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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bon Jour, Marie!


I know a few things about this place, this country that shares our border and in many ways, our sensibilities.  Canada knows hockey.  Canada’s citizens have free health care.  Canada’s flag is red and white and features a maple leaf.  The Canadian anthem is “O Canada.”  The Olympics were held in Calgary in 1988 when I was in high school (eek!) and Vancouver last year. People in Canada say “eh” in the same way that we say “you know.” You know?  Sadly, this is where my knowledge ends.  Translation: Canada is unchartered territory.

So, when I arrived into the Montreal airport, a mere 53-minute flight, I really didn’t know what to expect.  But man, was the airport clean—I mean Singapore cleanand shit, it was cold.  It was dumping outside, just the throes of a winter dusting in these parts, which was a positive since I was headed up to Mont Tremblant, the #1 eastern North American ski resort for 13 years running, according to Ski Magazine. Automatically, I was impressed.

It took 2+ hours to get from Montreal to Tremblant (usually a 1+ hour journey) because of the snow. I was in the company of Alain Labarre, the sales guy for Chateau Beauvallon, the property at which I was staying.  Owned by friends of friends in Park City (where they have a great spot called Club Lespri), they insisted I check out the Tremblant property, purchased last summer.  As if they had to ask me twice.  I was thrilled for another excuse to take a ski trip, and happy to add Tremblant to my travel writing repertoire.

When I first corresponded with Alain Labarre over email, I imagined an international man of mystery coming to greet me in a long trench with a dashing accent. “I will carry a sign with your name,” wrote Labarre, and when I slid past customs, there he was with the sign, even though only one other person waited on an arrival.  There was a trenchit was bright red, shin length, and insulated.  There was an accentit was French.  His 15-year old son was joining us for the ride north. I quickly let go of the international Canadian man of mystery potential and strapped into the front seat of Alain Labarre’s silver hatchback.  Hey, a girl’s gotta dream…

The drive was a total whiteout, and though I was vaguely aware of traveling through mountains, surrounded by nature, it was lost on me in my first Canadian moments.  I hoped for a sunny day to appreciate my environs.  When we got to Chateau Beauvallon, however, my breath caught.  The website didn’t do this place justice!  A huge yellow barnlike chateau swept across the snowy land.  Red double doors beckoned me inside, an open lobby attended by chattering French Canadian staff greeted me, and then Francoise, my hostess, was introduced.  With all the charm and grace of the French woman, and the down-to-earth ease of a Canadian woman, I knew Francoise and I were going to be fast friends. 

Ensconced in my suite—Beauvallon’s property is all one and two bedroom suites—I waited out the snow, a blazing fire for company.  A massage treatment (Jing Shin Do mind body acupressure—highly recommended if you can sustain belief that lightly touching pressure points can relieve tension), room service and the Bachelor episode later, I woke to the most glorious ski day I’d seen since…Park City.  At 7:00, a shrill ringing pierced my REM.  More ringing.  More ringing.  Oh. My. God. Where is that coming from, I screamed at the wall.  By about the 13th ring, I realized it was my phone. 

“Bon Jour, Marie,” sang Francoise.  “It is me, Francoise.”  Now, it’s really hard to be mad at one of the loveliest women you’ve ever met greeting the day with a perfectly rendered bon jour. 

“Bon Jour, Francoise,” my sleepy voice tried to sing back, though I’m sure it sounded off-key and foul. 

“So, 8:30 is good for you to leave for ski with Guy, my husband, and my kids, oui?” Husband?  Kids?  I had assumed I’d be skiing a leisurely day with…myself.  “Guy used to teach ski, so if you want a lesson, he will give you.  My kids are on school break, so they come with you, oui?” 

Wiping sleep from my eyes, I squeaked out my own oui and threw the covers over my head.  Fuck, I needed to get myself some coffee and a better attitude.  Stat!

