Quebec's Mont Tremblant earns Ski mag's top rating

 
LA Times | Travel
 

In the notoriously fickle realm of popularity, a year can be a lifetime. Which is why it is positively astounding that for the past 12 years a single resort - Quebec's Mont Tremblant - has been rated No. 1 overall in Eastern North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. Tremblant garnered top hon...

By Marshall S. Berdan // 11.12.08
 

In the notoriously fickle realm of popularity, a year can be a lifetime. Which is why it is positively astounding that for the past 12 years a single resort - Quebec's Mont Tremblant - has been rated No. 1 overall in Eastern North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. Tremblant garnered top honors again for 2008-09 in the individual categories of lodging, on-mountain food, dining and service.

Perennial primacy like this is hard to dismiss, so in February our family of four made the 10-hour trek north of the border to assess Tremblant for ourselves.

Although we arrived after dark, it was readily apparent what all the rage was about: The pristine European-style base village glistened hospitably in the foreground, while above and beyond, the highest peak in the Laurentians seemed to tremble under the tractored feet of monstrous, bug-eyed grooming equipment.

Additional confirmation came when we checked into our better- than-expected (though hardly meriting 4 stars) queen studio at Le Lodge de la Montagne, one of the 12 pedestrian- only base village properties that afford its occupants a front-row seat to restaurants, retail stores and activities.

ABOUT THE RESORT

Intrawest Resorts (operators of Whistler Blackcomb, Steamboat and Stratton) acquired the property in 1991 and spent nearly $1 billion constructing the all-amenities base village whose brightly colored metal roofs and cabin-style restaurants were inspired by old Quebec City.

HITTING THE SLOPES

After dropping the kids off at ski school, my wife and I headed to the gondola. The summit itself seemed disconcertingly crowded, but with half the skiers going down the north side and half going down the more trail-populated south side, we were pleased to see how quickly it thinned out.

And so it was all three days: We never waited more than five minutes anywhere, despite its being Presidents' Week.

The next day dawned crystal clear but brutally cold. At 8 a.m., the windchill was a face-numbing minus 58 degrees at the summit, which we quickly vacated for the forested lower slopes in self-preservation. This Canadian-style cold makes many Americans tremble at the thought of Tremblant, but it also just about guarantees snow cover from December all the way through March.

APRES-SKI

After a pan-fried steak dinner the first evening, we strolled over to Mirror Lake to catch the curling, that night's featured family activity. But the ice had not frozen evenly, so resort staff led the kids in toboggan pull races and a marshmallow roast.

Back in Tremblant's trademark pedestrian village, our two took a dozen exhilarating runs down a miniature ice chute before capping off the evening with hot beavertails, flat fried dough topped with cinnamon or maple paste.

On the second night, our plans to soak up liquid warmth in the glassed-in waterpark were thwarted by a broken heat pump, so it was back out to the village, which does begin to take on a Disneyesque feel after a while. We ventured into its celebrated après-ski venues and retail shops, all remarkably uncrowded.

Our final day, we skied as a family and had the kind of day that all ski vacation days are supposed to be like, with the kids demonstrating their new skills and all of us now knowing our way around.

But it's not the mountain that discriminating skiers rave about year after year; it's that truly incomparable shining city at the bottom. With two more base village properties under construction, it's clear Intrawest is perfectly capable of overfeeding the goose that already laid a dozen golden eggs.

GETTING THERE

BY CAR

Mont Tremblant is a full day's drive (400 miles) from New York City, with the fastest route up the Northway (I-87) to the border (remember to bring your passport), connecting with Canadian Route 15 through Montreal and another 75 miles into the Laurentians.

BY PLANE

Round-trip, nonstop airfares from New York metro airports to Montreal's Trudeau International Airport begin at $275.

WHAT IT COSTS

(Prices based on current exchange rates. Discounts available for booking by Nov 15.)

ACCOMMODATIONS

$88-$177 per person per day for 2- to 10-day packages at one of the 12 base village properties; taxes and fees add 17 percent.

RENTALS

From $29 a day for ski or board packages.

LESSONS

$58-$75 per session ski/board school.

TIP

To be sure what's included in your package, make your final reservations by phone.

WHERE TO EAT

Take your pick from the more than 30 bistros and restaurants in the base village. Upmarket establishments predominate, effectively reducing the options for families with younger kids. (Namely why those fully equipped kitchenettes come in handy.) Splurge at least once at an authentic place, such as Creperie Catherine, La Savoie for fondue and raclette (a type of soft cheese), or Les Artistes French restaurant.

WHAT ELSE TO DO

The resort offers the usual - snowshoeing, snowmobiling, tubing, sleigh rides - plus ice climbing, dogsledding, zip-lines and helicopter tours. None come cheap, and finding the time (or energy) for anything other than the indoor waterpark after a full day on the slopes is a challenge.

INFORMATION

The resort's projected season runs Nov. 21-April 13. Call 88-TREMBLANT or visit tremblant.ca.

Berdan is a Newsday writer.