90 minutes outside Montreal and high in Canada’s Laurentian Mountains you’ll find Mont Tremblant. It’s a chic and colourful ski resort, which is absolutely ideal for beginners
At 8am and whilst waiting for Léa, my ski instructor, I tucked into a chocolate croissant. There wasn't much standing room at the foot of Mont Tremblant and the variety of colourful ski gear around me was quite dazzling in the morning sun. Seriously, is neon green back in fashion again? Well, maybe not in the real world, but on the slopes neon green rocks.
You can't see the summit of Mont Tremblant from the pedestrian village, but all of the newbie skiers know that it's up there, and as I waited for Léa, I found it oddly relaxing to tune in and out of all the languages that were being spoken around me. There was also a genuine sense of excitement and anticipation in the air, you know, the sort of excitement and anticipation you can only ever really experience on an activity holiday.
Now, there are two sides to the mountain, north and south, and Léa said we should head up to the summit and then ski down the easy green Nansen run, on the south side, right back down into the village for lunch. So, after a somewhat embarrassing attempt to get on the gondola, we set off.
We shared the gondola with a family from New York and Zac, their 8 year old son, told me that he had been skiing since he was 4. They had all been down the mountain once already and Lea asked Zac's dad how Nansen was looking, to which Zac's dad replied "fast." At that time I wasn't really sure what fast meant, but as long as Zac's dad didn't say "super scary icy," I told myself that I would be fine.
At the 2871 foot summit, I filled my lungs with mountain air and looked down towards Lake Tremblant and around at the Laurentian Mountains. Everything I could see was either frozen or covered in snow, and momentarily forgetting that I was about to throw myself off a mountain, I could quite easily have sat in one of the over-sized wooden chairs, on the summit lodge's veranda, and admired the views. Léa, however, reminded me that I had paid to “embrace the mountain,” so embrace the mountain I did, even though I was mostly thinking “what are you doing, women, launching yourself off a mountain on two fully waxed skis.”
Anyway, Léa, a self proclaimed “racing rat,” simply loved speed and whilst reminding me to “relax my knees” and “breathe,” she constantly pushed me to build up some speed. Apparently, it’s quite difficult to improve your technique when you’re skiing like Miss Daisy, and improve my technique I did, one somewhat imperfect swoosh through the tree-lined Nansen run at a time. In fact, we were back in the village for lunch in no time.
There are lots of lunch options in the village, but lunch according to Léa is all about carbs, so after a carb loading pit stop at Le Shack ($40 for two people) (www.leshack.com; (819) 681 4700) and after booking a dog sledging trip for later in the week, we headed back up the mountain.
Fat Mardi's (www.fatmardis.com; (819) 681 2439) is another good lunch option in the village, if you fancy a burger or a sandwich and if you don't make it down to the village, you'll find a cafeteria (serving a wide variety of hot and cold meals) at the summit. Lunch for two people at Fat Mardi's set me back $40, whereas lunch at the summit was around $10 more.
There are 95 trails to choose from, across 654 acres, and in the afternoon we headed over to the edge chair lift on the north side. Although this chair mostly takes you up to a number of black runs, you’ll also find the start of a little green run. This green run was pretty quiet and it was great for practising my parallel turns on, and I swear by 3pm my legs were beginning to forget the trusty old snow plough position. I even began to enjoy picking up a bit of speed on the P’tit Bonheur, Sissy Schuss and Beauchemin Bas runs.
At 4pm my legs had gone, so instead of skiing back down to the village, we took the gondola. This is so-called “downloading” and it felt better to tell people that I was downloading, rather than just being somewhat knackered, due to the fresh mountain air and a level of exercise my body simply isn’t used to.
After dropping off my skis, I headed to Creperie Catherine (www.creperiecatherine.ca; (819) 681 4888). Had I burnt off enough calories to deserve this sugary treat, probably not, but, hey, I didn't care, I was on holiday. And seriously, who could resist a freshly baked granny smith apple crepe with cinnamon and cream? It was absolutely delicious. For two people, crepes and hot chocolates set me back $30.
On my way back to the 4 star Westin Resort and Spa (from $250 per night), I stopped to make a dinner reservation at O-Wok (www.o-wok.com; (819) 681 4455) and once my feet had recovered from being released from my ski boots, I rewarded them with a dip in the hotel’s outdoor jacuzzi (next to the onsite spa), before taking a well earned power nap in my room.
I'm equally a fan of the 4 star Ermitage du Lac (from $200 per night), but the Westin and Ermitage are just different. Both offer a range of rooms, some with kitchens or kitchenettes, some with fireplaces, but the Westin just has more of a classic mountain lodge feel to it, whereas the Ermitage offers a boutique hotel experience with contemporary flair. Now, the Westin is closer to the slopes, for sure, than the Ermitage, but that wouldn't put me off staying at the Ermitage again. Both also offer breakfast, wi-fi and underground parking.
And back to dinner, O-Wok ($180 for a 3 course meal with wine for two people) was my selected destination and I can't praise the food highly enough. It's a fusion of Chinese and Thai dishes and the restaurant is housed in a cosy little wooden chalet with a red pitched roof. I chose imperial rolls and a green curry, and I wasn't disappointed. Both courses were delicious and not too heavy or spicy, and as I headed back to the Westin with a renewed sense of well-being, I decided to take some photographs of the main European-style shopping street, which stretched up before me to the base of the mountain. Each boutique shop was adorned with lights and the scene looked quite magical.
Spag & Co (www.spagandco.com; (819) 681 4444) is another great choice for dinner, if you like Italian food and if steak and fish is your thing, you must check out the Bullseye Bar & Steak House (www.bullseyetremblant.com; (819) 681 2855). A meal for two people at both of these restaurants, with wine, will set you back around $110.
Once back at the Westin, I watched a little hockey on television, which is compulsory viewing when Canada, before falling asleep as soon as my head hit my pillow, and seriously, I never fall asleep instantly.
In my sleep I dreamt about making the perfect parallel turn and I woke up thinking “let me at the mountain”. Léa would be so proud.
For sure, this resort in the winter is all about the snow and it boasts an impressive ski school (for adults and children), but there are lots of off-piste activities you can enjoy as well, including, tubing, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, ice-climbing and ice skating. You can also check out the latest releases at the resort's cinema, splash around in the indoor water park and enjoy a beer at the resort's microbrewery. Those with a sweet tooth can also tuck into maple taffy cooled over snow covered barrels. Yum!
Now, this week for me was all about improving my skiing, but I did take one morning off the slopes to go dog sledging. This is not something I’ve done before, but it’s always been something I wanted to try. A bus will pick you up from your hotel and although the dog sledging centre is a 30 minute drive away from the village, you’ll find yourself selecting your Siberian dogs, before you can shout mush, in no time. Each sledge has to have a driver, a passenger (who gets to snuggle under a blanket) and 6 Siberian dogs. Turning the sledge takes a bit of practice, but the dogs will keep you right and they seem to love the exercise. Anyway, our trail took us through a forest, with inclines and plenty of turns and we stopped, only briefly, in the middle of the 1 hour trip for a hot drink and a snack. Oh, and you don’t have to fight about who gets to be the driver, as you can switch after the snack stop. For two adults, the trip cost $280 and it is certainly a trip to consider doing at least once.