Though the 8 AM hour has never been my hour, within minutes of meeting Guy, Marie-Lou, and Guillaume, I knew I was in good company.  Suddenly, I wasn’t worried about personality conflict; I was worried about my skiing. I’ve suffered through the countless rantings of my various ski-perfect friends pushing me toward a lesson (“you’re a good skier, but you can be awesome if you’d just tweak your form”), but pride forbid such nonsense.  I would go through life a semi-good skier with terrible form.  Period.

The first slope was a breezy blue ride. But as we came off the lift for run number two, Guy headed the way of a black diamond.  Oh no!  The last black diamond at Canyons had me crying through an off-course, tree-strewn adventure cursing Darryl as we went. But before I could tell Guy this awful little anecdote, the kids were flying over moguls and blasting through powder in polite wait for the American slowpoke their mom cast on them.  So, I swallowed and followed.  Halfway down, I looked at Guy, and bit the bullet.  “Okay, I’m yours,” I began slowly. “What am I doing wrong?”  In my head, I heard the simultaneous applause of ski friends around the globe.

“It’s not what you’re doing wrong, it’s what you need to do right,” Guy smiled as he leaned forward on his poles in discussion.  And that was all Guy had to say.  When he showed me what I should be doing, rather than what I shouldn’t, my whole game changed.  I was confident, my body felt balanced, and I flew alongside the kids.  The rest of the day was glorious.  Double black diamonds, switchbacks, even Expo, the hardest slope with a severe pitch—you name it, I skied it.  Tremblant?  Peanuts.  Puh-lease.

The rest of my time in Tremblant was spent in exploration.  Surrounded by lakes, Tremblant reminded me an East Coast equivalent of Lake Tahoe mixed with the charm of a Swiss ski town atmosphere.  Coming off the slopes, the colorful architecture of the town painted a playful silhouette on the horizon. Dotted with shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels, Tremblant was a cozy little spot that worked quick magic on visitors.  Add in chocolate, poutine (fries with cheese and gravyI know!), crepes, fresh-baked baguettes, and crocks of French onion soup for sustenance, this was the life!  

When it came time to say goodbye to Francoise, Guy, Marie-Lou, Guillaume, the Chateau Beauvallon, and Mont Tremblant, I wasn’t ready to go.  This was a special place filled with comfort and friendship, all set against the backdrop of a Quebecois mountain.  I knew I’d be back in summer to see the beauty of the lakes, and in winter to continue my mastery of skiing and not feel bad about eating multiple poutine servings a week.  As I got into my car to head back to Montreal for my next adventure, I was excited.  Canada was turning out to be grand.

Note: If you’re interested in a few fun facts about our neighbor to the north, check out this fact sheet I found online.

1 comment:

David@Plateau Natura said...

Mont Tremblant is my preferred ski location around Montreal and there are so many things beyond skiing this place can offer.

Mont Tremblant the village: frankly I find it kind of cheesy and artificial, but it has everything you need to spend good weekend or vacation, restaurants, bars, brew pub, hotels that may be a little pricy, but if you can afford it pick one with heated pools.

Mont Tremblant during the summer: well maintained hiking trails, beautiful views of the Laurentian's from the platform on top of the mountain, a lot of family activities and kids fun, golf and spa Scandinave in the surroundings. The National Park of Mont Tremblant offers more outdoor activities if you like the nature.

Mont Tremblant during the winter: I know, it's not Whistler, and it can be really cold, and you may end up skiing in some arctic like winds on icy surface, but come on, this is Quebec, Canada, better embrace it and enjoy your time. There are some nice long ski slopes, and few difficult ones and if you are beginner, no worries, the family zones will allow you to practice. The personnel is making amazing efforts to maintain the tracks even in very harsh weather conditions. The gondola on the South side of the mountain allows for a quick warm up in a cold day, but I really prefer the North side, more rustic, less crowded, some nice glades to ski in. My preferred spot at the end of the ski day: the chalet at the base of the North side has a fire place, get a hot chocolate and sit around to warm up your toes.

The best is to get to Mont Tremblant after snow storm. Fingers crossed for another one soon.