Take to the hills with the SKI SET
Ten thousand do each weekend at Mont Tremblant, zapping over 65 miles of trails Ernie McCulloch has made a skier’s paradise
THE WAY Mont Tremblant Lodge looks and feels on any late Saturday afternoon in winter, you expect that any minute now, out there in the main lounge, Glenn Miller & His Orchestra are about to swoop into Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a couple of Guest Stars (probably Edward Everett Horton and Carmen Miranda) will cut some capers in the dining room, and everyone else in sight — snow queens lathered in Sea & Ski, bronzed instructors with faultless Austrian accents, elderly parties wearing comic casts on their make-believe fractured limbs, bellhops, waiters, friendly bartenders, not to mention Sonja Henie making a Special Appearance—will burst into a rosy recreation of the whole merry, tuneful, Technicolor. late-1930s world of Sun Valley Serenade. Mont Tremblant Lodge, which lies 90 miles into the Laurentians north of Montreal, isn’t exactly aggressively old-fashioned, but as the second-oldest ski resort in North America (second in age, as it happens, to Sun Valley, Idaho), it just naturally exudes an ingratiating atmosphere of pre-Vietnam, pr^.-séparatiste, pre-student-power, even pre-World War
II nostalgic calm. The place is so relentlessly cheery and uncomplicated, in fact, that it almost persuades you the blizzard beyond the window is simply a bunch of soft, warm, inoffensive, movieset soap flakes, that the sub-zero cold is just something to put a faint nip in a girl’s cheeks, like spots of rouge on a Ziegfeld beauty, and that even winter, for heaven’s sake, dreadful, angry Canadian winter can be, underneath it all. one
great big unforgettable fun experience.
Mont Tremblant’s spell draws 10,000 skiers into the area on every weekend from mid-December to the last sweet sunny ski days of mid-April. They flock in from all over eastern Canada and the United States, pay six dollars per day for the pleasure of zapping around Tremblant's 65 miles ol trails, and return home, exhilarated, rejuvenated, and convinced that Tex Beneke lives on, still rising out of Glenn Miller's reed section to wail through Chattanooga or Pennsylvania 6-5000. Tremblant’s weekend thousands constitute a large and vivid reflection of the boom in skiing that in the mid-1960s is general straight across Canada. A head-counting of skiers carried out by each province’s department of tourism and information (or equivalent) in 1968 indicated that in nationwide total some 600,000 Canadian citizens devoted at least part of each winter week to whizzing down hills on skis. In Ontario alone, by the end of the 1968 season, there were 120 ski areas in operation, providing 390 open slopes, 287 downhill runs and 52 cross-country trails, and when you add up the dollars and cents that all Ontario skiers spent on equipment, transportation to the hills and on other related sundries, you arrive at an expenditure over the year of a staggering $22 million. And in all this glorying in snow, Mont Tremblant leads the way. Talk about statistics — Tremblant’s ski tows and lifts, to cite one impressive figure, carted a grand total of 1,600,000 skiers to the top ol its hills / continued on page 60
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For a privileged 370 skiers each week,
it’s pampered living
in the 1967-68 season, which is a lot of bodies. Meanwhile, its instructors in the same season gave the skiers who used its hills, novices and experts, some 60,000 lessons in the sport.
Of all those 10,000 skiers who arrive at Mont Tremblant each weekend, only 370 live a unique, pampered existence — they’re the privileged lot
who actually stay at Mont Tremblant Lodge as well as ski those 65 miles of mountain runs that the Lodge owns. (The other thousands bunk at the dozens of smaller and lesser inns, lodges, pensions, chalets and gasthauses in the area, or else commute by day from Montreal, Ottawa and the surrounding countryside.) Almost all
of the Lodge’s guests — 98 percent of them — arrive on the ingenious ski-week plans. They’re package deals that offer, at a flat rate, accommodation and meals for six nights and days beginning with dinner on Sunday and winding up with lunch the following Saturday, four hours of ski lessons en classe each week day, and free un-
limited use of Mont Tremblant’s network of ski lifts for as long as the skiers can muster strength to hang onto them.
