I think those villages are quite calm when it is not ski season, although of course the Matterhorn does attract tourists at all seasons (particularly Japanese and Indians). I went to Saas-Fee (near Zermatt) in October once, it was completely asleep -- no more summer tourists and ski season not yet started.
I know Zermatt intimately. I used to take my family there to ski every year and stay in a chalet owned by the Julens. For me it's one of the best places to ski; there are few easy (blue) runs and lots of challenging stuff. It's nice to take a cable car up to the top of the Kleine Matterhorn and ski down to the glacier and/or ski into Italy at Valtournanches for lunch before taking a lift back to the top of the glacer to ski down to Zermatt for the night. It's easy to get lost in these mountains. There are also a few scary moraines up high with frightful drops on each side and quite a few well-known 'walls of death' for the brave.
You definitely stayed with the locals, Spindrift! The families in Zermatt are mostly called Julen or Zurbriggen or such. I've skied down a few "walls of death" in my youth, but I am not sure I will ski again.
Dans les grandes choses, les hommes se montrent comme il leur convient de se montrer; dans les petites, ils se montrent comme ils sont.
It was Margrit Julen who taught me, and my children, to ski...and we stayed in her mother's house. About half-way up the main street on the right (looking up the street from the station) , not far from a bakery (also in the main street).
One year I broke my left leg at the top of the glacier. It was shattered. I had major surgery in an old doctor's clinic in the main street. (I'll try and think of the clinic's name) but it wasn't successful. I might put up a picture if I can get the scanner to work.
What interesting discussion, those are lovely pictures. It does look positively chilly, though! Love all the pretty Christmas, doesn't look near so silly among snow somehow as here where normally it is quite warm and even green at Christmas. Spinny, I assume you had further surgery elsewhere to get everything fixed up?