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Mont Tremblant, Canada’s Laurentians

Four Seasons of Fun

Fairmont Tremblant Hotel, Winter Exterior

The Laurentians, les Laurentides, are Montreal"s mountain playground, a one- to one and one-half hour drive north of the city depending on where you"re headed. Actually the Laurentians aren"t mountains at all, but more of a hilly, forested plateau, part of the vast metamorphic expanse of the Canadian Shield, stretching northward—an iteration of lakes and dense forests blending seamlessly into le grand nord. But the Laurentians of Montreal weekends, summer vacations and winter sports lies at the bottom of the map of southern Quebec, beginning in St. Jerome not far from Montreal"s airport. Le Tourisme thins out at the border of the province"s wild region, Parc du Mont Tremblant, beyond the merged towns of St. Jovite and Mont Tremblant, location of the big mountain with big time skiing.

Mont Tremblant is, of course, best known to vacationers for winter sports. But in the warmer weather it has a multitude of attractions, too. There"s horseback riding, hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking and canoeing on the lake, five aquabranche courses, rock climbing, ATV, airplane and float plane rides, fishing, tennis, public golf courses and a golf academy. A maximum of 60 students, who are taught in groups of four, are accommodated at the academy on a given day. From late spring through early fall Le P"tit Train du Nord, which passes through dozens of Laurentian villages, makes stops on its run in St. Jovite and Mont Tremblant.

Long before the Europeans arrived and founded Quebec Tremblant was a legend. The Algonquins called it the "Trembling Mountain.” Colonized in the 19th century by Father Antoine Labelle, a French Catholic Priest and 5,000 settlers, they supported themselves primarily through farming and mining.

Fairmont Tremblant theraputic bath & pool area

The transformation of the area into a resort destination, the first in Canada and the second in North America, began with the arrival in 1938 of Jo Ryan, a wealthy eccentric Philadelphian. Upon climbing to the top of the Mont Tremblant summit and seeing the beautiful snow-covered landscape, he made the decision to devote himself to turning the surrounding wilderness into a skiing village. With the help of a local priest, Cure Hector Deslauriers, Ryan began by opening the Mont Tremblant Lodge one year later in 1939. The evolution of the area from a sparsely-populated wilderness into a world-class resort has been a gradual process and has taken place in fits and starts. The most recent step forward occurred in 1992 when IntraWest, the world's largest developer and operator of winter vacation destinations, purchased the Lodge and during the next five years invested nearly one billion dollars in building and in renovations and upgrades to the hotel and the nearby facilities.

A community draped with French-Canadian hospitality, the quaint village of cobblestone streets, bright color trim on chalet-like buildings, black iron street lamps and wrought iron railings ringing upper floor balconies is a European corner of North America. At its core, Rue des Ramparts links Place Bernard, and Jardins des Arts, plazas of shops, restaurants and open-air seating to Vieux Tremblant, a historic petit village with some of the original cottages.

For eight years in a row, the readers of Ski magazine voted Tremblant the top ski resort in Eastern North America. Last year they cited it as first in North America for accommodations in a ski area and for restaurants and services. Its "First Tracks” program encourages skiers to go up the lift in early morning, eat breakfast at the top and descend on freshly groomed snow.

At 2,871 feet, the mountain"s peak is the Laurentians tallest one. There are more than 600 acres of skiable and snowboarding terrain. Thirteen lifts and two gondolas serve 94 downhill trails. Even on weekends the wait at the gondolas are rarely more than 20 minutes and the ones at the lifts are usually shorter than five. Last season a snow park for snow boarders and free-style skiers with a wide range of modules, jumps, maneuver ramps and two new trails opened.

Motoneige Tremblant Snowmobile Company will outfit, instruct and guide you on half- and full-day tours on the packed trails through the back country. Tours range from an easy après-ski family tour to an all-day 12 hour "extreme adventure." Three-day tours of guided snowmobile riding including accommodations and dinner are also available.
Dog sledding, snowshoeing, sleigh riding, ice fishing, ice climbing and cross country skiing are other popular winter activities.