Ski weeks are one of the keys to the Canadian boom in skiing; there isn’t a winter resort in the country that doesn’t advertise them, and it was Mont Tremblant that pioneered them in the early 1960s. The prices for the winter bonanza it offers range from $128 per person, for convivial types who don’t mind bedding in one of the ski halls with five other friends or strangers, to $198 per person, for couples who favor the privacy of a plush corner room with twin beds and bath in the main lodge. Plus, in all cases, an eight-percent charge for room and meal tax and another 12'/2percent levy to cover tips all round.
The relative reasonableness of these prices together with the all-out emphasis on ski weeks is the deliberate policy of a group of Montreal businessmen who bought The Lodge in 1965 from the widow, Mary Ryan, of the flamboyant American millionaire sportsman Joseph Ryan, who conceived and built the resort in 1938. The new owners set out to appeal to a younger, less-affluent and more Canadian crowd than the Ryans had catered to. They decided to change the place over from its former status as a stopping point on the Prop Set’s circuit (definition: “Prop Set” — well-to-do and famous but tighter with money, shyer of publicity than the Jet Set), to convert it, in other words, from a gathering spot for the DuPonts, Rockefellers, the Macys and Gimbels, Norma Shearer, Darryl Zanuck and Cecil B. DeMille, all of whom were Lodge regulars through the 1940s and 1950s along with a thousand other Glittering Names, into a more anonymous but more active centre for the Canadian winter sporting life.
The Montreal group launched the new-look Tremblant by reducing the size of the larger suites from their Ryan-era opulence, remodeling the cabins into family-type accommodation and slicing prices. They advertised for guests in newspapers all across the east and they set up publicrelations booths at the winter shows in major eastern cities.
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“We’ve got so many runs now, few can ski them all in a day”
Their operating philosophy boiled down to something like: Skiing may not have quite spread to the workers and the proletariat, but if you offer a fetching enough financial bargain you’re going to attract at least the upper middle class. And they were right. With its ski weeks, the Lodge blasts along these days at full capacity all winter, rather than the 60to 70perccnt capacity, and less, of the Ryan days, and it’s a young (30 to 35), hard-working, family crowd, the kind of people who, like most of us, can just barely afford a one-week holiday in winter, who keep Tremblant full and humming.
A typical ski-week gang tastes their first touch of action when they arrive at the bottom of Tremblant’s southside complex of runs, a couple of hundred yards from the front door of the main lodge, at 9.30 on the Monday morning of their stay. There they stand, shivering a little, but eager and excited by all that snow, 370 beginners, experts and all the grades in between, waiting for assignment to their classes. Even just standing there, all the skiers look good. Mont Tremblant encourages stylish ski wardrobes, and you'd hardly ever catch anyone on its hills who wasn’t turned out in something swish: ski pants, say, by Arlberg — 35 percent Helanca, 60 percent wool, five percent lycra, hip-hugging, all-over clinging and $70; a jacket from Hasegg of Austria, short and
contoured to the body, $75; boots made by the Raichle Company from — ready? — 100-percent fibreglass, in all-red or all-black and running upward from $160; skis from Rossignol, also fibreglass, $160 to $190; not to forget poles by Gibron (all-metal, Italian, $19.95), goggles by Carrera (yellow lenses, Austrian, $3.95) and gloves by Kombi Olympic (horsehide, Canadian, $12.99).
Decisions, decisions, decisions
Ernie McCulloch greets these handsomely attired new arrivals, all 370 of them, on that first morning, and immediately launches into a virtuoso display of classifying and assigning. McCulloch, a short, peppery man in his early 40s, oozing brisk confidence, is the director of the Mont Tremblant Ski School and probably the greatest competitive skier in Canada’s sporting history. Certainly, he’s the most respected ski teacher in the country and in all the rest of the snow world — his classic book. Learn To Ski, has sold some 700,000 copies. At Tremblant, McCulloch, with help from his instructors, puts each new skier through a swift trial run, makes an instant judgment on his skills and assigns him to the appropriate class of the 25 to 30 classes that function every ski week. In the 370 decisions he must arrive at each Monday morning, all within a matter of 45
minutes, McCulloch reckons he doesn’t miss on more than six or seven skiers. And, anyway, his stable of instructors can soon remedy any errors, pushing an underrated skier on to a more advanced class, shuttling an overrated beginner back to kindergarten lessons. The instructors know their business, too: they’re all certified for their jobs by the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance and, for good measure, McCulloch regularly whips them through an hour’s drill at the unholy hour of 8 a.m.
