Mont Tremblant at 80: a milestone year for milestone resort
A lot has changed at the renowned Laurentian resort, but the mountain's natural magic is the constant. The lifts started rolling Thursday for the 2018-19 season.
Updated: November 23, 2018
Mont Tremblant made history 80 winters ago with the first chairlift in Canada, and since then has steadily and significantly changed the landscape of Quebec tourism.
The evolution has continued this year thanks to Tremblant’s new owner, Alterra Mountain Company, which has invested $17 million in lifts, trails and restaurants in arguably the largest resort area in eastern Canada.
The mountain’s natural magic is the constant: the snow, the steeps and the sweeping views of the Laurentian peaks and lakes. But Tremblant gets more entertaining, diversified and sophisticated all the time. The lifts started rolling on Thursday for the 2018-19 season.
Air Canada and Porter fly several times a week between Toronto and Mont Tremblant International Airport, and scores of private jets zoom in each winter.
More than 3.5 million people visit the area annually, about two-thirds going to the mountain resort and the rest vacationing in greater Tremblant, which includes the original village around Lac Mercier, Tremblant North and what’s now known as downtown Tremblant (formerly St-Jovite).
They’re keen to sample Quebec maple syrup, foie gras, ice wine, poutine and microbrews. Year-round attractions include Casino de Mont-Tremblant, Nordic spas, the Panoramic Gondola, and events such as Ironman competitions, Wanderlust for wellness, car racing, music festivals and Elevation, a new LGBTQ ski and après-ski happening, which will debut from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
“The region is playing on an international field, so there are exceptional comforts and entertainment, but for me it’s all about the mountain,” said Jasey-Jay Anderson, a Tremblant ambassador and Olympic gold medallist in snowboarding, who competed in six Winter Games. He still rips the groomers at Tremblant and handcrafts performance snowboards under the brand Jasey-Jay Snowboards.
Alterra’s purchase of Tremblant means the resort is now affiliated with some of North America’s most compelling snow-sports resorts. Bargains abound if you would like to travel and ski or snowboard.
Alterra’s Ikon Base Pass costs about $975 (with discounts for juniors) and is valid at 36 areas, including Tremblant; Revelstoke in British Columbia; Lake Louise in Alberta; Aspen Snowmass and Steamboat in Colorado; Alta, Snowbird and Deer Valley in Utah; Jackson Hole in Wyoming; and New England areas such as Killington, Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Loon Mountain.
By comparison, Tremblant’s Tonik Pass costs about $499 for adults (until Dec. 13), for skiing at one mountain. Certain restrictions apply on both passes; a comparison chart at tremblant.ca unravels the complexities.
Alterra’s investment at Tremblant has furnished a speedy detachable quad chairlift to replace the North Side’s sluggish Lowell Thomas; one new trail and five new glade (tree skiing) areas on the North Side and the Edge; an upgrade at the North Side day lodge; and a massive expansion at the summit chalet Le Grand Manitou, adding 400 seats.
Skiing and snowboarding are still the marquee winter draws, but visitors also brave the cold for cross-country, dogsledding, skating, ice climbing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and tubing for kids. One of the newest attractions is alpine touring, a cardio-buster that involves walking uphill on special skis with grips and skiing down. No lift needed for that one. What would Tremblant developer Joe Ryan think?
To honour Ryan as well as other champions and industry builders, the Canadian Ski Museum expects to open a new building by 2020, adjacent to St-Bernard Chapel in Tremblant’s resort village.
Ryan and operations manager Charlie Duncan launched the first chairlift in Canada during the 1938-39 season. Named the Flying Mile, after Ryan’s favourite racehorse, the pioneering single chairlift debuted on Feb. 12, 1939 and ran to mid-mountain. A T-bar to the summit followed in 1941 (and was likely the first T-bar in the Laurentians, although there were other surface lifts).
Tremblant quickly built vacation essentials: a mountainside hotel, a hair salon, a ski shop and a bar, housed in white stucco cottages that are still in use in the resort village.
Some visitors during the 1940s and 1950s were high-society adventurers who dressed for dinner and danced to an orchestra at Mont Tremblant Lodge. Others were happy-go-lucky ski bums who stayed in farmhouses. Both groups skied all day and partied all night. Last call for drinks rang out at dawn, and then everyone suited up to carve virgin ski tracks as the sun rose over the sparkling snow.
Laurentian locals tittered at tales of countesses consorting with ski instructors, the Kennedy clan playing snow football and decadent parties for Hollywood celebs like Bing Crosby and Henry Fonda. And it’s said that parish priest Father Deslauriers wore ski boots under his soutane, praying for an afternoon of divine downhill after his sermon.
There have been a few down periods for Tremblant under the many owners since Ryan, and there have been countless upgrades since Intrawest created a modern mountainside resort in 1991.
“The equipment and mountain facilities are high-tech, but the fundamentals always will be the exhilaration of winter and the thrill of gliding down the mountain,” said Charlie’s son Peter Duncan, a two-time Olympic alpine skier during the 1960s, who grew up at the mountain’s base. “And the resort is more family-oriented than in the early days of social elites.”
Back in the day, the Ryans took out snow insurance with Lloyd’s of London. Today, Tremblant harnesses the power and technology of nearly 1,200 snow guns to virtually guarantee a solid season.
