Published in SKI's December 2009 issue
The monsters I’ve created—twin 15-year-old daddy’s girls—are getting pretty hard to impress. It’s not their fault: I’ve dragged them to nearly every resort in the East, where they’ve stayed in the nicest hotels and dined in the best restaurants. Still, I can’t help wanting them to enjoy our family ski trips. So this year we’re heading further afield: Mont Tremblant.
Figures: It’s raining sideways as we cross the border into Canada. Adding to my worries: I waited too long to book—too late to get into any of Tremblant’s slopeside jewels—the Westin, Fairmont and Le Sommet des Neiges. I know there isn’t really a bad room in all of Tremblant, but it’s still with some trepidation that we pull into the Homewood Suites. At least the rain has turned to snow.
The lobby is nice but nothing special. We cram into an elevator, and within minutes of stepping into our suite, I know everything’s going to be great. Our second-story window is a front-row seat to the heart of the action in Tremblant’s famous slopeside village. It overlooks the busiest street, which is bustling with nightlife as the snow falls, and the holiday lights cast a warm glow on our walls. It’s as if, somewhere between the hotel’s front door and here, we’ve stepped into Wonderland. The girls are pleased. They head off to explore the village, and my wife and I crack a bottle of red. We picked it up at a gas station, wondering if, here in Quebec, even gas stations sell good wine. Alas, no. But that will be the only disappointment of the weekend.
Tremblant is foreign on a number of levels. There are the obvious ways: Québécois culture and food, the language, the geography. But if you’re from the States, where ski areas hoping to expand must fight the bureaucracy at every turn, here’s the most startling difference. The provincial and federal governments are apparently gung-ho supporters of everything tourisme. As Tremblant has grown—since its purchase by Intrawest Resorts in 1991—from minor ski area to world-class resort, the government has been right there with it. In 2004, Intrawest announced plans for a $1 billion expansion, including $95 million in taxpayer funds for roads and infrastructure. In 2008, Loto-Québec, the provincial lottery agency, announced plans to build a $61 million casino at Versant Soleil, Tremblant’s new base area. That, indeed, is a language you don’t hear in Vermont or Colorado.
First thing Saturday morning—it’s bright and cold, and the snow couldn’t be better—we ride the gondola to the summit, then descend into the Versant Soleil for our first peek at Casino de Mont-Tremblant, which opened in June. Last time we were here, this base area consisted of a lift corral and nothing more. Now there’s a burgeoning village, anchored to the casino. The Casino Express gondola connects Soleil to the original village, called Versant Sud. (Versant means “face.”) Versant Soleil is projected to offer 1,500 condos, two hotels and a conference center, grouped around a manmade lake. Its specialty, in addition to the casino, will be corporate retreats and conferences. And when Intrawest is done building Versant Soleil, it plans to keep right on going, developing a third village on the back side of the mountain, this one more family-oriented, with another 1,500 lodging units.
The lodgings in both new villages will be lavish and slopeside, and Intrawest has demonstrated an ability to do these kinds of things right. But it’s hard to imagine improving on the original. The Versant Sud village—with its charming Old World architecture and colorful rooftops—is compact, car-free and jammed with shops, restaurants and bars, all linked by a network of charming pedestrian allées giving onto handsome squares. After skiing, we have even more fun strolling the village. One night we dine at Café des Artistes. It specializes in French cuisine but seems to be going through the motions. Another night, we heed our sushi jones and discover Yamada. We’ll still be talking about it months later: cool vibe, delicious fish, awesome waitstaff. A real find.
For three days, we ski, eat, stroll and generally hang out, observing the street life and enjoying the resort’s unique ambience. On the last day, while riding the village lift above the rooftops, I hold the camera at arm’s length and snap my favorite family portrait ever. Everyone’s smiling and happy—even the twin travel snobs. Mission accomplished.
SIGNPOST: Mont Tremblant
LODGING The Fairmont ($159–$929; fairmont.com/tremblant) and Le Sommet des Neiges ($195–$1,275; tremblant.ca) surround the lower slopes. Homewood Suites by Hilton ($129–$779; hiltontremblant.com) is ringside on the village, offering suites with full kitchens.
DINING Yamada, stylish and fun, gets sushi right (819-681-4141). La Savoie does fondue, raclette and all the Haute-Savoie classics (restaurantlasavoie.com).
APRES-SKI For a sample of Tremblant’s ample nightlife, check out Le P’tit Caribou.
MUST SKI CBC, a quirky, extremely narrow bump run on the north side.
GETTING THERE Continental has nonstops from Newark into Tremblant’s small airport. Otherwise, fly into Montreal-Trudeau International, 80 miles away.
INFO tremblant.ca; 888-736-2526