Once the classifying process is wrapped up, McCulloch unleashes the classes, each one with an instructor, onto his hills. And Mont Tremblant’s hills are, by any criterion, his. When the Montreal group bought out the Lodge in 1965, they gave McCulloch his head, and he set about the business of designing new runs, regrooming and widening old runs and generally supervising more than one million dollars’ worth of face-lifting improvements.
“Anyone who hasn’t skied here since before 1965 and arrives at Tremblant today won’t recognize the place,” McCulloch swears. “It’s a whole new country up there in the mountain. We’ve got so many runs now that it’s almost impossible to ski them all in a single day. 1 tried it as a kind of challenge one day, and I made it, but at the end it was getting dark and, brother, I limped home.”
McCulloch’s special prides among the new runs, each for a different reason, are Beauchemin and Expo. He likes Beauchemin because Tremblant’s guest skiers unanimously rave about it. It stretches, like a gigantic city avenue, 360 feet wide, down three gracefully undulating miles from the summit of Mont Tremblant to the base at the north side. It’s roomy enough to accommodate at least six classes of beginners, all operating at the same time, and it still offers enough challenges along the way to keep a budding expert skier working, thinking, planning and trotting out his best licks from the top to the bottom.
Expo is another, and tougher, proposition. It’s intended strictly for experts, racers and pros, and it represents McCulloch’s personal answer to the frequent charges leveled by western-Canadian racers that the hills in the east, compared to their own runs at such places as Banff and Red Mountain, BC, are easy pickings, too tame by half. “I set out to make a top-grade Olympic hill,” McCulloch says, “and I hit my goal. Expo’s as tough a slalom run as I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. It’s rugged." McCulloch isn’t kidding — Expo tumbles down the mountain at an average drop of a steep 23 degrees, and at times along its 1,200-foot length, it leaves the skier with the irresistible impression that he’s moving on a perfectly vertical surface. Nancy Greene raced down Expo in the winter of 1968, winning the women’s slalom in the Quebec Kandahar competitions,
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Sunburns, bruises and happiness
and after the race, pronouncing her highest compliment, she allowed as how, well, yes, it was almost as rough as the run down her own Red Mountain back home in Rossland, BC.
None of the skiers in Tremblant’s 25 to 30 Monday classes is allowed near dangerous Expo because McCulloch is, before anything else, supersafety conscious. His teaching rules are designed to coach along the novice, sharpen up the semi-expert, let both revel in Tremblant’s natural glory — and to send each skier back home at the end of his week with all limbs intact. Thus, McCulloch restricts every class to eight or 10 pupils, small enough for an instructor comfortably to keep tabs on his charges, rather than the unwieldy and unsafe 17 or 20 pupils that many American resorts permit. And McCulloch himself puts in part of each day roaming between classes, which meet every morning from l() a.m. to 12 noon and every afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m., handing out tips, urging on experienced skiers, bucking up nervous novices. His manner and his system work small wonders.
“Did I learn to ski?” one brand-new skier wrote after his baptism at Tremblant a couple of years ago. “I guess so. I learned enough to become infatuated with skiing. And I had the time of my life. I got sunburned, slimmer, a little bruised and a lot happier.”
It seems to happen to everyone at Tremblant. After a few days of digesting and rehearsing the intricacies of snowplows, straight schusses and edging, even the beginners are usually so smitten with the sheer physical accomplishment of skiing that the inter-
class races, held each Thursday afternoon, take on all the drama of the Olympics. No one, mind you, exactly sets a world record — not all that many, come to think of it, actually finish the races. But the competition is fierce while it lasts, and the Tremblant medals that go to the first three finishers in each race remain prizes as treasured as an Olympic Games gold medal.
The joy of the hills continues, if not precisely unrestrained, then at least intense and warm in the aprèsski hours back in the Lodge when the lifts have closed down for the night. Tremblant’s management adopts the same policy toward their guests indoors as Ernie McCulloch does outdoors — they organize things. All week long, commencing with the Get Acquainted Cocktail Party in the lobby from 6 to 7 p.m. on Monday night (one free hot rum, courtesy of the proprietors), the skiers are propelled from party to game to party to dance to party to chalk talk to party to talent night to, finally, party.
