Winter slows us all down to a crawl. I have lived in Toronto for over fourteen years now, and grew up on Prince Edward Island, but Montreal will always be when I want to be when winter comes. The French understand how to keep moving; Montrealers embrace the cold kiss of Winter like it were the hot love of Summer.
To escape the snow and dirt of Toronto in February, we hit the road for Mont Tremblant to relax in heated pools and ski classic cross country in the nearby National Parc at Des Senteurs du Diable.
Mont Tremblant is a bit of a zoo, filled with Frat boys, cheerleaders, retired couples and children. We had a free night at the Fairmont and $200 of gift certificates for dining, so it made a lot of sense to get in the car and take advantage of free luxury before it it expired next week. The real draw was the skiing, however.
When I was in Grade Six my teacher, Perry Neatby, inspired me to all sorts of challenges: guitar, writing, travel, literature and he also led the JackRabbit ski club. In the typical way that students aspire to their hero’s talents I asked for my own pair of Nordic skis for Christmas that year, and I was so thrilled when they showed up under the tree in all of their candy apple blue sparkles.
For the next few years, I skied alone over the Ski-Doo trails around midnight and into the white nights of a rural Prince Edward Island landscape. I came to know myself during those nights. I learned skiing technique from Mr. Neatby, but I learned how to survive the darkness of winter alone with a door-prize wineskin filled with grape Kool-Aid.
Thirty years later I met the love of my life. She has a passion for nature and the outdoors. I prefer swank hotels within the reach of great culture and food experiences. We find a balance. This weekend that meant skiing the “Very Difficult” trail which really meant three hours of skiing beyond my personal abilities. The first section was 4km straight up; by the end of that the steep, extended downhill section because a throbbing blur as my beard froze into a pirate parody: Captain Snowbeard.
What did I learn about myself as I crawled towards the car? I am not dead, yet. Though the road is long, I can still move across rough terrain in -20 degree temperatures and find the same solace in the snow that I find when I was 12 years old. My blue, sparkling skis may have been replaced with cutting-edge Salomons procured at last year’s season end sales, but the same boy skis as hard as he can with the same few strides my JackRabbit leader taught me all of those years ago.
As for the return to Montreal, this afternoon and evening will be spent walking from Vieux-Port to Mont Royal in search of creature comforts and style that would warm any soul seeking refuge from Winter.