Laurentian Playground

Better snow, better trails and better slopes... That’s the Laurentians. Resort men have spent $30 millions so far. Experts say it’s just a start

TED McCORMICK January 1 1946

Laurentian Playground

Better snow, better trails and better slopes... That’s the Laurentians. Resort men have spent $30 millions so far. Experts say it’s just a start

TED McCORMICK January 1 1946

Laurentian Playground

Better snow, better trails and better slopes... That’s the Laurentians. Resort men have spent $30 millions so far. Experts say it’s just a start


ALMOST anybody on this continent who owns a pair of skis nurses a hope to spend some time in the Laurentians. This year—from current indications—more people will fulfill that ambition than ever before.

By train, plane and automobile, brightly garbed cit y folk are flocking to Laurentian ski slopes and trails from all over eastern Canada and the United States. By spring probably there will have been a quarter of a million of them—and even that figure may be just a beginning. “It can be anticipated that Montreal alone will send more than 50,000 skiers to the hills on a good winter week end five years from now,” one resort man told me. “Add to that the thousands of people from Ontario and the United States who go up there to ski and you have a pretty good picture of what the future holds.”

Rise of the Laurentians to become the East’s Mecca for Canadian and American skiers is due to three factors: ideal snow conditions—as much as seven

feet of it in one winter, with little thaw until March; accessibility; and the wide range of slopes and interesting cross-country trails for all types of skier, from tyros to experts.

Most important to skiers, of course, is the assurance of better snow conditions. Although the Adirondacks, in New York, the Green Mountains, in Vermont, ar.d the White Mountains, in New Hampshire, are higher than the glacier-ground Laurentian shield, they have less snow and are often exposed to rain and sleet, which may spoil skiing for several weeks at a time. Thus skiers going to the Laurentians for a week end or longer holiday, at considerable expense, are much less likely to miss skiing completely, as often happens at Lake Placid, Stowe or Conway below the border.

All Roads Lead There

THE SECOND factor—accessibility—certainly is almost as important. Good train service from Montreal has been supplemented in recent years by use of aircraft. At least one resort brings in special guests in its own private planes. And Colonial Airways has resumed its ski special from New York to Mont-

real, from where trains and other airlines take over to carry the traffic farther north into the resort area.

As for the third factor—the trails and slopes—anyone who ever has seen the scenery can understand why skiei's like it so much. The white, tumbliixg hills and mountainsides give the skier fine woodland trails, gentle slopes for beginners, steep ones for experts, many long downhill runs and interesting terrain for cross-country skiing. And all these natural attributes have been cleared axxd developed well—even to the ski cabins which dot the country to give haven to the weary.

The Beginning

THE FIRST skiers appeared iix the Laurentians as early as 1900. Regarded by their acquaintances as a little odd, if not actual cranks, the early pioneers wei’e a handful of young English-speaking fellows from Montreal. They gathered in the vicinity of Shawbridge and Ste. Agathe to slide down the hills on wood slats, attached to heavy working boots by crude harnesses. They had few imitators. The farmers and lumbermen of the district, who considered snowshoes good enough for winter travel, looked upon the adventui-ous visitors as very strange characters indeed.

The early ground swell of the coming boom was first observed after 1925. One didn’t have to know the difference between a gelandesprung and a sitzmark to realize the abnormal movement of traffic north had its basis in a growing enthusiasm for skiing. Iix the winter of 1927-28 the Canadian Pacific Railway pioneered the first “ski specials” out of Montreal, followed later by similar CNR service.

From Christmas to April 1 of that initial winter of northbound “ski specials,” CPR trains carried 14,054 skiers. Thirteen years later, on one March, 1941, week end alone, 21 CPR trains carried 12,528 skiers north; the CNR another 5,000, and probably 2,000 more made the trip by car for a grand total of nearly 21,000. And that season -1940-41—railroads, planes and motor cars carried a total estimated 208,500 skiers to the Laurentians.

