Tuesday, February 17, 2009

the great white north

There are two things you have to know about Canada: it is cold, and it is icy. A friend Vic and I skied Mont Tremblant in Quebec this weekend. Tremblant is a cool place: there are enough European details that it's like an international experience, but most of it feels really close to home. Almost everyone speaks English as well as French, and American dollars are just as good as Canadian (although I got dominated on the exchange rate). The village was styled to look like little European alleys, with boutiques and small restaurants. The stone walkways and gentle lighting gave it a very romantic feel. But Tremblant knows how to party.

One of the first things we noticed was the music. When we climbed into the shuttle that took us from the airport to our hotel an hour and a half away, the driver was bumpin' the jams. He was playing the 80's radio station (yes, there is such a thing), and we heard everything from the YMCA to Phil Collins and everything in between. At the bottom of every lift, music was playing, and playing loud. Lifties were dancing. Ticket checkers were grinning. However, the snow was terrible. Coming from Colorado, we expected to be skiing some pretty gnarly East-Coast ice and hardpack, but people were saying it was the worst conditions in 30 years. But when the music was playing and the sun was shining, these happy, friendly Canadians seemed to forget that the snow was as bad as it was.

Almost everyone we spoke to asked why we, priveleged enough to ski Colorado pow, would come all the way to the east. Despite the conditions we were expecting, we did find some spots that could be epic if the snow was good. "The Edge" had waht Canadians call "glades," where the trees are thinned out and the trail wanders through the woods. Although the glades were filled with icy moguls, they were a chance to get away from the crowds and try some more challenging terrain. With a little bit of pow, they would be the place to be. But icy mogul chutes force you to be on your game- and our little rental skis were not quite keeping up. Another trend in Canadian skiing is "golf balls." When it rains and then re-warms again, the snow freezes into golf-ball sized ice chunks. The chatter that results is extremely loud, and it's hard to hold an edge. But Vic enjoyed it- once you lay into it, it can be a good challenge.

Nightlife in Canada is significantly more exiting than I have experienced. Mont Tremblant had nightly volleyball, tubing, and what was the Ecole Sur Niege (Ski School) area during the day was a rail yard by night. The shops were buzzing, restaurants were full, and there are a few good places to grab a drink- The Caribou if you are 19 and from Europe (more on that later) or the dance club with lighted ice sculptures outside of it. Also, guests in many hotels can rent ice skates for free and skate, play hockey, or try curling. For the record, the skating was a lot like the skiing.

So although Canada is cold and icy, we had a really great time and were trying to figure out how to convince some friends to go back and ski it with us. Go to Mont Tremblant for the ambiance, the activities, and the people, but don't go for the skiing (at least if you are used to Colorado).

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