Winter Wonderland Weekend

By Carole Jacobs

Is there anything more depressing than the first week in January, when the holiday lights have come down, the once-majestic tree’s been dragged to the local landfill and the holiday glow has faded to the color of dirty snow? Well, not in my book. So, if it’s pushing January 10 and you’re still dreaming of a White Christmas (if not like the ones you used to know than perhaps, perchance, in some terminally quaint European ski village), I hear you.

December 25th may be a distant memory, but it’s not too late to ski (lodge, dine, drink) with a French accent by heading to the cobblestone village of Mont Tremblant in Quebec’s breathtaking Laurentians. Located just over the border, this crayon-colored town outlined by fairy lights is the closest you can get to skiing in the Alps without getting zonked by jet lag or tanking your bank account on a trans-Atlantic flight (although there are now plenty of new direct flights within the U.S. and Canada to Mont Tremblant).

Instead of spending two days cooped up at 30,000 feet in an embryo position, you could bag the long, bad trip and enjoy nonstop joie de vivre practically in your own backyard:  Imagine schussing along 1,000 acres of powdery slopes or down the highest peak in the Laurentians, twirling around crystal lakes, tucking into 5-star French cuisine and wines, staying at luxurious digs, skipping the night fantastic at sophisticated wine bars and hanging around ski villages that look like they were air-lifted in from Chamonix.

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You’ll feel right at home in Quebec

Forget about the language barrier. Just because you don’t speak French doesn’t mean the Quebecois don’t speak English (and probably more fluently than you do). Same deal with changing money. Hand them a loonie and they’ll probably take you for one.

Meanwhile, if you’ve come to ski (and there’s so much to do in Mont Tremblant, you may have trouble fitting it in), you’ll find the slopes to be as civilized as the natives (translation: no gonzo snowboarders running you off the green slopes or taking tokes on the lifts).

Au contraire, in Mont Tremblant the skiing is tres orderly, with slopes for all levels—from the steeps of Versants Edge and Soleil to long cruises for intermediates; easy runs where beginners can exit the indignities of the bunny slope and feel like real skiers as they glide all the way down the mountain on wide, user-friendly slopes from Bob Vivant or Nansen to designated snow parks for snowboarders, who, let’s face it, are a different species from most middle-aged skiers.

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Even if you no longer ski

Even if you hung up your skis years ago and now prefer a softer and more dignified landing, Mont Tremblant has plenty of fun-in-the-snow that doesn’t entail breaking your neck navigating the moguls or boarding to oblivion down a black-diamond slope.

Surrounding the resort and town of Mont Tremblant is the 583.05-square-mile Mont Tremblant National Park, where hundreds of miles of trails ring around the resort for breathtaking cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-biking through a Currier & Ives landscape.

Creeks tinkle under snowbanks, icicles hang like tinsel from swooping pines and animal tracks pattern the windswept snow and invite you to follow them to their enigmatic endings. If you want to up the ante, there’s also dog-sledding or snowmobiling (a sport that was born here) through miles of enchanted forests, ice-climbing in sparkling natural cathedrals and invigorating zip-lining through frosty skies and on to Popsicle status.

And while we know you all love your kids (and grandkids), should you want to dump them for a day and say, soak in hot springs or get a massage, Tremblant’s Kids Club offers all-day day care, or you can send them to children’s ski and snowboarding school, which ends with binging on maple taffy on snow.

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Friday

4 p.m. Arrive at Mont Tremblant Resort and settle into Hotel Quintessence, a 5-star all-suite boutique hotel nestled on Lac Tremblant just a few steps from the village and including Clagett’s Cabin, an 1885 rustic hideaway tucked in the woods; an award-winning gourmet restaurant, a wine bar with a cozy fireplace and nearly 4,000 bottles in the cellar, and a luxury spa.

5 p.m. Relax from the drive or flight in with an in-room massage in front of your suite’s fireplace, or for a revitalizing Shiatsu and Swedish massages, head to the hotel’s Spa Sans Sabots. Follow it up with a soothing soak or steam.

7 p.m. For a deluxe French dinner with fine wines, follow your nose to La Restaurant La Quintessence & Winebar, featuring locally sourced produce, beef, fish and chicken and traditional Laurentian flavors plus an award-winning wine list. Have dinner in the main dining room or, for a romantic meal, in one of two private salons. If you’re a certified foodie, sign up for the tasting menu with the chefs in the “glasshouse” next to the kitchen. Then watch them prepare tantalizing dishes like French onion soup made with red wine, Swiss cheese and Cheddar from Île-aux-Grues; beef tartare with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan; foie gras served with gingerbread smoked duck breast and red wine pear; caviar, fried oysters, and for dessert, hot pecan tart with vanilla ice cream, and, of course, decadent crème brulee.

9 p.m. Head over to Le Grande’s Whiskey Bar for a stellar nightcap, more types of brandy than you can shake a stick and a chance to mingle with the locals when they’re unguarded (or inebriated). if you still have energy to spare after dinner, there's no shortage of bars and discos in the Laurentians. Saint-Sauveur has dancing till dawn while Au Coin in the Mont Tremblant Hotel features cold beer, hot music and the chance to walk off your hangover in an enchanting village that twinkles and blinks with a billion fairy lights.

