The Joys of Winter at Mont Tremblant, Quebec
The snow started slowly, almost hesitant, as if uncertain about its form. For ten minutes or twenty, it looked as if we would get icy rain - and then, miraculously, the snow commenced: big fluffy fat flakes that clustered on our lashes and clung to our scarves and gloves. Unbeknownst to those of us already atop the summit of Mont Tremblant in Quebec, the entire region was about to be slammed with the year’s first major snowstorm - but all we knew was that the snow was now falling fast all over the mountain.
For those of us who live for winter and snow, few natural sights are more numinous than the sky opening up and shaking down buckets of white confetti. As Dylan Thomas wrote so eloquently of snow in his masterwork "A Child’s Christmas in Wales," "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely-ivied the walls and settled..."
And that’s how it was atop Mont Tremblant, the highest peak in the Quebec Laurentians. Originally called the "mountain of the great Manitou" (or Great Spirit) by the Algonquin, Mont Tremblant is, as the civic boosters declare, "a mountain of possibilities."
A year-round resort with lakes and golf courses, Mont Tremblant resort is best known as a ski destination with 700 acres of ski terrain on slopes with inclines as steep as 42 degrees. First opened as an alpine village in 1939 (the original lodge remains a part of the current pedestrian village), Mont Tremblant was purchased in 1991 by Intrawest, at which point the resort began its ascent to the peak of North American ski resorts. For the past fourteen years, from 1998-2010, SKI Magazine has voted Mont Tremblant the "Top Ski Resort in Eastern North America." Conde Nast Traveller named Mont Tremblant the number one resort for activities, while Tourisme Quebec gave the resort a five-star rating.
Soaring to nearly 3,000 feet at the summit, Mont Tremblant includes 14 lifts on four mountain faces with 95 downhill trails evocatively (and somewhat alarmingly) named Devil’s River, Dynamite, Boiling Kettle, Flying Mile, High Tension, and - our favorite, of course - Sissy Schuss. Best of all? Mont Tremblant’s annual snowfall is more than thirteen feet.
By noon, the coniferous trees at the summit resembled sketches from Tim Burton’s notebook: wedding cake pines, laden with meringue. The powder on the trails kept accumulating and due to the highway conditions on the roads from Montreal, the slopes remained uncrowded - so much so that we could have been 17th-century "coureur des bois," voyaging deep into the snow-swept wilderness.
Fortunately, a week (or a weekend) spent at Mont Tremblant in the 21st century is marked by a level of pampering and coddling unbeknownst to those 17th-century woodsmen. At the base of the mountain is a charming European-style pedestrian village that recalls Dylan Thomas’s depiction of his own childhood home. With 75 boutiques and restaurants, you can warm yourself with such regional specialties as a brown sugar pudding, made of maple syrup, sugar, butter, and eggs - and enough calories to fortify you for a day on the slopes.
A member of Sustainable Slopes for environmentally-friendly operations, Mont Tremblant makes skiing as easy as putting on your shoes. A ski valet at the base of the mountain secures your equipment by day or overnight. If you’re an early snowbird, you can board the express gondola at 7:45 in the morning and ride to the summit to be the first on the groomed trails.
Lodging options at Mont Tremblant include outposts of Hilton, Marriott, Westin, and, our favorite, the Fairmont Tremblant, where your room overlooks the slopes and where you can ski off the mountain and right into a sanctuary of warmth at one of their après-ski lounges. The Fairmont Tremblant retains a fur-trapping aesthetic with fieldstone walls hung with kayaks and canoes - and where everything that is done for you is done "avec plaisir."
Built as a four-season resort, Mont Tremblant offers championship golf courses, biking, hiking, cycling, tennis, river rafting, alpine and cross-country skiing, ice climbing, ice skating, snowshoeing, snowboarding, dogsledding, tubing, sleigh rides, Scandinavian baths - and the Casino Mont-Tremblant atop the mountain. For those who visit the mountain resort during winter - and particularly during a fresh snowfall - few activities are more romantic than a sleigh ride across a snowy field. And for those more adventurous, mushing your own dog sled over the hills and through the woods of the Laurentians will make you proud of your fortitude - and grateful for interior heat.
All through the afternoon, the snow kept on falling. The conditions were exemplary: fresh powder and unsullied trails. Snowboarders were delirious - and everyone you met on the gondola was smiling uncontrollably at their good fortune at being on this mountain in the midst of this historic snowfall.
On our last run of the day, we took the longest trail down the mountain, nearly four miles long. This was winter heaven! This was snow nirvana! This was the joy of winter - and we felt as giddy as a kid, as free as a bird, and as happy as anyone who’s ever skied Mont Tremblant. Bliss achieved.
(Travel feature continues on next pages: Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat, Getting There...)