Known as a winter ski destination, Quebec’s Mont-Tremblant resort offers a huge variety of attractions during all four seasons. By Allan Lynch, March/April 2008
Golf, horseback riding, tennis, a beach club – these aren’t what most people associate with Mont-Tremblant, Que. But this hilly resort area is more than a downhill-skiing destination. It offers a plethora of year-round outdoor activities which capitalize on the changing seasons and landscape to produce fun, laughter, thrills and cool elements for corporate programmes.
Tremblant has the best of both worlds. It offers a cute, European-styled pedestrian village that encourages poking about and socializing, without the challenges of antique infrastructure that can clip the charms of some historic settings.
And because the main village, at the base of Versant Sud, is a modern, totally-designed resort, it is ideally suited to group needs and planner budgets. Its compact layout puts 39 restaurants, 43 shops and 13 hotels (two five-star properties, the Fairmont Tremblant and Westin Resort & Spa, plus 10 four-star properties and one three-star) within steps of one another.
Tremblant even provides a free gondola service, Le Cabriolet, from the lower part of the village (next to the convention centre) to the main square. This removes the need to walk up an incline, while providing a bird’s-eye view of the Marriott Residence Inn, mini-golf and aquatic club below. And keeping to the quaint village theme, Tremblant’s 10,500-sq.-ft. convention centre melds harmoniously into the charmingly picturesque streetscape.
The Mont-Tremblant region is nestled in the Laurentians, 80 miles north of Montreal. Most people consider it a ski destination, and while it has 94 ski runs, it offers as much, if not more, in summer, says Isabelle Dairy, sales manager with Les Suites Tremblant by Intrawest.
Indeed, the community has eight golf courses within a 30-minute drive (two on-site courses belong to Intrawest). Summer activities include rafting, an acrobranche course (high ropes and ziplines), mountain luge, fly-fishing, plane tours, canoeing, climbing and ATV tours. There is also an extensive cycling-trail system, and for something a little different, groups can turn the horseback experience into team-building by adding a small cattle-drive component.
“In winter,” Dairy says, “we have skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding, snowmobiling and spa. For groups, we can also arrange corporate ski races. Those are popular. And so is hiring a private instructor for a tour of the mountain.”
Other ideas Dairy has been selling to groups is a First Tracks programme and a lakeside reception or dinner. “First Tracks is skiing before everybody else, with breakfast on top of the mountain. At 7:15 a.m., you go up the gondola, have breakfast until 8:00 a.m., and at 8:00 a.m., you have a chance to ski at least two to three runs before the 8:30 a.m. official opening of the mountain.”
If you come in summer, the lifts still work and a mountain-top chalet provides a unique off-site/on-site dinner venue.
“My second venue is at the beach and tennis club at Lac Tremblant. We have a marquee tent set up so you see the lake, beach and mountain. We do a lot of corporate barbecues there, or breakfast before golf, or dinners after golf.”
One of Tremblant’s convenient features is an Activity Card. While it’s available to individuals, this is a bonus for budgeting. The Tremblant Activity Card is like a gift card allowing holders to engage in three, four or five activities of their choice, when they want. The cards can simply be charged to the master account. Accounting ease is another bonus for planners. Due to the level of cooperation in the village, everything from activities to accommodations, meeting-space rentals, delegate gifts, prizes, dine-arounds and anything else can be charged to the master account. Dairy says, “That makes it simple, and it’s one of our great advantages, because we know everybody and we can work out deals for the clients in terms of budgets or special needs, so it’s as if the resort was one big hotel, with various restaurants, and we handle everything for them.”
While Intrawest works to position Tremblant as a four-season resort, the strong winter perception remains. The good news is that this perception puts a downward pressure on prices in the non-winter months. Dairy says, “If we think of May, June, September and October, those are very good months to host something at Tremblant. If you’re thinking of April and November, it’s even better. Those are our low season, because Tremblant is really based on nature, sports and things to do [outdoors] around the resort. In mid-April, after the ski season and before our two golf courses open, and also in November, before the ski season starts, there are fewer things to do. So we have to be really innovative. It’s even better, rate-wise.”
