Mont Tremblant: Slopes, sleds, spas, and more to explore
(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)
You know you’re someplace special the moment you step off the plane at Mont Tremblant International Airport. With forest view in every direction, smell of wood smoke in the air, and a cozy log cabin terminal with couches and fireplace, you might think you’re at a lodge instead of arriving at Quebec’s third international airport.
The 35 kilometer drive north takes you through a picturesque countryside with winding roads and quaint country homes, before the landscape opens to reveal the Mont Tremblant resort village nestled in the Laurentian Mountains. The scene is breathtaking, and with beckoning downhill runs looming as a backdrop, you’ll either feel keen anticipation, or rising anxiety. I mostly felt the latter.
I’ve never considered myself a skier, and have only been on slopes with slippery boards strapped to my feet a handful of times. To tell you the truth, the thought of speeding down a mountain scares the heck out of me. Yet, I welcome the opportunity to get better at the sport. So when I heard that Mont Tremblant has one of the best ski schools in the country, with one of the best beginner runs, how could I refuse?
Mont Tremblant has 96 trails spanning both the north and south sides of the mountain, but I was concerned with only one. At 6 kilometers in length and starting at the very top, Nansen would be the longest and highest trail I’d ever skied. If in fact I decided to ski it. The idea was hugely intimidating, and I wondered if I should even try. Maybe I should just go to the nice safe spa instead…
Scandinave Spa was the first Scandinavian-inspired spa in Canada, combining age-old thermal tradition with award-winning design. I’ve visited thermal spas before, and embrace the notion of hot followed by cold. Here, the coldest cold means plunging yourself into the frigid waters of La Diable river though an actual hole cut out of the actual ice. A must-try experience, likely only once.
Other wintry activities include ice-skating on the groomed rink beside St-Bernard Chapel, complete with music, coloured lights, and crackling fire. Guests staying at any of the village resorts, like Ermitage du Lac located right next door, enjoy free skate rentals.
Dog sledding is definitely bucket-list worthy. Six dogs per sled are chosen by handlers from a pack of 250, most of which are rescue animals. You walk the dogs one-by-one from kennel to harnessing area, all the while they’re eagerly tugging on their leash, showing just how much they love to run. Once the dogs are harnessed, teams of two people are assigned to each sled – one to steer it along hilly forest trails, and the other to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The moonlight snowshoe and fondue tour provides a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, 1.5 kilometer hike through stunning snow-steeped woods to a log cabin where dinner, wine and music are served, then a 3.5 kilometer hike DOWN the mountain IN THE DARK, lit by headlamps. It’s an awesome adventure, and spectacular way to spend an evening, even if trekking downhill in snowshoes was particularly treacherous for a prairie girl more comfortable on flat terrain.
Now, back to the downhill skiing part… did I attempt Nansen?? You bet I did. In the hands of expert ski instructor Ellen Guay, whose son Erik is a World Cup alpine ski racer, I learned about technique, control, and most importantly, how to stop. She instilled so much confidence in me that, with her guidance, I skied from the very top of the mountain to the very bottom. Then we went back up and conquered Nansen a second time. And then a third time – that time all by myself!
At the end of the weekend, do I consider myself an expert skier? No, not at all. But I did make it from top of a mountain all the way to bottom, three times, with everything intact, and had a great time doing it.
To me, that’s all that counts.