Weekenders: Sweet Laurentians Spring

Montreal’s mountain playground brims with fun.

By Alex C. Pasquariello

In southern Quebec, the ancient Laurentian Mountains seem to spill into the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. Hunter-gatherer Algonquin and Iroquois first explored their lakes, streams and forests and provided 18th-century French fur trappers with reports of the mighty Mont Tremblant in the north. Today, Tremblant Resort, some 80 miles northwest of Montreal, is the Laurentians’ premier four-season retreat and an ideal jump-off point for mountain adventure and authentic French-Canadian culture in historic hamlets and on local ski hills. The region is also treasured for its maple forests. Spring wakes up those maple forests and signals that it’s time for folks to tap trees, boil sap in traditional “sugar shacks”(some of which have evolved to include restaurants) and indulge in syrup-soaked feasts.

Snowy Start

The vernal equinox (March 20 this year) in the Laurentians marks the beginning of the spring ski season, which is known for its long days, soft snow and après-ski scene. Quebec traces its ski tracks back to the turn of the 20th century, when clubs formed in Montreal and the surrounding Laurentian communities. In 1931 the continent’s first rope tow pulled skiers up a hill outside Montreal, and in 1934 the first ski lift was built at Mont Saint-Sauveur. By the winter of 1939 Le Grand Lodge Mont-Tremblant had opened and Le P’tit Train du Nord was hauling nearly 120,000 skiers from Montreal to the snowy Laurentian slopes. The ski train is long gone, but you can still savor the snow at Mont Saint-Sauveur, 46 miles northwest of Montreal. The season at this 142-acre resort regularly lasts into May, thanks to one of the most advanced snowmaking systems in the East. You can learn about North America’s first ski lift at the Laurentian Ski Museum, set in a renovated firehouse, and then grab a seat by the fire at T-Bar 70, a contemporary bistro named in its honor.

Farther north, Tremblant Resort is the largest (610 acres) and highest (2,871 feet) ski resort in the Laurentians, and the ski season here lasts through April 17. You can hop on the Versant Soleil (Sunny Side) lift for gorgeous glades on Brasse-Camarade, Bon Vieux Temps or Les Bouleaux runs. In the resort’s charming pedestrian village below, the poutine-topped burgers at Le Shack are a great way to fortify yourself after a day on the slopes. At Le Diable Microbrewery, nearby, choose one of six signature suds to pair with sausages topped by house-made sauerkraut. Legendary ski bar Le P’tit Caribou is under new ownership, and it just debuted a new VIP wine and whiskey lounge that’s sure to be the hottest party in the village. During the first week of April the bar hosts the annual Caribou Cup, wherein scores of costumed skiers slide down the slushy mountain and skim over an icy 75-foot pond.

For low-key turns and uncrowded beginner pistes, consider driving 15 minutes east of Mont Tremblant to Mont Blanc, a 155-acre, 41-trail destination spanning three peaks. The resort is a great spot for children to learn how to ski, with a magic-carpet surface lift (a conveyor belt built for young skiers) and one of the largest ski schools in Quebec with more than 125 certified instructors.

Maple Magic

Legend has it that the Laurentians’ indigenous tribes were tipped off to the sweet stuff that courses through maple trees when a squirrel was seen drinking sap from a broken bough. The tribes’ knowledge was passed along to 18th-century frontiersmen, who then refined the process of boiling syrup in remote cabanes à sucre—translation: sugar shacks. Today more than 34 million maple trees are in production in Quebec, delivering 148 million pounds of syrup that add nearly $600 million* to Canada’s GDP, according to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

The sticky delicacy is a staple in Quebec’s traditional sugar shack dinner, which is served at communal tables across the region for 8 to 12 weeks starting at the beginning of March. The hearty frontier feast was first conceived to feed hungry workers after a long, cold day spent tapping trees, and those original spreads included frontier foods like salted pork, sausage links, bacon, fried pork rinds, baked beans and fried potatoes—all soaked in syrup, of course. Now a new class of chefs is elevating this traditional meal to gastronomic heights. Among the most acclaimed sugar shack restaurants is Martin Picard’s hillside Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, which looks out over a maple forest in Saint Benoît de Mirabel. The chef who put Montreal on the culinary map with Au Pied de Cochon brings to the Laurentians the culinary excess that made him famous—think foie-gras-topped oysters, pea stew overflowing with slabs of bacon, brioche-wrapped sausage and maple-caramelized duck confit stuffed with mushrooms.

Some 10 miles southeast of Tremblant Resort and near Mont Blanc, La Tablée des Pionniers is set in an antique-filled sugar shack restored by acclaimed Quebec chef and cookbook author Louis-François Marcotte. Beyond decadent dishes such as braised bacon and a soufflé omelet with cheese curds, the menu incorporates apples in marmalades, vinaigrettes and a maple-infused cider. Arrive early to take part in a snowshoe stomp through the maple trees; on select weekends the restaurant hosts horse-drawn carriage rides.

If you can’t score a seat at La Tablée or Cabane à Sucre, chow down at Au Petit Poucet, in Val David, a Quebec institution since 1945 that now serves syrupy goodness year-round. The maple-wood-smoked ham is still prepared using the recipe developed by founding master chef Raymond L. Burdairon.

Swing (or Spa) Away

The French explorers who tamed this land couldn’t have imagined that its rolling mountains, raging rivers and expansive blue lakes would serve as a setting for Scotland’s national game. But the Laurentians are, indeed, one of Canada’s outstanding golf regions. The season kicks off the first week of May. Sitting pretty on the banks of Rivière du Diable, the golf course La Belle was sculpted out of the mountains by horse and plow in the early 1930s. Bring your best iron shot to the tee box at the 150-yard, par-3 14th hole because there isn’t a fairway—just a green carved into the side of a hill. No matter how you score, stop to enjoy stunning Laurentians views from the elevated tee at the next hole, a 250-yard par 3.

