Ste Foy Tarentaise

Christmas in the French Alps

 Santa Rides the Zip-line

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Ste Foy Tarentaise, France December 22-29 2012

What? Santa doesn’t arrive on a zip-line? Well, much to the delight of the crowd of children waiting his arrival, that is how he made his appearance Christmas Eve in the small family oriented ski resort of Ste Foy, in the French Alps near the Italian border.

Ray and I had taken the train from Paris with Erica, Andrew and the two boys, Atticus and Roman, the previous Saturday to the end of the line in the village of St Maurice. From there we had a 40 minute taxi van ride up the steep sides of the mountain to the ski resort at 1650 M. We had a three bedroom unit in a condo hotel a few meters from the ski lifts that would take us up the slopes. The Wilson family, Spenser and Libby with their children Phoebe and Max, who live near Erica and Andrew in Paris, had taken the overnight train the day before and were already out skiing. They had a two bedroom unit just down the hall from our unit. The previous week had seen snow storms every day and the piles of snow on the rooftops of the chalets promised a good week ahead of us. We were not disappointed. There were four chair lifts reaching up to 2700 M, well beyond the tree line.

We hustled the children out each morning for their ski lessons from 9 AM until noon. The rest of us tried the slopes on our own in the morning. Andrew finally succumbed to the allure of the slopes and signed up for lessons too. It was a good place to start as there were several other adults just learning to ski and there were plenty of well groomed trails to practise on. Lunch most days was outside on the sunny deck restaurant next to the first chair lift. We took the children for a few runs after lunch and then let them have fun in the good sized hotel indoor pool. Some of the adults, including me, took advantage of the sauna, steam room and whirlpool in the hotel spa. Erica and Andrew even booked a massage one afternoon. Dinners were joint affairs, prepared by us in the condo. The children were usually fed first and then the adults enjoyed a slightly more civilized meal.

Christmas Eve was a highlight. Notices posted in our hotel promised entertainment, carol signing and the arrival of Santa expected after dark that evening. By the time we got to the plaza with the children, there was already a good sized crowd gathered. A fire juggler of dubious talent, dressed in an elf costume, entertained. A guitar musician led the Christmas carol singing, mostly in English as this is a favourite resort for many people from Great Britain. Someone in the crowd noticed a white-bearded man in a red suit climbing up a ladder to the balcony of a chalet behind us. It had to be Santa, but what was he doing on the ladder? He was strapping himself into a safety harness attached to a cable that ran above our heads. The crowd let out a whoop of appreciation as Santa slid part way down the cable, stopped, grabbed a fist full of candies and tossed them into the crowd below. There was great excitement as each child tried to get at least one candy. Santa repeated the candy tossing twice more before reaching the end of the cable, attached to another balcony on the far side of the plaza, much to the delight of everyone.

That wasn’t the end of the fun. An explosion heralded a twenty minute display of fireworks. The children clustered by the railing overlooking the launch zone just below the plaza. Our grandchildren and their friend Max Wilson had a prime view and provided the loudest squeals each time a firework erupted. The crowd disbursed, the children back to their chalets and condos and many of the adults stopped to have a drink in one of the outdoor bars ringing the plaza. What a great way to start Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day arrived quietly. The boys were up before us but not too early. We joined them in the living room to open their stockings, which Ray and I had stocked the night before. It was a good thing we were there. Ray realized that Roman carefully emptying and refilling his stocking was causing the fake fireplace to come away from the wall. We quickly detached the stockings from the fireplace. Christmas day was business as usual. The conditions were still good and the ski lessons started on time. Everyone had a good day skiing.

Dinner was prepared by Andrew and Spenser. We had transported two frozen venison roasts from Paris and they had been marinating for the last 24 hours. Our dinner was delicious and there was enough meat left from the two roasts to make curried venison the next night. We also had a Bouche de NoŽl cake, bought in the local Pastry shop, for Atticus’s birthday. He also got to open some presents for his birthday. He was very pleased with his new watch from his parents and another hero figure from Max and Phoebe. There was even one present for Roman, a cowboy outfit, including chaps that needed my belt to hold them up. He had seen the outfit in a store and Andrew went back and bought it for him. He was thrilled.

As if there wasn’t already enough snow on the mountains, Thursday started with big, wet flakes of snow falling. It didn’t really let up until late in the afternoon and then resumed overnight. Instead of the predicted 16 cm of snow we ended up with 50 cm. The powder skiers were delighted on Friday. Ray and I stuck to the cruise runs but Erica and Spenser tested themselves. They admitted the snow was a bit heavy but managed to have a good time on some ungroomed trails.

Our train was due to leave at 2 PM Saturday. We had thought there would be time to ski in the morning but we all realized by Friday that would not be possible. We had a lot of work finding everything, packing, and getting out of the condo for 10 AM checkout. We just barely made it. The Wilsons were booked on the 4 PM train so they went out for a partial day of skiing after checking out.

Andrew rented plastic toboggans for the boys for the morning. They had a ball. The toboggan hill was steep enough for a good run on the plastic sleds, fortunately with good hand brakes, and there was a moving carpet to get everyone up the hill again. All in all it was a good week. We were tired but sorry to say good bye to Ste Foy.

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