By Bill Scheller
It was eighteen, maybe twenty above zero (-8° / -7° C) at twilight, and the other guests and I could barely see each other in the mist rising from the big hot tub outside La Tour des Voyageurs, our hotel in Mont Tremblant village at the base of magnificent Mont Tremblant. We were up to our shoulders in soothing warm water, discussing the day skiing Mount Tremblant.
Each of us, in our impromptu group of soakers, may as well have been talking about a different mountain. Along with crisp, cold, sunny days and plenty of snow, what skiers crave most of all is variety. We like the challenging steeps, but also the broad, meticulously groomed cruisers that elbow this way and that down a mountain’s flank.
At the end of a day, even the more experienced among us often like to ease out gently, maybe on a trail that remind us of learning days. Tremblant has them all, in ample supply – and that’s why this one mountain was a different mountain for each of us.
Tremblant is the highest peak in Quebec’s Laurentians, a billion-year- old mass of granite that rises some 80 miles (130 km) north of Montreal. At just under 3,200 feet, it’s not all that lofty even by eastern North American standards, but its isolation creates an illusion of far greater height. It offers magnificent summit views, of Lac Tremblant to the south, and across Mont-Tremblant National Park and a vast boreal emptiness to the north.
But what Tremblant lacks in altitude, it makes up for with that splendid variety of terrain, with a challenging use of the mountain’s available steep grades, and with superb grooming that makes the most of an annual average 150-inch snowfall supplemented by snowmaking capability covering more than 70 percent of the skiable area.
Another big plus for the mountain is its abundance of expert trails that mitigate formidable pitch with a forgiving width. I mostly ski in my home state of Vermont, but I often find myself wishing its best expert trails were wider than my skis are long.
Tremblant’s skiing history dates to 1938, when wealthy Philadelphia sportsman Joe Ryan made an ascent on skis fitted with free-heel cable bindings and sealskins that prevented backsliding. Ryan was accompanied by his friend, the American writer and radio personality Lowell Thomas, an avid skier who would promote Tremblant in articles and broadcasts over the coming years.
A year after Ryan’s first Tremblant experience, he bought property on the mountain, installed the first lift, and built the earliest of the chalet-styled structures that would become the nucleus of Mont Tremblant Village at its base.
After a series of owners, Tremblant was acquired in 2017 by the multi-resort firm Alterra, which so far has committed $17 million CDN to trail expansion and village upgrades. “Alterra is skiing-oriented,” says Tremblant’s Pierre-Alexandre Legault. “It’s not just a real estate developer, like some resort conglomerates.” For skiers, one advantage of the new ownership is participation in its Ikon pass program, offering access to 38 worldwide destinations, including the company’s own ski resorts such as Vermont’s Stratton, California’s Squaw Valley, Utah’s Deer Valley, and Colorado’s Steamboat.
Skiing Mont Tremblant
But I had only one mountain on my mind as I rode the eight-person “Telecabine” gondola to Tremblant’s summit on a recent January day, ready to tackle the trails that I’d be talking about in the hot tub that night. There are three major sides to the mountain – the South (Versant Sud), the North (Versant Nord), and the Versant Soleil, or “Sunny Side,” as well as a new North Side adjunct temptingly called Le Edge, which means, well …
I was set to start off skiing Mount Tremblant on Tobaggan, a South Side run I’d enjoyed on previous visits, but my companion for the day, Luc Goudreault of the resort’s volunteer “Info Ski” team, suggested that we’d better wait for the morning breezes to die down. “People think the North Side will be colder,” Luc told me, “but when there’s wind off Lac Tremblant south of the mountain, it’s just the opposite.”
We started off easy on the North Side’s P’tit Bonheur, finishing partway down the mountain at the Lowell Thomas chairlift, then rode it back to the summit and took a more challenging trail named for that Tremblant pioneer. A trip down Beauchemin Bas took us all the way to the North Side base. After a few more top to bottom North Side runs, the south wind had died down and I was ready for my old favorite, Toboggan. I was looking forward to a spot halfway down, off to the left, where you can fly free of the ground for a couple of yards if you hit it right coming out of a turn.
The Feel of a Trapper’s Camp in the North Woods
That spot was still there, alright, but so was one I hadn’t known about. Luc pointed to an easily overlooked side trail that led to “The Refuge,” a log cabin tucked into a clearing in the woods. Gaslit and heated by a wood stove, it serves simple fare – soup, coffee, tea, hot cocoa – and has the feel of a trapper’s camp in the middle of the North Woods.
