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A Visit to the Fairmont Tremblant

Dustin Abbott

March 1st, 2017

 

Those of you who regularly follow my work might know that I have a bit of a love affair with Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I’ve visited the area a number of different times in a variety of seasons, stayed at four different properties, and always leave with a smile on my face and great memories. I never get tired of the place. I love the ambiance of Tremblant, the elegance of the French-infused “active culture” of the place. What I hadn’t done, however, was stay at the signature property in Tremblant. The prime real estate at the base of the summit has been occupied by the Fairmont Tremblant for the past twenty years. I took a different kind of trip to Tremblant in February 2017 to explore Fairmont and Tremblant itself from the inside out. Join me on a journey to one of my favorite spots in North America.

The history of Tremblant is somewhat unique. Though located in the Canadian Province of Quebec, it was actually a wealthy American explorer named Joseph Bondurant Ryan who “discovered” the potential of the area in 1938 while prospecting for gold. He was accompanied by two other men, Harry Wheeler (founder of the Gray Rocks Inn in Mont Tremblant) and Lowell Thomas, a journalist, and what they found was treasure of another, more lasting kind. They climbed to the summit of Mont Tremblant on skis wrapped in seal skins for traction, and there, exhausted but elated by the beauty and potential of the region, Joseph Ryan vowed to transform the region into a world class alpine village. It was only one year later in February of 1939 that Ryan opened the Mont Tremblant lodge, which is still part of the pedestrian village today.

Though Ryan passed away in 1950, his legacy lives on in the area, with roads bearing his name and a little chapel in the pedestrian village where he, his wife Mary, and son Peter are buried.

I can’t help but think that Joseph Ryan would be impressed by what Mont Tremblant has become.

Mont Tremblant (the name comes from the Native American Algonquin and means “trembling mountain”) is most famous as an outdoor/active person’s paradise. I’m writing in February, and the ski season is in full swing. Tremblant is perhaps best known as a ski-resort (though I love it here in summer and fall, too), but also is tailored to a host of other sports – from golf to Iron Man competitions to even motor sports (Formula One, Can Am, etc…).

Mont Tremblant is consistently rated as the #1 ski resort in the Northeast, and as I’ve dialogued with skiers I’ve discovered why. Many ski resorts feature a lift with a chalet at the bottom of the mountain to get a meal or warm up, and might have another chalet at the top. A day of skiing often includes (by necessity) a drive from lodging somewhere else. Meal choices are either whatever the chalet offers or whatever is within driving distance, but the inconvenience of seeking a meal elsewhere and missing out on the brief hours of daylight for skiing have often discouraged many skiers from doing so. My wife remembers a time when she was young that Tremblant was similar. There was a lodge/chalet at the base of the hill (what is now the lower end of the pedestrian village) but none of the utterly charming pedestrian village development that makes Tremblant so unique.

But when Intrawest purchased the ski resort in the early 90s all of that changed. They began the extensive development of the pedestrian village, full of shopping, hotels, restaurants, and bars. Now when you look down the slope (perhaps while riding in the panoramic gondola), you see a village that looks like it was imported straight from the Swiss Alps. The bright red, green, and bronze roofs in the village look like something out of a painting. You have myriad dining, lodging, and even shopping options (you can buy everything from ski/active wear to art to furs in the village). Part of what makes Tremblant so special is the ambiance. It is fun for skiers and non-skiers alike. You aren’t limited in either lodging or meal options, but have all kinds of choices right at the base of the mountain. This allows you to maximize your vacation time, and the charm of the village itself makes it all feel like a magical time…even when you aren’t on the slopes.

But skiers also love the mountain itself. It has many, many different runs for all skill levels. Beginning skiers will love the fact that the “bunny hill” routes are not boring, short little sections but rather long, beautiful, yet easy runs. All kinds of training options are available, and it is pretty cute to see a class of little 4 and 5 year-olds finishing their run at the base. But more experienced skiers and snowboarders love the extremely long runs at Tremblant. With some 96 marked ski runs, there are plenty of Black Diamond and even Double Black Diamond runs as well down all sides of the mountain with some 14 lifts in operation to keep you moving.