A session at Nature Spa Le Scandinave is the perfect antidote to a vigorous day of sports. The goal is to cleanse the skin by releasing toxins through the pores, improve one"s physical condition and provide a sense of well-being. The recommended procedure is to warm the body for roughly 10 minutes or so in the dry heat of a Finnish sauna, the moist heat of the Norwegian steam bath or the whirlpools and followed with a 30-second to two-minute dip in the cold water of the Diable River, running alongside the facility, or a man-made Nordic waterfall. Ten to 15 minutes of rest in the solarium, relaxation areas or on the terraces are recommended and complete the cycle of invigoration and winding-down.

Le Scandinave offers Swedish, Thai-yoga and stone therapy massages. A juice and snack bar stocks an assortment of healthy refreshments.

Le Scandinave, Tel. 819-425-5524 http://www.scandinave.com

Where to Dine

Center of Mont Tremblant Pedestrian Village

The village has 17 restaurants spanning a range of cuisines, motifs and prices.

One of the most elegant offering fine French dining is in the center of the village and is Le Loup-Garou, the premier restaurant in the Fairmont Tremblant Hotel. Executive Chef Laurent Miot, who was originally from Auvergne, France, trained at the world-famous Ecole Hoteliere de Paris. In keeping with the Chef's background, the Loup-Garou menu evolved from traditional French cuisine and is prepared with natural local products. Among his signature dishes are deliciously light and flavorful drops of foie gras wrapped in Chinese pastry and richly satisfying Alberta beef filet topped with smoked cheddar cheese. The restaurant has been recognized by Wine Spectator for its extensive list.

L'Elephante was launched just last year by Christine Bernier, a young woman chef, and is a short drive from the main village. The business is a natural for Bernier, who grew up working at her father's restaurants in Mont Tremblant. She is a true innovator who mixes traditional French styles with her own inspiration and ingredients from the surrounding region. An example of one of her appetizers is block of duck foie gras with winter perfumes, candied fruits, ice wine, spices and nuts.

L'Elephante, 2713 Ch. du Village, Mont Tremblant, OC J8E 1E9. Tel. 818-429-5252

Where to Stay

Fairmont Tremblant Lobby

The first chateau-style hotel to open in the Laurentians was the Fairmont Tremblant. Completed in November, 1996 it was originally a Canadian Pacific Hotel, Château Mont-Tremblant. The design concept created a luxurious hotel in harmony with the natural surroundings and the architecture of the village. Its French-inspired architecture captures the charm of Old Quebec City with its pitched rooftops, corrugated shingling, colored stucco exteriors and old-fashioned chimneys. The interior is inspired by Quebec tales and legends. Large and small canoes decorating the lobby evoke an old folk story about a group of hunters who sold their souls to the devil on a New Years Eve. In return he took them back to their village in a flying canoe so they could join the festivities with their friends and families. In 1999 the CP group acquired the Fairmont chain and combined the properties from both groups to form Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.

The hotel is a ski-in, ski-out facility. Located right on the mountain you can ski down 25 feet to the chairlift. At the end of the day you can run down the trail next to the building and step right off. There are 314 rooms, including 28 on the 7th or gold floor, which includes access to an elegant lounge and private concierge services.

Other services are a well-equipped health club and spa with 18 treatment rooms and a dry sauna and two steam baths. When the temperature falls to -30 degrees guests still gather until 7 p.m. in a favorite après-ski spot, two outdoor Jacuzzis heated to 104 F and comfortably holding 35. The temperatures in 400-square-feet therapeutic hot tub, 30-foot outdoor pool and the Nordic bath vary. All can be used year-round.

Fairmont Tremblant, 3045 Chemin de la Chapelle, Quebec, Canada JOT 1ZO. Tel. 800-257-7544, 819-681-7000. http://www.fairmont.com/tremblant/

Short direct flights from Toronto and Newark on Voyageur Airlines land at and take off from Mont Tremblant"s airport.

http://www.monttremblant.com, http://www.experiencetremblant.ca, http://www.experiencetremblantactivites.com

–Bruce Fancher

Spring 2005