Every evening, in short, brings on some fresh piece of action, but none of it smacks of wild times. Mont Tremblant is, after all, a decorous family spot. The dancing, for instance, tends more to something that slides and whirls than shakes and grinds. The Big Apple is still In at Tremblant; the Philly Dog or the Boogaloo is far Out. And, heaven forbid, no one feels remotely tempted to drink himself into a smashed state of mind or to voice an unseemly comment on the tight contours of those Arlbergs his neighbor’s wife is sporting.
The architecture and interior design of the main lodge and of the 90 or so
other buildings (including a church) that make up the Tremblant complex encourage the homey, moral tone of life around the Lodge. The whole project was planned by Joe Ryan as a kind of habitant village in miniature and it still retains the olde-Quebec look. The buildings sit close to the ground; they’re painted in shades of pink and pale yellow and they’re studded with shutters, louvres and fancy bits of gingerbread decor. And several of the outbuildings — the Chalet des Voyageurs, for instance, where you can buy a drink and a sandwich for lunch, or Le Magasin de la Place, where you can buy everything from skis to a $995 white bearskin rug to a paperback copy of The Simple Art of Married Life — are so nobly large and generous and spartan that they call to mind nothing so much as fine, ancient habitant meeting halls.
But it’s the main lodge, the centre of all the night-time activities, that conjures up most of the atmosphere of time and ease and old pine. The large lobby and two sitting rooms on the ground floor are packed with handloomed catalogne rugs and curtains, pine furniture, flowing green plants, Freitch-Canadian artifacts and paintings depicting 19th-century winter scenes rendered in the familiar copycat-Krieghoff style. The focal point of one sitting room is a Chinese-checkers board, representing the height of Tremblant’s mental demands, and the other is dominated by a portrait of the founder, Joe Ryan, looking florid and charming, as he apparently was.
The two dining rooms are similarly done up in a Canadien motif. One of them indeed bears the name Salle à Manger Canadiana. It seats 300 guests, displays a discreet notice (“Gentlemen Are Requested To Wear Jackets After 6 P.M.”), and while it does offer a choice of six or seven entrés for dinner and while its cooking does produce tasty results, Chef Pierre Séguin’s menu will never quite persuade a gourmet to turn his back on an Escoffier masterpiece. Certainly, the dining hours aren’t conducive to a leisurely sampling of food — dinner service stops promptly at 8.15, an hour when most true gourmet eaters are only beginning to de-cork the St. Emilion. But never mind: Tremblant opened the Café Bon Vivant in December 1967, an à la carte restaurant in the main lodge, open from sjx in the evening until midnight, where you can always order a nice rare rib-eye steak with baked potato, green salad and plenty of hot bread for a mere four dollars.
And, anyway, there are the bars. There are two of them, and they have swizzle sticks shaped like tiny skis, they charge $1.56 for a Bloody Mary, and, like every other room in the Lodge, they are places where you don’t hesitate to discuss the quality of the day’s snow with the fellow on the next stool. One of the bars, the larger one, even comes complete with an especially loquacious bartender named Marcel who has worked at Tremblant since 1940 and who will gladly tell you about the time he and old Duplessis (“He drank rum-andCoke and he tipped everyone in those big black cigars of his") sat down at a table after hours and talked and drank and joked all night long (“He
was a card, that old Duplessis. I couldn’t stop laughing at his jokes").
Well, Mont Tremblant Lodge seems to have that jollying effect on all kinds of people. “It’s so darned congenial there,” one Toronto housewife decided after spending a ski week in one of the $ 198-per-person rooms last February. “Ordinarily I’m not a hailfellow-well-met person at all, but in the Lodge atmosphere, when you’re all working on your skiing together and hanging around socially together
at night, it just seems different. Everyone. even me, feels good about being nice to one another.”
The congeniality and the niceness reach a kind of crescendo each Friday night when the 370 ski - week guests flock to the main lodge for the Farewell Party. After a couple of drinks, they invariably fall into a frenzy of address-exchanging, invitation - extending and visit - promising. They indulge in firm handclasps and sincere kisses — on the cheek, of
course. It’s a sentimental occasion for a hunch of people who’ve heen joined together by the pursuit of pleasure and relief in the snow, and they’re a little sad and a little apprehensive that it’s an experience too fleeting ever to capture again. But chances are they really mean it when, toward the end of the Farewell Party, they tell each other they’ll all meet again in the winter. Mont Tremblant guests, you see, have this habit of coming back year after year after year after . .. ★