During those months, the emphasis shifts to more hedonistic delights like dining – and spas. Just outside the village is Le Scandinave Spa, a new-style concept for North America based on the Scandinavian focus on the Three S’s: swimming, soaking and sweating. Scandinave also has a small boardroom for hire. Its floor-to-ceiling windows, interrupted only by a wood-burning fireplace, provide plenty of light.
Angelo Kioussis, president of Toronto’s The Traveller Inc., is one planner who has organized many programmes at The Westin Tremblant. His IT and automotive groups have ranged from 20 to 350 participants at meetings or enjoying an incentive.
“With the incentive, we took out the Westin Resort & Spa, Tremblant in full, plus two other partial properties,” says Kioussis. The other properties were just steps away, so it didn’t require additional transportation or present a problem with leakage. “It was a winter-based programme and the key attractions were obviously the quality of the property that fit the demographic of our group, the diversity of the village that gave us something for everyone to try and enjoy,” the quality of meeting and function space in the convention centre and hotels, and the skiing. “The skiing was key, because it was a winter programme. The spa at the hotel, as well as the Scandinavian Spa, were additional attractions. We also got into some dogsledding, horseback riding and snowmobiling.”
Having been there in winter, Kioussis was surprised at how “on Saturday and Sunday, they’re extremely busy with weekend skiers and Montreal-based transients who come skiing for the day. It gets way busy on the ski slopes, so I found it to be a little crowded at that time period, but knowing that, it’s just a matter of saying, ‘guys, you have to get out early in the morning and ski the back part of the mountain first.’” Weekday programmes have fewer crowd issues.
Kioussis’ other groups have come in summer months, drawn by the quality and variety of golf. “Certainly, we looked at price point, because there are a number of golf destinations you can go to, but it was basically the quality of the golf and what we could accomplish in a contained area. The beauty of the area is that it’s contained enough, so from a relationship-building perspective, you don’t lose people.”
Halifax-based Fraser & Hoyt Incentives led two programmes at Tremblant in 2007. Allison Gillis, senior programme manager, had 92 people at a five-day national sales meeting in October.
r colleague, Kelly MacDonald, also had 91 people there for five days in May. Both programmes held at the Fairmont Tremblant “are very meetings-focused,” says Gillis.
Working there in spring and fall, says Gillis, gave clients a beautiful setting “in an off time of the year, so rates tended to be better than we’d get in winter. We hired a band one night for one of the dinners, and I’m not sure, but that may have been more expensive in high season when there was more demand. It was also easier to get locations for having off-site events and taking over things privately, because they weren’t full with skiers or golfers.”
Gillis’ social programme included a first-night meet-and-greet at a local restaurant, an awards gala at the Fairmont, and for a team-building exercise, a GPS-guided scavenger hunt around the village.
“It’s beautiful. It’s compact and very well planned out, so I was surprised at how perfect it is.” She also liked that once there, she didn’t have to budget for transportation costs.
If the village has a flaw, it is limited exhibition space. Dairy says, “with big associations, we sometimes have to refuse groups because of that.”
Tremblant has plans to develop a new convention-focused village at the base of Versant Soleil. The exact timing is in flux, but plans call for a larger convention centre and 1,500 more bedrooms in six new hotels (Tremblant has 1,900 rooms now). Phase one of this expansion is the fall opening of Loto-Québec’s $60-million Ludoplex, which offers a new style of gaming complex, with a multifunction meeting space, café and restaurant. A new gondola service connecting the village of Versant Sud and Versant Soleil goes into service this summer.
Kioussis adds, “I didn’t get a lot of surprises. The surprises we had were the flexibility of our suppliers and their ability to work with us. Since the incentive business is a demand business, we’re looking to do things which are out of the norm. And quite frankly, everything I requested – whether it was their ski concierge having our rental skis in our individual lockers with a tuner in hand to make sure everything was right the morning we were going skiing – was done to a ‘T.’ The whole village area really responded positively. We didn’t get any push back or resistance. They were always looking to build bridges, which was really positive.”
TREMBLANT TRAVEL TREAT
One of the quirky charms of Tremblant is their Mont Tremblant International Airport (mtia.ca), whose terminal is built of logs. Since it can welcome passengers with cocktails by a fireplace and provide zero-touch luggage transfer, some groups have opted to go the charter route, treating their guests to the elegant serenity of a less-crowded airport.
Allan Lynch is a New Minas, N.S.-based freelance writer.