Looming mightily on the north side of the St Lawrence from the Ottawa River to the Saguenay River, the Laurentians are one of the world’s oldest ranges. Five hundred million years of erosion have moulded a rippling landscape of undulating hills and valleys, and a vast sweep of coniferous forest dotted with hundreds of tranquil lakes and rivers. The most accessible stretch lies north of Montréal, even though settlement in the upper Laurentians did not begin until the 1830s, when the construction of the P’tit Train du Nord railway tracks let in the mining and lumber industries. When the decline in both industries left the area in a depression, salvation came in the form of the recreational demands of the growing populace of Montréal. The region is now one of North America’s largest ski areas, helmed by the esteemed, stylish Mont-Tremblant, and the train tracks have been replaced by a terrific cycling trail. Even with the ski crowds, much of the land has remained relatively untouched – like the Parc National du Mont-Tremblant – and the area is a must-see when autumn colours arrive. Other than Tremblant – which is pricey – rates for ski passes are around $45 a day in the decent areas, a few dollars more at weekends.
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MONT-TREMBLANT (w tremblant.ca), some 130km north of Montréal, is the Laurentians’ oldest and most renowned ski area. The impressive range is crowned by its highest peak, Mont-Tremblant (960m), so called because the indigenous population believed it was the home of spirits that could move the mountain. In the 1990s, the company that developed British Columbia’s ski resort of Whistler pumped large amounts of money into Tremblant, and the resulting European-style ski village has made it a premier ski destination. The ski runs cater to all levels, with a maximum vertical drop of more than 650m and the longest ski run in Québec. One-day ski passes cost $76.
Mont-Tremblant comprises the ski resort itself plus the merged town of St-Jovite, the area’s commercial centre (now referred to as Centre-Ville Mont-Tremblant) and the pedestrian-only Mont-Tremblant Village, 10km north, which has the feel of a Québécois “toy village” and is dotted with ritzy boutiques, cute little walkways and après-ski bars. Around 5km northwest of the resort is an area that was once the town centre, which is often called the old village of Mont-Tremblant. The resort also hosts the excellent Mont Tremblant Snow School and a glitzy Casino de Mont-Tremblant (Mon–Wed & Sun 11am–1am, Thurs–Sat 11am–3am; w casinosduquebec.com/mont-tremblant), which you can reach by an aerial gondola or daily shuttle.