Terminal C at Newark Airport is celebrating today’s launch of nonstop service to Mont-Tremblant Airport in the province of Quebec; I am with a group of journalists, and help myself to some refreshments being served at the gate before boarding Continental Express for the one hour and fifteen minute flight.
It is snowing as we circle and land; a group of town dignitaries and enthusiastic local residents are on hand to welcome and photograph our arrival. The small terminal, once a military landing strip, is now a cozy log cabin with a wood burning fireplace; and comfortable couches. It has taken four years of dedication and determination to bring scheduled air service from the United States to Mont-Tremblant.
After a buffet lunch of traditional salads, beers and honey wines in front of the roaring fire, our group dons snowmobile suits, boots, and helmets with visors for the unexpected thrill of driving one of the snowmobiles parked outside. After a quick driving lesson, I rev up the engine and take off down a lane blanketed in two feet of powdery white snow (the results of last night’s storm). I accelerate the throttle and take a deep breath; the natural beauty is magical; the experience exhilarating. What a neat way to enjoy the great outdoors, racing through miles of snow-kissed trails.
The cost of the shuttle bus to the Mont-Tremblant Resort is included in the price of our Continental airline ticket. In route to the Westin Hotel, we pass through small villages festively decorated for the holidays; the countryside is breathtaking; the sun glistens on the frozen lake that will soon be filled with skaters. The weekend promises perfect conditions for skiing, snowboarding; snowmobiling, dog sledding or a snow shoe walk through the woods.
My elegantly decorated one bedroom suite at the Westin Hotel has a compact kitchen, dining table, gas burning fireplace, a deliciously comfortable “heavenly bed” and a terrace with a view of the mountain and the chairlift. Dinner has been scheduled for 8:00 at Spag & Co.; I browse the shops for an hour, then join the group for a fun Italian feast.
Mont-Tremblant is a Four Seasons Resort with its own activity center, conveniently located in the center of the village. A visit upon arrival is a must; it has been set up to help visitors plan and schedule a wide range of seasonal activities and spa treatments.
Saturday, December 15th
The day begins with an early morning gondola ride to the summit for a traditional breakfast of waffles, topped with fresh fruits, crepes filled with eggs and salmon and steamy bowls of Canadian hot chocolate. Some of the group ski down the mountain; others ride the gondola; the views are majestic; the air crisp and cold.
At 11:30 we board a bus for a cultural and historical tour of the region. The Millette Sugar Shack, a family owned maple syrup producing company, spanning five generations, continues the tradition of collecting sap in horse drawn barrels. Odile Millette tapped his first tree in 1922; in 1957, the family built a sugar house restaurant to serve home cooked meals, using recipes handed down through the generations. The restaurant is a hoot with an “all you can eat” menu of pea soup, grandma’s omelets, maple syrup ham and sausages, buckwheat pancakes, potatoes, baked beans, home baked breads and their famous sugar pies. An accordionist plays square dancing music, and we all join in the fun.
Next on our schedule is a heritage tour of Sainte—Agathe- Des—Monts. The Mayor greets us at the once famous, no longer operating train station. The town is proud of its roots; the railroad spurred development of lumber, tourism and health services. Wealthy families from Montreal built homes around the lake. In 1895, a New York City nurse opened what was heralded as the first health spa clinic to cure tuberculosis. Sainte-Agathe, and the surrounding lakes, embrace all the cultural influences that make up Canada. Descendants of the original settlers, who first arrived in 1849, remain active in the community. We stroll down Main Street to the Second Annual Christmas Bazaar, the mayor points out landmarks and improvements made during his time in office.
We travel across the Pays-d’en-Haut region to the historic and charming town of St. Saveur. Once there, we pile into a two horse drawn open wagon and huddle against each other under red blankets; it is bitterly cold as we make our way through residential and commercial streets festively ablaze with Christmas lights and decorations; Rue Principale is lined with art galleries and antique shops. We are happy to reach Manoir St. Sauveur, where a Bloody Mary and a crackling fire in the hotel bar quickly thaws our frozen limbs; dinner in the adjoining dining room. Is a many course sumptuous banquet. After dinner we check out the spa, then walk to the base of St. Sauveur ski slopes, the only ones in the area open for night skiing. We brave the below freezing temperature to ride the chair lift up and down the illuminated mountain, envious of skiers and snowboarders. Rick, our enthusiastic host and ambassador for tourism in the Laurentians tells us “I am only giving you 50% so you will come again for the rest”.
Sunday, December, 16th
A snowstorm barrels up and down the East Coast; our scheduled departure at 1:30 P.M. is iffy. We drive to the Hotel Mont-Tremblant in the old Tremblant Village for a hearty breakfast of fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, bacon, sausage and hot croissants. Our gracious host fills us in on the history of Old Tremblant. The hotel, now a small cozy and reasonably priced B & B, was built in 1902 to house Standard Chemical factory workers. Then, when the Ryan family from New York brought Alpine skiing to the area, it began providing lodging for skiers.
Spa Le Scandinave, set deep in the woods, is all about wellness. We cross the frozen river by way of a suspension bridge to reach the main lodge; a family of deer feeding from a trough filled with carrots pays little attention to our presence. We are given towels, a locker key and instructions on how and why going from the indoor steam and sauna to the outdoor cold plunge waterfall pools increases circulation and promotes health; brave souls are encouraged to also take a quick dip in a hole in the frozen river.
When I learn the flight has been canceled, I retreat into the Westin’s Amerispa (there’s also an Amerispa in the Fairmont Hotel) for a unique and exclusive- to- the- spa apple cider scrub and massage. Amerispas offer a full menu of body treatments, massages and facials.
I plod through the snow to Les Artistes Restaurant, Their special four course menu is most impressive with many choices; I order escargot, goat cheese salad, rack of lamb and chocolate profiterole. The wine flows as smoothly and freely as the excellent service.
Mont-Tremblant Resort’s pedestrian village with its mix of rentable non- service condos and full serviced hotel condos like the lakeside Quintessence Hotel & Spa, The Westin, The Fairmont, The Marriott and Hilton have it all: instant access to skiing, trendy boutiques, art galleries, pampering spas . . . and a great après ski social scene. There are so many bars and gourmet restaurants with exceptional cuisine, you won’t know where to start or when to call it a night.
Monday, December 17th
The sun is rising over the ski mountain. From the window of my suite at the Westin, I watch early morning snow boarders and skiers ride the chair lift for their first run of the day. Yesterday’s heavy snow has dumped another foot or two of snow; plows are busy clearing paths for those beginning their work or play day. At the airport, a box lunch and a glass of wine hits the spot as we wait for the arrival of the plane that will transport us back to New York in less than an hour.
Continental’s Newark- bound flight accelerates speed for take-off; in the distance a chair lift carries skiers to the summit; it has been a glorious four days.
Mont- Tremblant is a well designed kingdom where every visitor gets the royal treatment . . . a magical winter wonderland that “keeps its promises” and delivers “more than it promised”.
For more information and reservations:
www.TREMBLANT.CA or 1-800-461-8711