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Our faces, toes, and fingers numb, we trudged through what felt like a metre-deep of powdered snow. It should have been right there, we checked the map, squinting through snow-flaked eyelashes, trying to decipher which roundabout was which. We’d gone too far. “Let’s turn back”, Pat lead the way, trooping along with his bag on his shoulder while I struggled behind, hauling my ready-to-burst suitcase through the thick snow, my body tensed at the thought of losing my grip on the icy-smooth road. Pat stopped and gruffly took the map out.
“It’s through here,” he pointed to a fence, there was no road clearing, the ground was iced with a thick layer of flawless white snow. He set off; his long legs disappeared into the powder. I took a deep breath before yanking my luggage into the icing. It felt like we’d been on the road for hours, the map seemed so simple, but we were stuck walking in circles. Scrutinizing the map and the road signs Pat had an epiphany.
“It’s that way!” He nodded towards the highway. You’ve got to be kidding me. We set off, newly motivated by our supposed understanding of the map. Not long after, guess who found another hidden “entrance” to the hotel. This road had not been cleared either. We turned back to the highway. The humidity was rising in our woolen upon woolen upon waterproof layers, and our tempers were nearing breaking point.
“Where you headed?” A friendly Canadian voice came from a car behind us. “I saw you walking in the other direction sometime ago, do you need a lift somewhere?”
As usual, I was suspicious of the stranger for a moment, but he seemed genuine and I had secretly been hoping for a lift. We climbed in. “We’re trying to find the Sunstar hotel reception.”
Ten minutes later, we arrived. Thank god for friendly strangers. We dropped our bags at reception, as our chalet wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon, then jumped on the shuttle back to Mont Tremblant village to enjoy our last day of skiing.
What an absolute winter wonderland. Powder erupted from the ground with every turn we took. The trees lining the slopes were layered with icy snow, like sugarcoated lollies. Our smiles were frozen stiff on our faces. But somehow we didn’t notice the cold up there in the sub-twenty-degree atmosphere. We were numb with happiness.
“You took the wrong check-in”, my Belgian friend Pierre told me through text. Woops. Turns out we weren’t looking for Sunstar at all, our reception was even further out of Mont Tremblant ski village, a twenty-minute drive. Out of the question to even attempt walking. If you ever get stuck in Canada, ask around, there are a lot of friendly people, and the contagious Christmas-cheer definitely helped us out. Long story short, we checked in and found our way to l’Erablière, the chalet where we would spend Christmas with five other friends.
We arrived there first. Needless to say, we claimed the master bedroom, we felt we’d earned it: spa bath, king size bed, unfortunately no welcome chocolates on, under, or around the pillows. Then we noticed our own private balcony, underneath a giant dollop of snow, glistening in the sun. We couldn’t resist, we swiftly opened the doors and let the frozen air whoosh inside so we could see the view. Looking through tall snow-capped Christmas trees we saw the quaint, brightly painted Mont Tremblant ski village, just a minute-long toboggan ride away. It was as if we were staying inside a snow globe.
Not that our last accommodation was anything to quip at. Auberge le Lupin is the coziest B&B you’ll ever come across: dark chocolate timber with jaffa red louvers and of course, white icing on top. The breakfasts were drool-worthy, we awoke to a new menu each morning.
“Today we ‘ave om’let with brie an’ bake-on, or French tost with lemon curd an’ crème,” our personal chef, Pierre, recited in his thick French-Canadian accent. My eyes widened at the thought of the brie omelette, and Pat was in a trance imagining the sweet dessert-breakfast. Our hosts, Sylvie and Pierre were extremely welcoming, and even interrupted our dinner to share a funny youtube clip. Friendly, yes. Overly so? Perhaps. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
Le Lupin was a slippery ten-minute walk to the main ski village, where all the shops and restaurants were located. The bus was often delayed due to harsh weather, so we mostly walked to the village, but I would only recommend this if you have toasty snow-attire and good non-slip shoes or a lot of padding on your backside.
So we awoke on Christmas morning, the seven of us, wondering how to spend our day. Usually that time of year is packed with family activities, but there we were, the multi-national family ranging from 20 to 28 years of age. So of course, not one of us had thought to plan ahead. Then it hit us . . . snow fight! We layered up and headed outside one by one. By the time I had zipped up my thousandth layer and was tucked into my 70’s onesie ski-suit, everyone else was waiting outside. I was a sitting duck. I waddled out with my head down. I heard nothing; I looked around sheepishly, no one in sight. Oh dear. I had hesitated a moment too long. Smack, to the shoulder, I hurried to the snow-covered steps. Smack, to the leg. Ouch, was that a snowball or just pure ice? People were popping up from every angle like mischievous little elves. SMACK, to the face! That’s when things got serious. Some hid behind mounds of snow, others weaved through the trees, and a rare few sprung out from nowhere. Then there was one who didn’t move much and ended up so coated with snow that he blended in like those sugary lollies I spoke about earlier. Poor Daniel, the quietly content Chilean. His catch phrase was ‘yolo’: you only live once. I wonder if he was still thinking that as he was pummeled with snowball after snowball. Finally, there was one last mischief who had iced everyone else in the face, and had escaped with not a drop of powder on him. We had to come up with a strategy, we were all too scared to run on the ice, and no one of was as good a shot as he. I snuck around the fight, whispering in every-elf’s ear, briefing the troops.
“I’ll sneak up on him and grab a hold so you guys can get a shot in, right?”
The mischief was set to begin. I snuck up, in a deceitfully friendly way. I grabbed at him, but he slipped away. I ran, slowly, sliding around on the ice. I hadn’t thought that part through; I was losing him. He was nearing snowy patch, so I took the plunge, hoping the snow would cushion the fall. I closed my eyes tightly and reached out for his ankles. Yes! I had him. I held on with all my strength and screamed for the others.
“I’ve got hiiimmmm!!!” One by one they appeared, ammo-loaded, icy snowballs smacked him from all angles. What a priceless moment! I quickly took a photo as he drooled through an icy mask.
Grinning, numb, and iced, we marched back up to base to defrost and pop open some festive champagne.
What a fantastically abominable experience I had in Mont Tremblant. We can laugh about our highway stroll now, but at the time we were stewing inside our ski-suits. Given the choice, we would have gladly stewed ourselves in a hot tub instead. I would say that I have learnt to be better organized, but I’m sure I’ve come across that lesson a thousand times before, so perhaps I’ll never really learn. One thing I did learn though was how to make the most amazing taffy lollypop. Warm maple syrup poured in a line onto packed snow, and rolled onto a paddle pop stick: gooey, sticky, and life changing. Which goes to show, everything that went wrong made us appreciate the great things all the more. There was one moment in particular when I realized how lucky I was to be there at all; as we swayed down the slopes, looking out over the bright tinseled village, the frozen lake, snowy hills and tall Christmas trees. That view will stay in my mind forever, and if I need a refresher, I’ll turn to my photo collection. Or maybe I’ll just go back next year. Keep an eye out; I’ll be in the grey onesie.
By Claire Cressey