Memories of National Lampoon-esque family vacations swirl like flakes in a snow globe: utter madness. As a kid from Vancouver, B.C. — where skiing and walking basically fall on the same spot on the scale of natural human ability — ski trips were a staple of the winter seasons. For my family, this meant waking before dawn to ensure that by 8 a.m. Dad was pulling our Ford Explorer into the resort village and turning up the radio knob to the local mountain station for condition reports delivered in between a string of classic rock. Meanwhile Mom (after telling Dad to turn it down) rattled about the car trying to get we little ones organized, pulling ski suits out from under a pile of fleece blankets, hot chocolate mugs, and empty Tim Horton Timbit boxes. Ah, sweet Canadiana.
Location: Mont Tremblant, Québec
And how Québec’s Mont Tremblant brings it all back. Glistening with glaciers by day and twinkling village lights by night, it’s an idyllic escape for the old, the wee, and the almost-grown up.
Here, rising amidst the Laurentians, the summit is 1,871 feet above sea level, and 654 skiable acres cascade down rugged slopes of pure powder and groomed runs. There are countless ways to get down the hill, whether by gentle trail or plunging black diamond, or there is always the leisurely half pipe to spend the light hours, where bad rink rock and the garbled sounds of Chad Kroeger draw decked out boarders and the occasional local mountain celeb. Bring a portable snack and park yourself action-side to catch wannabe Shaun Whites give a free show, flaunting grabs, alley oops, and magnificent wipe outs. Be prepared to join in on the inevitable emphatic hoot and fist-pump.
It used to be that Mom and Dad would head to the lodge by mid-afternoon while we kids rode till the lifts stopped running and the sun went down, but now that our knees get achy like old folks (if, like me, you’re venomously opposed to going to the gym and suffer the old age aches as a consequence) you may gladly forfeit the days of youthful endurance for a relaxing dip in the Jacuzzi and a round or 5 at Happy Hour. With convenient ski-in access, the Fairmont Tremblant has both. Warm gold and red tones mesh with exposed wood rafters and stone fireplaces make for an atmosphere worthy of a cheeky ugly sweater party or, for the traditionalist, a simple pre-dinner cocktail amongst strangers venting about work stress.
A few steps away, but still within close range of the base gondola, is the more contemporary Le Westin. Suites here come with complementary ice skates for wooers and the wooed to take a romantic moonlit spin on the nearby ice rink.
The paramount of chalet chic, however, is The Abercrombie House, a multimillion dollar lodging luxury. With vaulted ceilings, a gourmet kitchen, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room with a spectacular view of the mountainside, one may just as well stay in.
For those who enact a no cooking policy during vacation, venture down to the village and follow the aroma of browning butter to Crêperie Catherine. Batter is swirled over traditional round griddles by the lovely Catherine herself, and the thin pancakes are filled with heaps of sweet and savoury ingredients, from berries and whipped cream to delicate slices of smoked salmon topped with capers and béchamel. With a hearty meal in your tummy (and hours of hill activity to justify it) head to the Cinéma Mont-Tremblant for a veg-out session to the screen flickerings of your choice of French or English titles. Come nightfall, Fat Mardi’s is a popular spot with live bands and $9 screaming red, curiously strong, signature Hurricane cocktails. Then there is Bar Café d’Époque for those looking to add a touch of Vegas to their mountain break. Think shots, girls who dress as if they’ve forgotten it’s winter, more shots, and a bar top that is occasionally lit on fire for flare. A spin or two on the stinky dance floor to top 40 hits interchanged with Bon Jovi and AC/DC will have you recalling Spring Break as seen on MTV.
Offering a variety of ski packages, Mont Tremblant has all you need to relax and shake off the regimented schedule of ski trips bygone.
Location: Blue Mountain, Ontario
Remember the taste of fresh air and the feel of flushed cheeks? No? Well then you’ve been trapped too long within your concrete city confines. For those toiling away in the hustle and bustle of Toronto, a detour to Blue Mountain Ski Resort is the fun fix to see you through the cold weather blues.
Two hours north of Toronto, in Collingwood, Ontario, hire a Zip Car and make it a weekend getaway. Spanning 720 feet above the Niagara Escarpment, the view is sure to be a vast improvement from your apartment balcony, especially after the sun goes down, when a good chunk of the hill stays lit up for skiing under the stars.
For those who’d prefer to steer clear of vertical inclines, there is adventure to be found away from the hill. From the base, the less vertically-inclined depart for nature hikes by snowshoe or cross-country ski. The path dips through birch forest, a labyrinth of caverns, over a suspension footbridge, and out to a 10,000 square kilometre panoramic viewpoint. With a flannel shirt conspicuously peeking out, your rolled up hunter’s toque (finally put to use and unrolled as it was always meant to be), and snowshoes strapped tightly in place, you will feel (or at least look) like Pierre-Esprit Radisson, the legendary Canadian explorer and trapper.
Meanwhile, for those of us who wish not to undertake such steep physical escapades, an afternoon at Le Scandinave Spa is adventure enough. Regardless of whether the ancient healing properties of water are a mere myth spun by spa mantra, hydrotherapy baths are truly pleasurable. Imagine a hot eucalyptus soak followed by a cool plunge: pure refreshment. But keep your conversation to Cottage Life or get disdainful glare from the ladies who lunch; their ownership over the city’s tearooms moves to the sauna when on mini ski holidays.
Muscles unknotted and scented like a lady of luxury, it is time to move on to dinner. Bring on a homey dish at 3 Guys And A Stove, where spirits are sure to be set right. Well worth the calories, celebrated chef Jeff Suddaby serves up generous portions of comfort food, including creamy curried pumpkin soup and oven-fired macaroni and cheese casserole. Or, for those still gnawing at the habits of city-living, opt for a stylish evening at Twist Martini and Wine Lounge. Sample the internationally-inspired tapas and concoctions from the extensive drink menu, whilst listening to live entertainment from jazz to singer-songwriter-type performances.
Local nightlife, while a key component to any ski village experience, is almost worth cutting short to retreat to the comforts offered by Westin Trillium House, where urban sophistication meets chalet-cozy. A bottle of wine in is a must, as each suite has a gas fireplace designed to be cozied up to. Go all in, and opt for in-house dining catered by the Toronto chain Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill. Try the 8 ounce classic grilled burger with Balderson cheddar, or onion marmalade paired with one of the restaurant’s delicious Canadian wines.
Far enough to be the necessary break from the city we all need at times, and close enough to make it an easy mini-break for those of us with only a weekend to spare, a trip to Blue Mountain is the answer to a gloomy winter rut.