Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Spirit

Holiday Horses at Fernie December 17 
Christmas is such an emotional, exciting and pivotal point of the year, isn't it? So many memories stretching back to our earliest experiences, each Dec 25 marking off turning points in our lives, careers and relationships. For me, the ultimate Christmas has always been spent skiing, with majestic mountains framing frivolity and festivities with family and friends. For the past 24 winters, my husband Simon, sons Rupert and Fergus, and I have spent the holidays in various ski resorts, but particularly Verbier in Switzerland - where I spent much of my 20s and 30s - and for the past 17 winters the beautiful Banff Lake Louise area in Canada. 
Hotel de Verbier, prime position at Place Centrale - courtesy of © VERBIER PROMOTION
Pere Noel on Telemark Skis in Verbier 

The attractions in Verbier included the immense ski-scape covering four valleys with incredible off-piste areas, glacier and itineraries, the quaint and hospitable Hotel de Verbier right in the town centre where we always stayed, and the sensational Swiss cuisine - fondues and raclettes are still my fave food! One day I will get back there, I hope, to see what has changed and what has endured in my 17 years of absence. I still have friends there thanks to the internet and this blog!

In Canada, there are so many things to love about Christmas, not least the wonderful wintery white that makes all the rustic buildings, fir trees and ski slopes look like part of the seasonal decor scheme. There is nothing better for me than wandering around the individually-owned shops in Canmore and Banff early evening after skiing, picking up stocking fillers for the boys and Simon. I also have the challenge of finding innovative little gifts that can fit into Christmas crackers
which I make for the Dec 25 table setting. I love browsing through the decorations in the Banff Christmas shop and marveling at the opulent ornaments in various hotels - particularly The Post and Deer Lodge at Lake Louise. A decadent dinner at Deer Lodge is also a hedonistic highlight after a downhill day: the elk and bison which come from their own ranch are highly recommended! Actually Lake Louise Ski Resort does a great decor job, too, especially at the Lodge of the Ten Peaks - apparently, the Locke family who own Lake Louise put them all up themselves every year! 
Heart-warming hearth at Deer Lodge, Lake Louise
Other holiday highlights for me include hot chocolate by skating rink firepits such as the one on the two-mile deep lake at the foot of Victoria Glacier at Chateau Lake Louise and sometimes at the Kananaskis Lodge near Nakiska. Although I am not a great skater, there is something about zooming around an outdoor rink in time to Christmas music that really sums up the season for me!
Mt Norquay, Banff
Hubby, sons and cousins in Canmore

Cold breath, icy nose, red cheeks, frozen hair - all these things I find invigorating as I trudge along crispy snow-covered hiking paths in Canmore to get to the shops, nightlife or friends' houses. The forested trails are so achingly beautiful, running alongside Policeman's Creek, criss-crossing it via whimsical wooden bridges with vivid views of the Three Sisters Mountains punctuating the tree-scape on clear days. Bundled up in Norwegian-style beanie, scarf, thick mitts, down jacket - and of course my secret weapons against the cold: Smartwool layers topped with my heated vest (from Volt)! - I am so happy and energized in the frigid, freezing environment. And, then, arriving at a cosy café or the inviting hearth of someone's home, what joy warming up by the fire and gradually peeling off all the layers in an ambient atmosphere of après ski appetizers! 
Cosy contrasts at Sunshine Village - warm and welcoming in the lodge and pristine and powdery outside
Carol singing in Breckenridge - courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office 
Other things I love about Christmas include carol singing which always brings back poignant pictures of wrapping up gifts with my sister while our mother instructed us on ribbon rolling and bow tying, at the same time teaching us her repertoire of carols. Decorating the tree and mantle, dressing up for festive dinners and parties, happy hours at the ski slopes, Canmore's plentiful pubs or friends' houses - all part of the mountain magic. 

70s skiing in Europe, my mum is there on the far left and I am in the middle fourth from the left next to my sister, Jo
on my right. Photo provided by Jackie Pountney on my left - Happy Memories!
Sunshine Village, Banff
Then, of course, there's the skiing itself: the main mountain motivation! A non-skiing Christmas to me means too much eating and too little outdoor activity. And so I thrive on getting on the slopes as many days as possible in the uncrowded run up to Christmas - it can often be the best time of the holiday season since everyone else is preoccupied with preparations, work, shopping and cooking. Christmas Eve and Dec 25 skiing is also magical - low on lift lines but full of festive spirit and an antidote to all the gourmet guzzling. Our habit is to have a biggish breakfast on Dec 25, go to Sunshine Village for a four-hour or so sensational ski, stopping for a cosy coffee break in the Java Express, saving our appetite for a decadent dinner later. We always share the cooking with friends, so if it's our turn to do the turkey we put it on low in the oven before leaving and nurture it when we get back. And we tend to save present opening until after skiing now the boys are old enough to restrain their excitement! 
Lake Louise Snowboarding Santa - Photo by Leigha Stankewich
All over North America, ski resorts put together enticing itineraries of Christmassy events to perpetuate these kinds of magical moments. The Banff Lake Louise area excels at this with a full schedule kicking off Dec 8 with the Christmas Open Studios at the Banff Centre and culminating with a Torchlight Christmas Dinner and Ski at Lake Louise on Dec 25. In between, there are events such as the Bow Valley Chorus, Santa on the Mountain, Brunch with Santa, Photos with Santa, Christmas Carols with the Valley Winds Choir, Mountain Top Christmas at the Banff Gondola, Community Ski Days, CP Holiday Train, Santa Suite at the Fairmont Banff Springs, Ice Carving, Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Sunshine Village, and Santa Shredz for Free at Mt Norquay on Dec 25. 

I would love to know how you spend your skiing or snowboarding Christmas. Feel free to send me photos and details at louise.hudson2011@gmail.com if you would like to be included in next year's Christmas articles. 

Here are an assortment of photos and links to help you decide where you would like to spend your perfect Christmas in the years ahead.

Aspen Snowmass
12 Days of Aspen, Dec 20-31

Events include free ice skating, visits with Santa and reindeer, s'mores-making parties, art, ornament-making, stocking-decorating workshops. 
The Holidays in Snowmass
December 6-24, children can drop off their gift wishlists in Santa’s Mailbox. The Snowmass Sun will feature select letters in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Annual tree lighting ceremony is Dec 10 with cookies, hot choc and carols. Free photos with Santa at his Magical Village Dec 21-24.

Snowbasin, Utah

Santa is just as rugged as the runs at Revelstoke - Photo by Agathe Bernard 

Gingerly icing a roof at Panorama  

Fat Biking Santa and Elf team at Kimberley

Naughty or Nice? at Nakiska

Santa practicing for descending chimneys at Panorama

Eldora Ugly Xmas Sweater Competition

Santa lends a helping hand at Deer Valley

Big Red skiing at Big White

Father Christmas cruising the corduroy at Aspen Snowmass 
Decadent Christmas dining at C Lazy U Ranch near Winter Park and Granby Ranch ski hills, Colorado 

The ultimate ski in/out hotel - Sunshine Mountain Lodge at Sunshine Village 
Race of the Santas at Breckenridge - courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office

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