A village of candy coloured buildings sprinkled with a dusting of crisp snow; in the distance, gingerbread style houses nestle between the masses of pine trees; surrounding this, a never-ending canvas of blinding white hills and slopes, populated with weaving coloured speckles of the most discerning of winter sport enthusiasts. This is Mont Tremblant – a quaint village in the Laurentian mountains of the eastern Canadian province of Quebec, and a destination that marked my very first experience of what a true winter really is.
I’d never seen this much snow, experienced temperatures this low or even stepped foot on ski slope of any sort before. I shivered a lot and said, “It’s so cold” more times than I can remember, but nothing can take away the awe you have when you step out into a winter wonderland. For me – a city lover, an Asia enthusiast used to bustling traffic and hectic street life, and a hiker who has climbed through national parks and small mountains – this was a whole new world and it was very inviting.
Why Learn to Ski or Snowboard in Quebec?
While Alberta’s tempting Rocky Mountains and British Columbia’s abundance of ski resorts may put Mont Tremblant in the shadows a little, I wouldn’t be too quick to push it aside, especially if you are new to the winter holiday scene. Bustling without being overwhelming, and full of action without making you feel too inadequate, Mont Tremblant’s Snow School is an ideal place to learn how to ski and/or snowboard. For those more experienced, there are 95 runs to tempt you across the peaks and I envy your skills – the view of the landscape below, from up high in the cable car, looked absolutely magical.
Mont Tremblant is also a great option for those wanting to explore the eastern side of Canada (being so close to Montreal) or to combine with a US city holiday (being a short flight from New York and Washington DC). Plus it’s only a seven or eight-hour flight from Western Europe, if you are looking for a winter break further afield.
Besides, Canadians are known for embracing and making the most of winter, so who better to learn from than them?
Learning How to Snowboard
On our first morning, our group of four virgin snowboarders got fully decked out at the rental centre before meeting ‘John JPK’, our instructor for the two-three days we had scheduled in the get a taster for this cool sport – apparently, it’s easier to learn how to snowboard then it is to learn how to ski.
What JPK was soon to realise is that I am stubborn, hate failing and that I have a really poor sense of balance. Not really the ideal combination of sorts, but you soon learn that you are not alone – everyone on the specially designated novice slope is learning and no one passes judgment.
Still, despite the little screams, the tight hand squeezing, the numerous falls I dubbed as ‘bum sledging’ and the frustrated tantrum that I threw on day two where I sat on the slope and refused to move because, “I just can’t do it so what’s the point?” these guys from the Mont Tremblant Snow School made learning fun. Broken down into simple steps, where encouragement is delivered with humour, you soon pick up the basics.
JPK’s quotes of “Are you a ballerina or a cow girl?” “Are you an orangutan or a human?” and “Be a duck!” soon stuck in my mind in relation to how to adjust my posture, move my body and stay balanced. He drew pictures in the snow in explanation and remained smiling even after I had stopped the blood flow in his hands from holding on to dear life when he tried to push me to freestyle freedom.
With an instructor’s patience, despite your potential lack of it, you can actually learn pretty quickly. I’m proud to say that I got down that small slope on a few occasions by myself and, for that achievement, I became a little hooked. I’m already thinking about exploring the possibility of snowboarding again in the future although I am keen for one-on-one tuition. If you are serious about learning quickly, a group instructor, while the cheaper option, can be limiting. I personally need to do something over and over in order to pick it up and waiting around can soon damper your enthusiasm to keep going. Others may like the camaraderie of a group, but it’s certainly something you need to think about.
Mont Tremblant wasn’t heaving with a thriving entertainment scene as I was expecting of a ski resort. Post 3pm, when everyone is coming back from the last run on the slopes, the bars and restaurants are filled with a social hum that’s more relaxed than raucous. When the sun goes down and the village is awash in a pretty yellow glow, friendship groups gather for dinner and a few beers.
In a part of the village that once housed the very first chalet houses, a couple of bars pump out the tunes a little louder, so not all is lost. If you are looking for the quieter end of resort life, head here during the week like we did but if you are after a thriving scene of nightlife madness, this isn’t the place where you will find it (although annual festivals do take place here).
Adventure Away From the Slopes
You could easily spend a week learning and experiencing the other adventurous offerings of Mont Tremblant or stay for two weeks or more and experience the various ski villages and surrounding peak runs before spending some time in the stunning city of Montreal.
Being in a winter haven isn’t just about experiencing skiing and snowboarding. If booked in advance you can choose from a whole host of adventurous activities including tubing at the base of the mountain, dog sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling and snow shoeing in the surrounding forest area. In Mont Tremblant, you are never bored.
On the other end of the scale, time spent in the stunning and energising Scandinave Spa and its dry saunas, outdoor hot baths and icy, circulation pumping, Nordic plunge pools are a much needed remedy to the winter workout you will experience daily. It was a perfect refresher after a couple of heavy sporting days.
Canadians know how to make the most of winter and Mont Tremblant is no exception to the rule. In its 75th year of operation, it’s still going strong as a must-see destination for daredevils, inquisitive beginners to the snow scene and eager nature enthusiasts. Will I try snowboarding again? Absolutely (with some intensive lessons to start). Am I a winter holiday convert? I’m certainly getting there. I’m just glad I got a head start from a province of Canada proud to pass on its enthusiasm for a chilly season I’ve spent much of my life dismissing.
Things to Know:
- Mont Tremblant is approximately a two hour drive from Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, where cars and limos can be organised
- Prices for ski and snowboard equipment rental, available from nine outlets on site, begin at $39.99 upwards, with a minimum half day rental. Ski lift ticket prices start from $59 for a half day rental and $79 for a full day pass
- There are various snowshoeing trails to experience, with prices starting from $15.99 for a two hour trip
- Access to the Scandinave Spa costs $48, not including massages
My visit to Mont Tremblant was a part of the #LoveWinter blog trip created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism Montreal and Tourism Quebec. All opinions remain my own and I’m still learning to love winter – the Canadians just know how to embrace it and turn it into something positive.