Chef Ned Archibald never really celebrated Christmas. Not like the most of us anyway.
Keystone Resort's executive pastry chef grew up in the baking business. With most of the demand for pastries being around the holiday season, Archibald always found himself at work on Christmas Day, but he doesn't care - in fact, he prefers it that way.
So every year, the esteemed pastry chef brings the Chocolate Village to Keystone Resort's Lodge and Spa, where it's proudly situated in the lobby. Guests enter the building and instantly smell what some on-lookers describe as "divine."
"I realized I'm just cut out to work on holidays. I like it, I've always thought that I'm contributing to other people's happiness and that one day that makes me feel very satisfied and fulfilled," Archibald said. "But I didn't really realize it until I took a Thanksgiving off - I only took it off because the Patriots were playing."
Anyone acquainted with the master pastry chef knows that Archibald is a huge Patriots fan, he even created an 8-pound, solid chocolate football proudly displaying his team's logo as one of the hand-made gifts in the display.
After catching a bit of flack, he added a similar Bronco football to the village. Other than that, the village is largely a classic, Norman Rockwell-inspired scene. A chocolate waterfall pours out of the chocolate mountain surrounded by chocolate trains. The tree, the presents (both wrapped and unwrapped) - every meticulous detail - are made of solid chocolate weighing in at approximately 6,500 pounds, according to Archibald.
"Chef Ned," as everyone calls him, is a real-life Willy Wonka. He has cameras monitoring the village 24-hours-a-day, allowing him to view his creation from home, and his favorite feature of the village is the chocolate waterfall, inspired by the 1971 film.
Some Christmas gifts are just too big to wrap for Christmas morning, like the life-size chocolate rocking horse situated among the white-chocolate Christmas tree and huge pile of gifts each with detailed chocolate wrap and bows made fresh year after year.
Archibald's father-in-law, who was a carpenter, was fascinated with the pastry chef's talent in carving chocolate.
"I told my father-in-law what I was planning to do and he asked how the heck I was going to create a chocolate rocking-horse," said Archibald, who at the time had no idea how he would pull it off. "He went into his workshop and came out with this really old, tattered manilla folder - inside was the template to a rocking horse he had made for my wife."
So, sitting among the pile of gifts is an exact replica of the rocking horse that Archibald's wife had when she was only 5 years old.
"She thought it was the coolest thing ever," he said.
Also on the set of Keystone's Chocolate Village, is a very presidential Teddy bear.
President Bill Clifton stayed at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, Calif., while Archibald was a chef during the early 1990s. Months leading up to the esteemed guest's arrival, Archibald met with the U.S. Secret Service to plan a menu for the president.
"I asked if we were going to do some kind of welcome amenity for the president," Archibald said. "I wanted to make something out of chocolate but the advisor said the president was on a very strict diet and no sweets were to be permitted in his room."
Archibald was dismayed. Later that evening, an idea to give a chocolate Teddy bear to a 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton struck him.
"I go back to my public relations people and tell them to ask the president's advisor about the idea - he loved it," Archibald said.
The 12-pound chocolate teddy bear, dubbed "Cocoa," was a hit - until the Secret Service tried to x-ray it. Archibald said it felt like a scene out of a movie.
"A little bit later, two guys dressed like the Men in Black, talking into their sleeves flash their credentials and demand to know what was inside the bear," Archibald remembers.
The Secret Service explained they tried to x-ray the gift and had dogs sniffing it but had no indication of what was inside of what was apparently "un-x-rayable," said Archibald.
To appease the men, Archibald drilled a hole in the back of the solid-chocolate teddy-bear.
"They saw the chocolate come out and seemed satisfied so I patched up the hole and packaged it for the president's daughter and it was hand-delivered to her on Air Force 1," Archibald said. "It was a proud moment from my career."
The village is now in its 17th year at Keystone.
The first year of the display, back in 1995, was so popular, the ski area asked him not to do it. The management personnel group at the time said the display was causing too much foot-traffic and noise in the lobby as guests tried to check-in and use the valet.
"It was new and different," Archibald said. "It was nuts, I was really digging it and getting all this praise and yet, little did I know, management didn't like all the hustle."
The following Christmas, the resort opted for a more conservative attraction - a classic, fresh Christmas tree. Archibald said the replacement did not go over well.
"They got so many complaints they came back to me and said 'you have got to bring this thing back' and I was happy to," Archibald said.
So after a year-off in 1996, the Chocolate Village returned to Keystone for the 1997 holiday season and has remained a yearly tradition.