A massive chalet (Le Grand Manitou Cafeteria) is at the top along with some truly breathtaking views (particularly on a clear day). At the top the snow is incredibly deep and heavy, and it is amazing to see the trees deeply buried in the white stuff.  Those that are more into freestyle will find a whopping 30 acres of landscaped terrain across three different zones to practice their moves.  Suffice it to say that winter sport lovers will have a hard time being bored at Tremblant!

The one thing Mont Tremblant doesn’t have is lighted runs for night skiing, but in some ways they are less dependent on it because of all the other options in the village at night. There are a host of activities going on nearer the base, from sledding to even little runs on snowmobiles. In the village there is music, dining, and cozy fire pits to just cuddle and talk around.

I’ve previously written about how much I love the area for offering the perfect balance of outdoor activities with plenty of relaxation options, so I’ll focus more on the unique positioning of the Fairmont as part of the big scheme of things here. It is the top spot for skiers because of the complete convenience; you can literally ski right into it!

The Fairmont brand is a storied one in Canada, though the story actually began in San Francisco with the original Fairmont hotel. The Fairmont website says this, “In 1907, history was made when The Fairmont San Francisco, Nob Hill’s grand dame, opened its doors. The iconic hotel soon became the city’s venue of choice for glittering balls, presidential visits and political gatherings, making the name Fairmont synonymous with “place of occasion”. With this auspicious beginning, the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts brand was born.”

The Fairmont was a historical place where important things happened, including a signature moment in 1945 where the charter for the UN was drafted and signed by 50 countries. The Fairmont name became associated with importance and elegance, and some of the notable Fairmont properties include The Fairmont Banff Springs, The Savoy in London, Quebec City’s Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, New York’s The Plaza, and Ottawa’s Château Laurier. In 1999 the Fairmont brand merged with Canadian Pacific Hotels, and there are now some 60+ premium properties in some of the world’s most desirable locations.

Needless to say there is a pretty tremendous burden of expectation upon any property bearing the storied Fairmont name, and while there is no question that the Fairmont Tremblant conveys that sense of elegance, the Fairmont Tremblant is not necessarily a place of quiet luxury. As I’ve already mentioned, the region itself is a place for being active. There are several different places where you can ski right in and out of the Fairmont Tremblant (the only property in the area with this option), and during the winter the place is buzzing with people enjoying themselves. Many of them are dressed in ski gear, though I had a conversation with a couple visiting from Connecticut and discovered that while the man and his son were there to ski, the wife and daughter were there for spa treatments and to hang out at the extensive pool and hot tub facilities.

Oh yes, in February, in Quebec, Canada, in the dead of winter, the OUTDOOR pool and hot tubs are a flurry of activity. Steam rises off the various tubs and pools and people in swimsuits are running around. It was an amazing thing to look down from our room after checking in and see the incredible juxtaposition of the azure blue waters of the pools and hot tubs with people in swimsuits right next to the slope of white snow with skiers and snowboarders shooting by! I call this photo “Choose Your Own Adventure”.

The rooms thoughtfully provide monogrammed robes to wear down to the pool/spa. There are both indoor change rooms as well as outdoor rooms where you can hang your towel and robe. You quickly forget the cold when you soak in the heat of the hot tubs (which come in several different temperature settings), and even the outdoor pool is kept at a nice temperature. It’s amazing what a good set of heaters will do!  Being out on a cold night under the stars in a hot tub is an experience not to be missed!

Adding to the atmosphere are fire pits with Adirondack chairs stacked with cozy blankets scattered around them. There’s something oddly comforting about beating winter and feeling warm and cozy outdoors. There is also a station making maple taffy by pouring hot maple syrup into snow and then rolling up the end result onto a popsicle stick.

For those looking for a different kind of treat there is even an outdoor champagne bar carved from ice. I got a man full of personality telling me that I couldn’t have a picture of the bar without a customer, so he happily volunteered to model for me.