For a heartier lunch, the summit spot is Le Grand Manitou, where lifts and trails on all three sides converge. Ski lodge fare is never a bargain – no skier expects one – but Tremblant does lunch right, and makes you feel that your money was well spent. My Vermont ski haunts are home to the petrified French fry, and the foil-wrapped burger cooked sometime this year – but at the Manitou, there’s actually a custom crepe station. That border crossing means an awful lot.
Over the next couple of days skiing Mount Tremblant, I retraced these trails, and discovered – and rediscovered – many others. I found that the fast little Fuddle Duddle – it was named for a nonsense phrase former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau uttered when he was suspected of starting to say a different f-word – had been transformed, on its upper reaches, into a thigh-burning bump trail, and I ended my afternoons with lazy runs down the long, looping Nansen. It’s a bit under my abilities, but by three p.m. most of us who learned in wooden ski days are under our abilities. I’m saving for next time Versant Soleil’s long, remote Algonquin, still awaiting grooming on this visit, and the new trails on The Edge, which are, I assume, edgy.
The Casino and Mont Tremblant Village
I even dropped down the Toboggan for a visit to the Casino Mont-Tremblant, the only ski-in, ski-out gaming destination I know of (it’s also accessible by gondola and shuttle bus from the village). It was daytime, so I was too early for the handsome grill room – and, fortunately for my gas money home, for the blackjack tables – but I have it in mind for a big night out next time I’m at Tremblant. I even had a peek into the high-stakes room, where I could picture Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig, in sleek black ski togs, suavely confronting a malefactor.
After skiing Mount Tremblant all day, I spent my evenings in Mont Tremblant village, at the South Side base. The village is pedestrian-only, except at its outskirts. Up around Place St. Bernard, at the foot of the slopes, you will see no vehicles at all, just as if you were in car-free Zermatt. It’s all handled very cleverly: you can drive to underground hotel garages at the periphery, and then forget your car. There are free-standing hotels in Mont Tremblant village – the Fairmont Tremblant is the most lavish, and closest to the slopes – but many of the condo-style accommodations are tucked into buildings that look like row houses on a European street, with colorful metal roofs and shops or restaurants on the ground floor.
As on past excursions skiing Mount Tremblant, I enjoyed strolling the cheerful streets after the day’s skiing, picking out my dining destination for the evening. (On weekends, though, reservations are recommended at all but the more informal Tremblant restaurants.) An old favorite is La Savoie, which specializes in fondue – not just cheese fondue, though they serve that too, but the kind where you spear morsels of lean beef, seafood, or chicken into hot oil and cook it at your table.
But since the necessary setups require a minimum of two persons, and I was dining solo, my choice for a special dinner at one of Tremblant’s restaurants was Coco Pazzo, a sprightly Italian spot where I enjoyed crostini spread with a brandade of salt cod, a shank of locally-raised piglet with skin done to a crackly turn, and a bone-dry Sicilian red.
You don’t just ski to work up to a meal like that. My hotel’s hot tub was fine, but for a special soak – a series of soaks – I drove a few miles over to Spa Scandinave, where I was greeted with a fluffy robe and towels, and a guide to a warren of indoor and outdoor pools, dry and steam sauna rooms, and patios where blanketed lounge chairs circled blazing wood fires.
The spa’s recommendation was for fifteen minutes in the 101° (38°C) pool, with a waterfall that pleasantly felt like fifty warm ball-peen hammers on my shoulders, followed by a quick dip into 51° (10.5°C) waters – or even a nippy trundle down to the Devil’s River for a real wake-up. I dutifully proceeded, but found that my favorite bit of hydrotherapy was a good sweat in Spa Scandinave’s eucalyptus-scented steam room, where you could take a quick cold shower and scurry back over into the steam.
Freshly steamed, I walked back to my car. Along the way, as if on cue – or as if summoned by faint New Age music – a big whitetail doe poked her way up to the path. Ski and spa days don’t end any better than that.
If You Go:
1000 Chemin des Voyageurs
Mont-Tremblant, QC J8E 1T1 Canada
The Activity Center, in Mont Tremblant village at the foot of the South Side ski trails opposite the Telecabine Gondola, is the central reservation and ticketing area for all activities on and around the mountain. In addition to alpine skiing, these include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, fat-tire bicycling (some bikes have electric assist), dogsledding, snowmobiling, and much more. Reservations for Spa Scandinave may also be made here.
300 Chemin des Pleiades
Mont-Tremblant, QC J8E 0A7
The Casino is open Thursday through Sunday during ski season.
4280 Montée Ryan
Mont-Tremblant, QC J8E 1S4
Spa Scandinave offers massage service by appointment.