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Day 2

7 a.m. Mont Tremblant is home to many bakeries where cream oozes from every flat surface and countless cafes and espresso shops. Or have crepes, a Laurentian tradition, at The Maison de la Crepe Experience, an historic chalet where 50 different types of crepes, from salty, sweet or very-very sweet crepes are made right before your eyes with fresh seasonal ingredients and served with a full line of Starbucks coffee. If you’re running late, you can get the crepes and coffee to go and savor them on the ultra-scenic ride up the mountain via the Express Gondola.

7:45 a.m. Rise with the birdies, board the Express gondola at 7:45 a.m. and you’ll be the first to hit the slopes at 8:00 a.m. for a cruise along empty, sun-splashed runs and into untouched powder bowls. 

10 a.m. Revive yourself with coffee, crepes and pastries at the Grand Manitou, a cafeteria-style eatery perched atop the summit of Tremblant near several lifts. Take your pick and spend the rest of the morning exploring Versant Soleil, the resort’s newest ski region with daring tree runs like Bon Vieux Temps and Brasse-Camarade off Toboggan plus virgin powder at Les Bouleaux off Ryan Haut.

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OR

9 a.m. If you don’t want to ski, sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast of your choice of Eggs Benedict at Eggspress Matins.  Try the Swiss Eggs Benedict, the Bree Eggs Benedict with mushrooms and a side of bacon, or the Ham Eggs Benedict, all served with homemade hollandaise sauce and potato medallion fries. Or head to Creperie Catherine for breakfast crepes stuffed with eggs, bacon, cheese and you name it; chocolate crepes, and the house specialty, a cloyingly sweet melt-in-your-mouth Sucre a la crème. The creperie also offers a full coffee bar.

10 a.m. Gather up the gang and head to the Paintball Centre at the Tremblant Activity Center. Guides will show you the ropes and then set you free to enjoy paintball target practice in one of 10 playgrounds.

11:30 a.m. Work up an appetite for lunch by going snow tubing. Grab your large inner tube and fly down the groomed hills. A tow-rope will bring you back up the hill while you sit on your tube and take in the laughs and screams of those on their way down.

1 p.m. Meet up with the skiers in your family at Le Grille Saint Georges, offering stick-to-your-ribs (and elsewhere) lunches ranging from homemade gnocchi with boar meatballs to Brie fondant served with fresh arugula salad, freshly made pasta with broccoli rabe and lamb, walleye with pistachios and pesto, braised short ribs and steak et frite. Save room for the crème brulee trio for dessert.

2 p.m. Quebec is the home of snowmobiling and located at the junction of four Trans-Quebec snowmobile trails that lead into the backbone of its's 32,000 mile snowmobile system. Your guide can fashion a 3-hour snowmobiling tour into the heart of Mont Tremblant’s stunning backcountry for a wild and wooly adventure you won’t forget.

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OR

2 p.m. Spend the afternoon sampling Mont Tremblant’s many hot springs ops to steam, soak and unwind in the bosom of Mother Nature. The best by far is the rustic Scandinavia Spas Mont Tremblant, a traditional Scandinavian baths experience nestled within the Laurentian forest along the shores of the Diable River and offering Finnish saunas, Norwegian eucalyptus steam baths, outdoor Jacuzzis, Swedish massage and a chance to swim in the frigid, ice-bound river.

5 p.m. Meet up with the snowmobilers back at the village and warm up with a bowl of caffe latte or mocha, tea, hot chocolate and cakes, cookies, sandwiches and chili at Au Grain Café, a sweet little café with a boho vibe.

5:30 p.m. Walk back to the hotel through the village and enjoy some leisurely window-shopping or serious spending. Check out the eclectic goods at Le Walkin Friperie Boutique and the beautiful handmade pottery at Poterie Mont-Tremblant.

7 p.m. Both the town and resort of Mont Tremblant are international foodie havens with an award-winning restaurant on every corner specializing in their take on French Laurentian cuisine. Try SEb L'Artisan Culinaire, housed in a quaint white farmhouse, for hearty regional dishes like pecorino ravioli with hare and rabbit or bison sirloin with mashed potatoes and pumpkin. For regional fare and seafood with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern twist, including zesty curries, tagines, tiger prawns, scallops, spicy Mediterranean fish soup and bouillabaisse with lobster, head to Le Cheval de Sage.

9 p.m. Ice-skating is a popular pastime in the Laurentians.  From the restaurant, head to Lake Moore in Old Tremblant Village, a charming country town on the shore of Lake Mercer between the Resort Village and Tremblant’s downtown area, for a romantic twirl around a lake ringed by fairy lights. Back in the village, take a spin around the enchanting ice rink by the St. Bernard Chapel and then warm up by a crackling fire.

Sunday

10 a.m. For a blow-out breakfast buffet or brunch, go to Le Comptoir Cuisine du Marche in Tremblant Old Village. The buffet is a culinary blitz that leaves no food group unturned and offers heaping platters of everything from fresh fruit, crepes and omelets to fresh salads, shrimp and scallops.

11:30 a.m. Before heading home, browse the shops for hand-made treasures. Look for beautiful, hand-blown glass Christmas tree ornaments at L’Atelier du Père Noël in Old Tremblant Village, boxes of crepe mixes at local creperies and homemade maple syrup at the Sugar Shack. Or, if you’ve down to your last loonie, take snapshots of the village, river and mountains for the sort of memories money can’t buy.

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