While these figures are not unimpressive, resort Continued on tiext page

men believe they will look insignificant a few years from now. There is considerable evidence to support this prediction. Although there has been no marked increase in numbers of resorts or improvements in existing ones since 1940, now that the war is over millions are being earmarked for investment there. No longer dependent on the summer season for their major revenue, resorts are pouring more and more into winter equipment. In buildings, property and ski-tow equipment alone, this vast winter playground involves a financial investment in excess of $30 millions—a figure trend-watchers in the resort business believe will be doubled in the next decade.

Week-End Invasion

SO P AR, publicity has been aimed mainly at the luxury trade, particularly the rich market below the Canadian border. The big resorts are hitting that market too, but there is another side of the business which gradually is returning to a place in the sun -the side that has to do with the middle-income skier, the great, backbone of the sport.

Every Friday night or Saturday morning northbound winter specials carry hundredsof them, rucksacks on their backs, poles and skis balanced precariously on their shoulders. Their very numbers—to say nothing of enthusiasm—make them important, and now hotelkeepers are beginning to think of shooting at this part of the trade.

Until now these people mainly have gone to modest pensions in mountain villages (profitable enough for the pensions), and have slept four to a bed, or even on cold, bare floors, just for the joy of a week end in the snowy hills.

In the years preceding the war there was a mushroom growth of new resorts. Most important were Joe Ryan’s Mont Tremblant Lodge and Baron d’Empain’s Domaine d’Esterel, which opened its Blue Room with Benny Goodman’s orchestra at a cost of $5,000 for two hours of dance music. Others include Ste. Adele Lodge, P ar Hills Inn and Sun Valley Farm, in Val Morin; the Chantecler in Ste. Adele, and La Sapinière in Val David. There are also the older establishments Chalet Cochand and Alpine Inn in Ste. Marguerite, Laurentide Inn at Ste. Agathe and the Wheeler’s Gray Rocks Inn, pioneer of the major Laurentian resorts, at St. Jovite.

There has also been a tremendous amount of private construction. In addition to many expensive yearround homes, hundredsof lodges were built throughout the hills in the years preceding the war. Government building restrictions have considerably hobbled this type of construction work, but it is certain to boom again the minute supplies are available.

The Easy Way

API’ROX IMATELY 30 ski tows are now operating,

. the majority of them of the rope type. Most elaborate of these is t he chair-type tow, which takes skiers up to both levels at Mont Tremblant . While the ski tows have gained in popularity in recent years, cross-country skiing still has its followers, who prefer roaming the well-mapped mountain trails to going up and down the same hill all day.

Jumping now is to skiing what high-diving is to swimming. Nevertheless it was not until the new technique of downhill control gradually became known that people began to realize that skiing could be enjoyed without undue risk to life and limb. Even in Montreal, once one of the great ski-jumping centres, interest in jumping has waned to a point where the once famous Côte des Neiges jump came close to being dismantled this year. The Ottawa »Ski Club jump at Rockeliffe was torn down eight years ago, due to lack of interest.

That leaves the main accent at present on slalom, downhill and cross-country skiing (which has had a revival in interest because of its use in Army training during the war). To slalom is to race over a short course winding between artificial obstacles (ski poles stuck at difficult places will do). Normal downhill technique is just to pick a good steep trail any length —and see how fast you can get from top to bottom.

An important contributing factor to the great growth of skiing in the Laurentians is the top quality of ski instruction now available. It is a part of skiing likely slated for a tremendous boom.

Canadian skiers used to regard professional instruction as somewhat of an oddity, and until a few years ago most of the best ski instructors were imported from Europe. Then, to keep this part of skiing in the family, the Canadian Amateur Ski Association decided to organize a Canadian ski school. A method of ski instruction based on the Arlberg technique was set up; annual courses held for aspiring instructors;

and the status of “registered ski instructor” awarded.

Louis Cochand, a former fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, is chief examiner and instructor for the Canadian Ski School this year, and recently was elected chairman of the Ski Instructors Alliance, an association of professionals.

Cochand, who picked up a Croix de Guerre and U. S. Distinguished Flying Cross during two operational tours against the Japs and Nazis, is regarded by many as the finest all-round Canadian skier today.

