(Re)learning to Ski, at 57, at Quebec’s Mont Tremblant, Plus Where to Refuel After Hitting the Slopes
A popular destination for a variety of winter sports, Mont Tremblant is also a foodie haven with scads of great places to eat and drink. Photo: mathieukor/Getty Images
Forty years ago, I went to Quebec’s Laurentians region, just north of Montreal, on a high school French trip. That’s when I tried downhill skiing for the first — and, until recently, the last time.
Because I didn’t understand the French instructions, I ended up at the top of the bunny hill with no idea what I was doing and no clue how to stop.
To make a long story short, I fell multiple times. I fell off the T-bar tow rope. I skied into the T-bar and then I crashed into the hut where the T-bar operator worked, sparking a volley of angry French.
At the end of the weekend, when I finally made it down the hill without either falling or causing an interprovincial incident, my entire class cheered. But instead of pride, I felt shame. I swore I would never put on downhill skis again. And it had been easy to keep that promise, until a recent trip to the Mont Tremblant ski resort. I was with a group of other non-skiers, who urged me to join them for a lesson.
For four decades, my skiing phobia had irked me. I’m no Evel Knievel, but I have tried some crazy things. I’ve gone paragliding. I’ve strolled an outdoor catwalk 356 metres above Toronto on the CN Tower’s EdgeWalk. Hell, I’ve even done stand-up comedy. Being afraid of two strips of wood and a hill was starting to seem ridiculous. So, at age 57, off I went to ski school.
The first step was getting fitted with rental equipment. To my relief, ski bindings have come a long way since the ’80s. Now, boots clip easily and securely into the skis. When I met our instructor, Laurent Bilodeau, my optimism increased. With his greying beard, he wasn’t the gen-Z daredevil I’d feared. And, thank heaven, the lesson would be in English.
“Skiing is a sport of balance,” he informed us as we clustered at the bottom of the bunny hill, trying not to shiver in the -21 degree morning sunshine.
He walked us through the basics, including the most important tip: How to slow down and stop by fanning our skis into a V shape. Officially, the verb is to “snowplow,” but Bilodeau said he teaches his youngest students to “pizza.”
Soon, it was time to start. Fortunately, like bindings, ski hill transport has improved since 1983. Instead of the T-bar of my nightmares, there was a “magic carpet”—a moving sidewalk through the snow.
At the top of the hill, I reminded myself I wasn’t 17 anymore. No one is going to laugh at me.
I pointed my skis downward and started to move. Within seconds, I’d implemented what I soon nicknamed the “Full Pizza.” Skis splayed and knees together, I stuttered down the hill at a speed closer to turtling than hurtling, but I didn’t fall.
On my second run, I set off down the hill a bit faster — and tumbled. Bilodeau hauled me upright. “You good?” he asked. I nodded and set off again.
And so the morning went: Up the magic carpet. Down the hill. Repeat. After every few runs, Bilodeau would teach us another skill, such as shifting our weight from side to side to turn. Eventually, he showed us how to rise unassisted from a fall.
Sitting with my skis on, I was supposed to contort myself into something called “the frog.” That involved twisting onto my stomach while holding my legs up. Next, I was to rest the skis behind me on the snow while raising my torso with my arms. The last step was to lever myself up.
My hips and knees screamed, “Are you kidding me?”
Trying to “frog” felt like doing swan, dolphin and pigeon yoga poses simultaneously. I floundered like a trout in a boat. Bilodeau finally advised me to unclip my skis, stand up and put them back on. I did, abashed but unbowed.
Eventually, he deemed the class ready for a slightly longer, steeper run. One by one, my fellow students took off down the bigger hill. Bilodeau let them go. But when he saw me preparing for Full Pizza, he maneuvered himself in front to keep me from going too fast.
Annoyance flashed through me. I’d thought I was doing quite well, aside from the whole frog incident. Why was he singling me out for extra babysitting? But then I realized nervousness must be emanating from my every pore. He was just trying to be kind.
Slowly, I started down the hill. Despite the Full Pizza, I picked up speed. Bilodeau still blocked my path. “Slowly, slowly,” he called.
Then, suddenly, I didn’t want to go slowly.
I shifted my weight to the right and skied past Bilodeau. I heard him yell, “You okay?” as I went by.
“Don’t worry,” I yelled back. I leaned right, leaned left, drawing on skills I’d developed over years of skating. “I’m fine!”
And I was.
If You Go:
Mont Tremblant has scads of great places to eat and drink. At the base of the lifts, the Axe Lounge Bar at the Fairmont Tremblant hotel mixes up posh cocktails. Le P’tit Caribou is a somewhat rowdier après-ski institution with a dance floor and multiple bar counters; its caesar is garnished with olives, a pickle and a slice of beef jerky.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, the huge fondue and raclette platters at Swiss-style La Savoie should satisfy you. A Mano Trattoria serves pizza and pasta made in traditional Italian styles. For instance, its spaghetti carbonara is sauced without cream, unlike typical North American versions.
Need to work off all that food, but downhill skiing isn’t your style? D-Tour rents equipment and offers tours for winter sports all sorts, including fat biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Soak away your aches and pains at Spa Scandinave, a Nordic-style spa with a range of saunas, hot tubs, cold showers and pools, and relaxation areas. Take a dip in the frigid Diable River below the spa if you’re feeling particularly brave.
For more information on Tremblant, go here.