If you don’t feel like being outside, there is also a good size indoor pool, a hot tub, a large dry sauna inside in an area full of light.  There is a nice sized workout room with a variety of weights, exercise machines, and yoga gear. There are also steam rooms in the change area. These are all great places to unwind after a morning or day of being active.

There is a spa (Spa de Tremblant) located within the Fairmont Tremblant, complete with massage and facial options, quiet spaces, and even some unique Neuro Spa chairs. It’s a quiet haven from the hustle and bustle going on on the mountain and throughout the village. Lana and I enjoyed truly excellent massages there.

There are several restaurants also located within the hotel, where Lana and I enjoyed some great meals, including their famous Surf/Turf/Sushi buffet on Saturday evenings. Equally enticing for me was the fantastic breakfast buffet, which, while pricey, is loaded with a lot of premium options that makes for a very special breakfast experience. There is a convenient lower level café where skiers can pop in and grab a quick bite before heading back out on the slope.

I’m not much of a downhill skier. When I first became engaged to Lana and came up to Canada to meet her family over a Christmas holiday, some of her family decided to take me skiing. I grew up in Arizona (Scottsdale/Phoenix area), and snow was something we very occasionally drove to see (and would then leave). I had never skied in my life, ice skated, or pretty much done anything winter related. Suffice it to say that my ski experience that day was not the highlight of my trip that Christmas. I mostly fell, had a hard time getting back up, and then fell some more. I finally made a bit of progress on the “bunny hill”, so my future brother-in-law decided to upgrade me to a more difficult slope. I fell some more, only this time harder, longer, and farther. I was very relieved to hit the chalet after that run and didn’t volunteer to go back out.

But I picked up cross country skiing about 15 years ago and do that fairly often. It’s great exercise and a fantastic way to enjoy winter (which will never be my favorite season!). There are a lot of fantastic cross country ski trails around the Tremblant area (both classic and skate-style), but we did something different this time. We visited the Domaine Saint-Bernard, a beautiful section of nature preserve about a 15 minute drive from the Fairmont. The trails we had previously ridden follow the cycling trails (mild months), and include some places where they by necessity cross roads, but the Domaine Saint-Bernard has over 80 kilometres of well groomed trails through beautiful natural settings. There are trails for most all skill levels there, along with rentals and even the opportunity for some lessons.

Some highlights include a number of “refuges”, where you can not only take a break next to a fire pit but also become a human bird feeder. They supply little bags of seeds, and if you stay patient for a few minutes, the local chickadees will come and eat out of your hand. Another highlight for Lana and I were coming upon a group of three deer that watched us a bit but largely carried on with their own business while we talked to them. I particularly enjoyed the moments that the sun would break through the clouds and illuminate the side of the mountain beyond the river.

There are also a number of snowshoeing trails throughout Domain Saint-Bernard if that is your preference.

I was in a local ski/bike shop in my area called Gear Heads looking for a new set of snowshoes to replace a pair that had died on me a few weeks before my trip, and when I mentioned I was visiting the Fairmont Tremblant the guy helping me lit up. He had to share what he loved most about the Fairmont. He had traveled there with other cyclists, and told me that often hotels are somewhat disdainful of cyclists and their cycles. Many hotels have no facilities for storing cycles (which are often worth thousands of dollars) and don’t want the dirty things around. But not the Fairmont. When they heard they were there to cycle, they provided them with cleaning kits and large bags to cover them…and invited them to bring their cycles to their rooms! This made a huge impact on their group, who were made to feel welcome in a unique kind of way. That is part of what makes the Fairmont Tremblant unique; it is a mix of elegance and action, a place where it is okay to actually be living and enjoying life rather than just trying to look good! In your jogging clothes? Got skis or a cycle? You aren’t going to get a dirty look, but rather a friendly welcome instead…and a porter will bring it all up to your room (or store your skis in a locker for you). When I got to my room my things were all stored, including my skates, snowshoes and winter boots!