Farther along Rivière du Diable, Le Maître is a semiprivate course designed by Fred Couples that meanders through forests and along the river. Highlights include the 6th and 18th holes, where greens are separated by a cascading waterfall.

Tremblant Resort isn’t just a premier ski hill, it’s also a great golf destination, with two public courses. Tee off at Le Géant for a true mountain golf experience that culminates in a stunning 458-yard, par-4 18th. You can take in gorgeous views of Lake Tremblant from the elevated tee box and then carry your drive over the ravine some 150 feet below.

At Le Diable, sandy bunkers line the fairways on the front nine, as does water on the par-3 third and sixth holes. Look for magnificent mountain views of Mont Tremblant as you go around holes 10, 11 and 12. Whatever number you put on that scorecard, reward yourself at Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant, on the banks of Riviere Diable. You can start with a sweat in the Finnish sauna and follow it up with a soak in the thermal waterfall before wrapping up your session with a Swedish massage.

Vacation Primer

Three ways to make the most of your mountain getaway.

Book in advance
Many sugar shacks—Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon and La Tablée des Pionniers included—start taking reservations for the spring season at the beginning of December, so it’s helpful to book your seats as early as possible. Both restaurants are also open and serve elevated Quebecois fare during the harvest season.

Learn the language
Spend some time with the book Learn Canadian French (Blurb; 2016), and you just might be able to leave your high school French at home. Canadian French traces its roots back 400 years, and the singular language is spoken, celebrated and fiercely protected across the province today. $15 on Amazon

Take home a souvenir
Martin Picard’s 386-page love letter to maple syrup—Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack Cookbook (Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon; 2012; English Ed.)—is so much more than a cookbook. The tome presents some 100 recipes and thousands of photos, a journal describing the busy life in the shack during sugar season and a technical manual for harvesting sap and boiling syrup. Available in-shack in hardback ($50), or download as an iBook ($7)

PLAY
Caribou Cup

Tremblant Resort village; 819-681-4500; ptitcaribou.com; viewing is open to the public for free; first week in April

La Belle

100 Golf Gray Rocks, Chemin Champagne, Mont-Tremblant; 800-567-6744; golfgrayrocks.com; green fees, from $19

Laurentian Ski Museum

30 Ave. Filion, Saint-Sauveur; 450-227-2564; museeduskideslaurentides.com; admission, $2 suggested donation

Le Diable

110 Chemin de l’Albatros, Tremblant Resort, Mont-Tremblant; 866-783-5634; tremblant.ca; green fees, from $37

Le Géant

8630 Montée Ryan, Tremblant Resort, Mont-Tremblant; 866-783-5634; tremblant.ca; green fees, from $37

Le Maître

650 Rue Grande Allèe, Mont-Tremblant; 819-425-9888; en.lemaitre.clublink.ca; green fees, from $41

Mont Blanc

1006 Route 117, Saint-Faustin; 800-567-6715; skimontblanc.com; adult day pass, $39

Mont Saint-Sauveur

350 Ave. Saint-Denis, Saint-Sauveur; 450-227-4671; montsaintsauveur.com; adult day pass, $42

Tremblant Resort

1000 Chemin des Voyageurs, Mont-Tremblant; 514-764-7546; tremblant.ca; adult day pass, $66

EAT
Au Petit Poucet

1030 Route 117, Val-David; 819-322-2246; aupetitpoucet.ca; dinner for two, $35

Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon

11382 Rang de la Fresnière, Saint Benoît de Mirabel; cabane.aupieddecochon.ca; communal feast, $64 a person

La Tablée des Pionniers

1357 Rue Saint-Faustin, Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré; 819-688-2101; latableedespionniers.com; communal feast, $24 a person

Le Diable Microbrewery

117 Chemin de Kandahar, Tremblant Resort village; 819-681-4546; microladiable.com; dinner for two, $40

Le P’tit Caribou

125 Chemin de Kandahar, Tremblant Resort village; 819-681-4500; ptitcaribou.com; drinks for two, $20

Le Shack

3035 Chemin de la Chappelle, Tremblant Resort village; 819-681-4700; leshack.com; dinner for two, $40

T-Bar 70

350 Ave. Saint-Denis, Saint-Sauveur; 450-227-4671; montsaintsaveur.com; drinks for two, $20

RELAX
Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant

4280 Montée Ryan, Mont-Tremblant; 888-537-2263; scandinave.com; treatments, from $101

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in the Laurentians include:
Privilege Mont-Tremblant – Village 6957

Active families are well accommodated at this golf and ski resort, with units that sleep up to 10 people. 1482 Chemin Du Village, Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada
Member Review: “Helpful staff and nice accommodations.”

Privilege Mont-Tremblant – Voliere 2272

Shares amenities with Privilege Mont-Tremblant – Village. 2140 Chemin Du Village, Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada
Member Review: “Great location.”

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts
Fairmont Tremblant

The only ski-in, ski-out stay in Tremblant Resort, this 314-key château offers indoor and outdoor pools and a spa. 3045 Chemin de la Chapelle; 819-681-7000; fairmont.com; doubles from $204 a night

Hôtel Quintessence

Lakefront boutique estate with 30 spacious suites, a spa and a restaurant with one of the top wine cellars in the Laurentians. 3004 Chemin de la Chapelle; 866-425-3400; hotelquintessence.com; doubles from $300 a night

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Spring 2017