lunch break to indulge in cheesy fondue or browse the shops for traditional Swiss Christmas cookies. On Christmas Day, you can go to St Peters church for the English-language service that’s been held every year since 1870. Then ring in the New Year with music, fireworks and Champagne in the church square.
One of Canada’s top ski resorts, Whistler dazzles at Christmas with 350,000 lights, and entertainment that ranges from family après parties to carol services and everything in between. Watch pro skiers in action at the Fire & Ice shows, don a costume on the slopes for Dress Like Santa Day, or follow a magical trail of lights through the woods at the Vallea Lumina walk. Hotels get in on the fun too – the Four Seasons transforms its lobby into a sparkling pine forest and the Fairmont Chateau puts on a whole host of activities, from Christmas crafts to cookie decorating. Or you can just grab a special festive cocktail from the bar and cosy up around the outdoor fire pits.
Selva Val Gardena, Italy
Experience an authentic South Tyrolean Christmas in Selva Val Gardena. Surrounded by the dramatic Dolomite mountains and Europe’s biggest ski area, the town is full of festive traditions. In the centre, hundreds of lights are strung up and hung with carved wooden cable car cabins. And spread out below them is the Christmas market, where you can browse stalls of local crafts, and savour hot mulled wine, gingerbread and pastries. As for New Year, Selva delivers on all the ski resort classics with a torchlit descent, live music, lasers and fireworks.