Mother Nature is also doing her part. The 2017-18 season welcomed a snowfall of more than five metres, the second-highest in 20 years, and this season’s first flakes fell in October.
AT A GLANCE
For more information on Mont Tremblant, see tremblant.ca or call 888-738-1777.
Tremblant hotels make tracks on and off the mountain
With about 3.5 million visitors passing through greater Tremblant each year, the Laurentian vacationland is arguably the largest resort area in eastern North America, and is home to lodging of all shapes, sizes and comfort levels.
Here is a look at two well-priced, practical options — one slopeside, the other off the mountain. Both have news for the 2018-19 winter season.
On-mountain news: Good prices and practicality are trademarks at Tour des Voyageurs. This 151-unit condo/hotel has added a pivotal location at the base of Tremblant’s South Side resort village, under the Clock Tower and beside the Cabriolet lift, which runs to the Gondola.
Tour des Voyageurs has undergone a $3.7-million renovation, and has a new lobby, furniture, beds and linens, carpets and curtains, as well as updates to bathrooms and kitchens.
Guests can have coffee and a bite at Starbucks on the main floor of the Tour, or can “cook in.” The hotel rooms are equipped with kitchenettes, and the studios and one- and two-bedroom suites have full kitchens.
For dining out, the Fairmont Tremblant reinvented its cuisine scene last season. The Choux Gras, a gourmet French brasserie, prepares dishes such as foie gras, grilled octopus, salmon tiradito, rack of lamb, tomahawk steak, duck magret, filet mignon, short ribs and walleye.
The Fairmont also has a new canine ambassador — Lucky, a Labrador retriever — for pats and hugs. He’s a busy guy, so walks are by appointment.
Aquaclub La Source blends spa life with kids’ fun. It has a wading pool for toddlers, a main pool with a Tarzan-style rope, a waterfall, steam baths and adult-only indoor and outdoor hot tubs, plus a fitness centre and exercise classes.
Off-mountain news: The Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Mont Tremblant is scheduled to open in December at Rendez-Vous Ryan, a development of franchises at Montée Ryan and Route 117.
Microtel will have a soupçon of country charm and loads of conveniences, including a full buffet breakfast for all guests. Microtel’s big attraction will be an indoor pool and hot tub, and kids will love the water slide, a five-metre thrill.
“Our design reflects a resort environment,” said general manager Michel Joncas. “Microtel will have a dark wood exterior, an inviting lobby with a fireplace and an après-ski bar.
“The contemporary guest rooms will feature artwork, earthy colours and elements that reflect the countryside.”
Microtel has appeal for families, tour groups and business travellers, with fast food right outside the door. It’s a rapidly growing brand, with more than 10 establishments across Canada and as many as 20 more planned for the next few years. In a poll by J.D. Power, Microtel rated highest in guest satisfaction in the budget hotel category for its rooms, prices, facilities and check-in. There is a possibility of a shuttle to the mountain sometime after the hotel’s opening.
Rendez-Vous Ryan features a Petro-Canada, Tim Hortons and McDonald’s. New options this winter will include Ben & Florentine, Steak-Frites, Sushi Shop, Valentine, Amir, Pizza Hut and Subway.
Tremblant by the numbers
Mountain resort (tremblant.ca, 888-738-1777): The Tremblant resort includes 30 eateries and après-ski bars; more than 35 shops; a convention centre and two full spas, Moment Spa (in Fairmont) and Amerispa (in Le Westin). Aquaclub La Source is an entertaining water facility ($16 for adults, with discounts for seniors, juniors and multiple day visits).
Guests have 1,900 units of slopeside lodging in luxurious chalets, condos and hotels. Many include first ski tracks (before lifts open formally), free skate loan and sliding/tubing evenings.
Tour des Voyageurs: Starts at approximately $135 per night (Sun.-Thurs., based on a two-night visit) for a hotel room for up to four people, including Wi-Fi, outdoor hot tub, sauna, fitness room, ski lockers, outdoor pool (summer). Rates start at about $238 per night for a two-bedroom condo for up to six. Rates fluctuate, and are higher Fri.-Sat. and starting Dec. 5. Extra: indoor parking, ski lifts.
The slopes: Four mountain faces have 14 lifts (including a new North Side quad), plus 102 trails and glades (including a few that are new for 2018-19), two learning areas and three terrain parks at different levels.
Tremblant region (877-425-2434, 819-425-2434, 819-425-3300, mont-tremblant.ca): Greater Tremblant incorporates downtown (formerly St-Jovite); the Village (a.k.a. Old Tremblant, beside Lac Mercier), Domaine St-Bernard, Mont-Tremblant National Park and Tremblant North/Lac Supérieur. Off-mountain, there are approximately 26 lodging establishments, 95 boutiques and 48 restaurants.
Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Mont Tremblant: 800-337-0050, microtelmonttremblant.com, rendezvousryan.com; 235 Montée Ryan at Route 117, Mont-Tremblant. Rooms start at $149 for one queen bed; suites start at $219 for up to six; Wi- Fi, buffet breakfast, indoor pool/hot tub/water slide, fitness, parking, ski lockers, electric car chargers. Wyndham loyalty points apply.