A mountain of joy

Nearly 70 years ago, Joe Ryan strapped on his snowshoes and with a local guide and hiked through the thigh high snow to the top of Mont Tremblant, the tallest mountain in Quebec. Ryan was a wealthy socialite from Philadelphia who had seen most of the Wonders of the World, but even he wasn’t prepared for the view. In every direction he turned, stretching all the way to the horizon, were rows of ancient, granite peaks and thousands of lakes and rivers, all framed by deep forest.

Ryan was smitten and on the spot and decided to build a ski resort. For the next 40 years, Tremblant was the place to ski and be seen on the eastern seaboard with visitors ranging from John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie to Jack Nicholson. However, by the late 1980’s the lodge had become tired and rundown. In 1991, it was purchased by Intrawest Corp., the Canadian based property company that owns and operates resorts across North America including Whistler.

Today, Joe Ryan would recognize the mountain and the scenery but little else at Mont Tremblant. Over the last decade, the company has pumped nearly a billion dollars into the project, turning Tremblant into a four seasons playground.

Whilehe soul of Tremblant will always be the mountain, the heart of the resort is now the village. Instead of the usual concrete condo boxes, Tremblant’s buildings look like they’ve been airlifted straight from the French Alps. They are painted in slashes of pastel, creams and oranges with red and silver roofs, punctuated with wrought iron balconies and cobblestone squares. The village’s intangible is of course the local joie de vivre. In short, anybody coming to Tremblant better be prepared to have a good time.

The pedestrian-only village now encompasses over 75 shops and restaurants and the choices are enough to make a gourmand go weak in the knees. The village is home to nearly 40 eating establishments and even the short list includes Japanese, Mexican, Italian, French (fondues, raclettes, truffles and crepes) and Quebecois restaurants.

The shopping options are just as impressive with book and jewelry stores and 20 clothing outlets highlighting the latest sporting lines from Nike, Burton, Helly Hansen and Roots. And of course, as Tremblant is the Quebec capital of fun, the village is dotted with bars and clubs where the nightlife often rolls into the morning light.

Parents though will be glad to know that the village isn’t exclusive to the young and single set. Tremblant is family friendly too. In the summertime, kids can run away to the circus or at least the Flying Trapeze and Bungee Jumping trampoline, where impossibly limber instructors teach children the tricks of the Big Top. The village is also home to a two-screen cinema and Le Studio Creatif, where families can brush up on their painting and pottery skills. Most importantly for parents on rainy days is the indoor pool (its local name sounds so much grander – Aquaclub La Source). It includes a fitness centre, water aerobics, a Tarzan swing and indoor and outdoor whirlpools.

Skiing and now snowboarding are still the major winter pastimes at Mont Tremblant. The 915-metre tall mountain features 92 trails, 121 acres of glade skiing and two snow parks. There are 12 lifts, including an $8 million dollar heated gondola and one of the best ski schools on any mountain. In fact, the readers of Ski Magazine have been so impressed with the resort that they’ve voted Tremblant the top ski destination in eastern North America seven out of the last eight years. The mountain has also been home base to some legendary skiers including Lucille Wheeler, who won a bronze medal at the 1958 Olympics and was the first North American to win a World Ski Championship.

For those looking for a break from the boards, the Tremblant area has lots of other winter diversions such as sleigh rides, dog sledding, ice climbing, tubing, snowmobiling and horseback riding through the powder. If that all sounds like too much work, then the Fairmont Tremblant Hotel offers full scale pampering at their spa.

The summer and fall, which for years were considered the off-season at the mountain, are now as busy as the wintertime. There is tennis, boating, roller blading, hiking, swimming or simply lazing on the beach. The real change though is golf. There are now six courses in the area plus a multi-million dollar practice facility and Tremblant has become one of Canada’s premier golfing destinations. Le Diable Golf Course grabbed international headlines as host of the 1999 Skins Game. Canadian star Mike Weir put a whupping on headliners David Duval, John Daly and Fred Couples, taking home most of the Skins and almost all of the cash. All of the players were impressed with the layout, especially the par 3’s. The sixth hole alone drops nearly four time zones between the tee and green.

In fact, Fred Couples liked the area so much that he co-designed Le Maitre Golf Course, which opened in June of 2001. One of the most popular and successful golfers of his generation, Couples combines a model’s good looks with an “aw shucks” personality. The course reflects his image. It is a handsome layout that zigzags through forest and marshland.

Golf, skiing and snowboarding, tennis, fine dining, spas and good times. Mont Tremblant really is the land of joie de vivre.

For more information on this destination visit the Canadian Tourism Commission website at www.travelcanada.ca.

Getting there
By road: Mont Tremblant is located 90 minutes north of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountain region. It is easily accessible by car from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. For more information on the area, including various transportation facilities (limousines, shuttles) from Montreal-area airports and Via Rail contact www.laurentides.com and www.tremblant.com.

By Air: Voyageur Airways offers twice-weekly air service to and from Mont-Tremblant International Airport (MTI) and Toronto Pearson International

Airport. Planes pull in from the 80-minute flight to the new airport (built in the style of a traditional Quebec log cabine), located on the site of a former Canadian Air Force base near the village of La Macaza, which is about 25 minutes by coach from the slopes of the resort. Book flights through www.tremblant.com .

Fairmont Tremblant Hotel: Phone: 819-681-7000. Visit: www.fairmont.com .
For a variety of accommodations ranging from deluxe hotels to condominium rentals to chalets, consult the Mont Tremblant central accommodations registry: Phone: 1-866-836-3030 or visit www.tremblant.com.

Ian Cruickshank is a Toronto-based freelance golf and travel writer. For the last 15 years he has contributed to publications across North America and Britain, including Golf Digest, The Sunday Times Magazine, Maclean’s and the inflight magazines of Air Canada and American Airlines.

Photo: ©Robin Edgar/Tourisme Québec