10 Mar 2010

Disney sur glace

Back to you, Quebec! Not only I have returned to la belle province, one of my closest and most faithful Swiss friends has also decided to pay me a second visit in my new home, having already made the trip last summer.

The theme for this visit of his was supposed to be “winter in Québec”, and when we planned it last summer I had boldly proclaimed that even in early March, the land would still be deep-frozen and miserably cold. In saying so, I trusted into the white horror stories my local acquaintances had shared with me.

Of course, it turned out rather differently, with a mild and snow-less winter (hello, Washington D.C.!) giving way to beautiful spring days with temperatures reaching 5-9C. This, along with a substantial snow canon deployment, meant perfect conditions for skiing!

My expectations, low as the Laurentides mountains, were easily surpassed by an excellently groomed network of ski runs, surprisingly varied steep passages, and a smooth access and queuing experience when compared to the alps. And even my friend, a true native of a Swiss alpine village, was very pleased by what he found – both of us were skiing overseas for the first time, and have vowed to do it again. Amazingly, the view from the top (“Le grand Manitou”) at an elevation of 875m offers a gorgeous 360 degree panorama, as there are no higher peaks anywhere near.

What most took us by surprise, however, was the complete artificiality of the little pedestrian village of Tremblant at the foot of the mountain. Developed from scratch in the early 1990s by Intrawest (of Whistler fame), it is a picture-perfect little Disney sur glace, where good mood perennially rules and the town mascot exchanges high-fives with my friend. From the grande place des voyageurs (the grandest name for a parking lot I’ve ever heard) a gondola carries visitors up towards the village to the base of the mountain, while a small ski run across the village lets users ski all the way back down to their cars again. Lined along the village’s cobble-stoned streets are a variety of bars, restaurants, boutiques, cafés and souvenir stores, all with a village monopoly on their particular niche and prices 25-50% above the outside world. As you merrily roam around on the mountain and in the little village, forgetting your worries and outside life with the sun in your face, your credit card gets a workout at least as rigorous as your skiing. Under the circumstances, it’s quite an achievement for Intrawest to still face foreclosure. Ah, les joies d’hiver…

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