That special welcome is part of the experience. I was continually greeted by staff members (all of whom seemed to be very bilingual and spoke excellent English) and was treated with deference and respect. I received a note in my room on the first evening with a welcome from the manager along with a plate of very tasty maple fudge. I joked with greeters, hosts and hostesses, waiters and chefs. I was even told that I was pretty nice…for a photographer 🙂

If you want a more exclusive experience (and are willing to pay for it!), there is a special “Gold Level” experience that is even more personalized. There is a special reception area on the seventh floor with premium concierge services. The Gold Lounge has special privileges from reading materials and computers to complimentary tea, coffee, and cocktails along with snacks throughout the day. A large continental breakfast combined with hot items is included. The views from the Gold Lounge are pretty fantastic.

The rooms at the Fairmont are nice and well appointed, with a lot of nice touches such as a safe, fridge, and a nice coffee and tea service (Kuerig for the coffee but also a real electric tea kettle for we tea drinkers that prefer our tea NOT be tainted by the last person’s coffee!)  The bathrooms have tubs plus a “rainforest” shower head that makes for an extra special shower.  Most rooms have a pretty killer view, and I wrote some of this article while sitting at the desk near the window in my room and looking out on the beauty of the scene beyond.  I visited several rooms (one of the perks of being a photographer), and saw a number of different configurations, including a suite with kitchenette, spacious living room, and a separate bedroom.  I particularly liked a room with double beds that had great light, a great view, and great space.  The rooms are very nice, but not necessarily exceptional.  I’ve stayed in other properties in the area with equally nice rooms.

The public spaces in the Fairmont Tremblant are mostly rustic boutique, with a lot of wood and stone.  Massive stone fireplaces abound, which gives it all a very warm, cozy feel.  As a photographer I tend to notice light, and the light in the Fairmont Tremblant is excellent.  There is a lot of natural light from windows all around, which gives it a bright and airy feel that I’m personally a big fan of.  You are rarely far from a window with a great view.

Should there not be enough for you in the Fairmont Tremblant alone, just step outside into the utterly charming pedestrian village with all it has to offer!

 

In short, while the Fairmont Tremblant isn’t an inexpensive place, it raises the level of the Tremblant experience to a whole new level. It was a fantastic place to enjoy a weekend getaway. You don’t feel like you waste any of your vacation time, as everything you want is right there. No down time in driving or waiting, and the mix of available activities means that there is something for everyone. And if you are active, you don’t leave your vacation feeling “vacation blahs” from inactivity or excess. You leave feeling refreshed…and maybe even a pound or two lighter.

And, of course, if you happen to be a photographer like me, you may melt your camera down with all of the amazing scenes you will have to shoot!

In the midst of all of this there is only one real problem: your vacation flies by far too quickly! There’s always a bit of sadness when it’s time to leave Tremblant. But in the words of P.T. Barnum, “Always leave them wanting more…”. It seems that Tremblant has got that one down!

Dustin Abbott is a pastor, photographer, gear reviewer, and writer. He enjoys travel, being active, and hanging out with his wife and kids.  Check me out onGoogle+: | Facebook: | Twitter: | Flickr: | 500px: | Sign Up for My Newsletter :

Gear Used:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (5D4)
Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera (Body Only)
Zeiss Otus 1.4/28mm:  B&H Photo | Amazon 
Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (in Canada) (Use code AMPLIS52016DA to get 5% off)
Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (USA and World)
Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM ART In the USA
Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM ART in Canada (Use code SIGDLA for special gift with purchase)
Purchase the Rokinon SP 85mm f/1.2: B&H Photo |  Amazon
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens
Voigtländer Color Skopar 20mm f/3.5 SL II
Adobe Lightroom CC Software for Mac and Windows (Boxed Version)
Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud 1-Year Subscription
Alien Skin Exposure X2 (Use Code “dustinabbott” to get 10% anything and everything)

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Keywords:  Fairmont, Mont Tremblant, Fairmont Tremblant, Joseph Ryan, Travel, Pedestrian Village, Ski, Dustin Abbott, Photography, 2017, Fairmont Hotels, Quebec, Canada, Food, Lodging, Dining, Activities,