Another topline Canadian is Johnny Fripp, rated a few years ago as Canada’s finest downhill racer. He has one of the really lush jobs this winter—chief instructor at Mont Tremblant Lodge. Recently out of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he formerly was assistant at Mont Tremblant.

While the formative years of the Canadian Ski School necessarily meant the importation of foreignborn instructors with established reputations and wide experience, the system whereby aspiring Canadian-born served as assistants to the Austrian and Swiss experts has borne satisfactory results. Along with Cochand and Fripp, more than a score of able native sons have moved or are moving into the ranks of chief instructors. Notable among them is Viateur Cousineau, a young Laurentian-born skier from Ste. Adele, who recently returned from overseas.

Other top-ranking native-born instructors include Roland Belhumeir and Lionel “Coco” St. Aubin, Ste. Agathe; Roger and Fernand Trottier of St. Sauveur; the Tache brothers from St. Jovite, and many others. The gals are looked after by Germaine Prefontaine, a young Montrealer, who taught last season as an assistant instructor with Herman Gadner at St. Jovite; Yvonne Godmer and Simone Boucher of Ste. Adele, both of whom were top flight competitors before joining the monied ranks; Mrs. P. Graham (the former Pat Paree) of St. Sauveur and Marion Lineweaver, Montreal.

Some of the people who run this huge business are native born, some imports. At the Laurentide Inn at Ste. Agathe, Ken Harrison grew up with the family business. Emile Cochand, a Swiss who now owns and operates Cochand’s at Ste. Marguerite, raised his family in the hill country. Comparative newcomers include Baron D’Empain, a Belgian. His Domaine D’Esterel, atSle. Marguerite, was taken over during the war by the Custodian of Alien Property and used asa training depot for Army and RCA F personnel. But most colorful of the resort men are Tom Wheeler (Gray Rocks Inn, St. Jovite) and Joe Ryan (Mont Tremblant Lodge).

The Wheeler family came to the Laurentians from Chazy, N.Y., in 1884, and opened a lumber business and sawmill on the site of the present-day Gray Rocks Inn. A few years later they opened a summer boardinghouse, where today’s elaborate resort had its beginning.

Bluff, friendly Tom Wheeler, head of the Wheeler clan today, has a sound sense of effect. He never has allowed any cottages to go up on the northern lip of Lac Ouimet, the lake on which his Gray Rocks Inn faces. North from the hotel his guests thus see only the wilderness of the Canadian north country.

Wheeler has leased some 70 lakes and maintains base camps on six of them for the convenience of hunters and fishermen. He now plans radio communications between the Inn and the outpost camps. While 70 lakes may seem a great number for any one individual to control, they represent but an infinitesimal fraction of the estimated 25,000 lakes in the Laurentians.

He Looked Ahead

WHEELER realized early that air travel would grow increasingly important in the Laurentian scheme of things—a piece of foresight that has caused considerable gnashing of teeth among his competitors since. Holder of an exclusive franchise for commercial air travel in the area, he recently purchased a new Norseman to bring his air fleet to four ships which can be used winter or summer. The planes are used for piloting special guests into the property and also for hunting expeditions as far north as James Bay, which is about four hours by plane from St. Jovite.

Another interesting figure is Joe Ryan, proprietor of Mont Tremblant Lodge. Characteristic of a man who does things in a great big way, Ryan’s Lodge—really more like a sprawling, expensive village—is established on the slopes of the most imposing crown of the Laurentian range. The idea was born in 1937, when Ryan spotted the area from a plane and decided it would be ideal for a resort. He returned in ’38, having bought in the interim 1,900 acres in the area. It now stretches outward to cover 5,000 acres, with its owner eager to buy whatever adjacent land nearby landowners will sell.

In common with other Laurentian hotelkeepers, during Ryan’s first years he frankly catered to the rich. His trade was almost exclusively American. Recently he announced plans for a huge dormitory to be erected on a choice spot of his property overlooking LacTremblant, with the idea of accommodating those skiers who have unlimited enthusiasm but restricted means.