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Ironman’s Latest Triathlon Mecca – Mont-Trembant

Ironman's newest destination hot spot takes place next spring in Los Cabos, Mexico.

It comes as no surprise that Ironman Mont-Tremblant and Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant have once again filled to capacity. Set in one of North America’s top ski resorts, the inaugural events were a huge success, confirming that Mont-Tremblant has become one of the sport’s most desirous spots to race either a full- or half-distance race.

As the athletes arrived for the events earlier this year – the 70.3 race in June and the Ironman event in August – their jaws literally dropped as they saw the excitement and passion within the community about the races. Everyone from sports enthusiasts, to the local tourism hotspots, and even the artists in the area, pitched in to make sure the events would be world class. (A new sculpture created by Luis Paniagua commemorating the event was unveiled at St. Jovite’s city hall a couple of days before the Ironman race, while another local artist, Michel Poirier, designed the finisher’s medals.)

Set in the beautiful Laurentians about an hour and a half outside of Montreal (Tremblant does have an international airport, too), Ironman Mont-Tremblant is one of the most picturesque Ironman races in the world. Not unlike Lake Placid or Penticton, the Tremblant site adds a completely new dimension not seen at those races: a fairy-tale-like village that mixes European charm and all the accommodations, restaurants, shops, entertainment and just plain fun you can imagine. (Zip-line, anyone? Face painting? Luge runs?)

The region and race organizers didn’t spare anything when it came to ensuring the athletes enjoyed a once in a lifetime experience at the events. In the fall of 2011 the region repaved the roads for the bike course. There was a spectacular fireworks show after the welcome dinner before the Ironman, which also included both lots of live entertainment designed to showcase Quebec’s culture and charm. On the race morning of the 70.3 the Snowbirds Demonstration Team wowed the crowd before the start. For the Ironman a Canadian Forces F-17 flew by a number of times to add some spectacle to the start that featured over 2,000 athletes.

Taking in the resort
Mont-Tremblant, the town, is no stranger to world-class events – having hosted everything from running, cycling and ski races, along with some of Quebec’s largest music festivals. There are 1,700 hotel rooms at the resort, which means that athletes and their families can literally pull in during race week and never have to get in their car again until it is time to go home. The various accommodations (everything from two star to five star) in Mont-Tremblant provide easy access to the race – on race morning you will have a less than a 500 m walk to the transition area. That’s not only a help to athletes on race day – their families will enjoy the opportunity to take a break back at their hotel during the day, too.

We all know that athletes need to rest up during race week, but the resort opportunities in Mont-Tremblant mean that families and friends who choose to come along will find lots to do while the athletes go through their final race preparations. The resort opened the “Kids Club” during the week of the race for children between 1 and 6 years old. Other activities included everything from luge to climbing walls to watersport activities in beautiful Lake Mont-Tremblant.

The Course
It might be beautiful, but it’s not an easy course. The day begins with a swim in Lac Tremblant – the water temperature hovered right around 70 degrees for the Ironman in August, so wetsuits were allowed. The one-loop swim is followed by a challenging bike course that is similar to Lake Placid in terms of elevation, but the rolling hills are shorter and more like the ones you’ll find Ironman Wisconsin course. The bike course begins with relatively flat stretch of road, but quickly hits the rollers as the course winds through the picturesque forests. Much of the bike course is along two lane highways that have a four-meter shoulder, similar to parts of the course at the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

The run is around the beautiful village of Mont-Tremblant that incorporates a trail along an old railway bed called Le P’tit Train du Nord, the longest linear park in Canada. Once again there’s all kinds of breathtaking scenery – everything from waterfalls to rivers to the old village of Mont-Tremblant.
Athletes definitely earned their “You are an Ironman” acknowledgement from Mike Reilly at last year’s Ironman finish line. The 70.3 course is a great way to check out the Ironman course as it includes one of the two laps for each of the bike and run.

Enter Early
Ironman Mont-Tremblant is likely to quickly become an iconic race in the Ironman series. Following the same template that worked so well in Penticton and Lake Placid before it (while Penticton might not be hosting an Ironman event in 2013, it will still be one of the few places in Canada offering a full-distance race), the race incorporates a beautiful location that offers lots of great accommodations. Like those other two Ironman havens the community is large enough to support the race (more than 3,000 volunteers were on hand for this year’s race), but small enough so that the event is one of the biggest in the area.

Which is why, if you want to compete there in future, you’ll be wise to sign up as soon as you can – entries for these events will likely continue to go quickly.

Staying in Style
When it comes to eating in Mont-Tremblant your options are endless. If you have a discerning palate the area offers some spectacular restaurants that are sure to please. We tried out a couple during race week:

It’s hard to figure out if Patrick Bermand is a better host or chef, but the end result makes trying to make that call a moot point – his restaurant in the old village of Mont-Tremblant offers a dining experience second to none. On warmer evenings you can enjoy the patio, adding even more ambience to the dining room overlooking an open kitchen. Bermand offers an exquisite wine list (OK, if you’re racing this might be a post-race stop) and an incredibly versatile menu. When he learned that I wasn’t a seafood fan, he promised “the most incredible piece of beef you’ve ever had.” Bermand delivered on that promise, too.

It’s worth the short drive from Mont-Tremblant into St. Jovite to enjoy chef Sebastien Houle’s Seb l’Artisan Culinaire restaurant, which offers a menu filled with local foods. You can pick from an exotic à la carte menu or enjoy either a four or seven course table d’hote menu paired with a variety of wines. For those who love and appreciate their food, this will be a treat.

If you are looking for a hotel that offers both outstanding food and accommodations, you’ll want to look at the Quintessence. Right next to the swim exit, the Quintessence is just a few hundred metres from transition in the hear of the resort. The hotel features 30 luxury suites on picturesque Lake Tremblant, along with a four-diamond-rated restaurant and winebar.

Parc National du Mont-Tremblant
As the largest and oldest of Quebec’s parks, Mont-Tremblant National Park has six rivers and 400 lakes and streams, making it a hiking and canoeing paradise. The park is open year round, but what will probably be of most interest to families who have come to support an Ironman athlete is the Via terrata du Diable. This unique mountain experience allows you to scale the Vache Noire rock face – it’s an activity described as “between hiking and climbing” that allows you to work your way along the rock face by crossing beams, bridges and footpaths.

If you don’t want to be that adventurous, though, you can’t go wrong by simply enjoying a few of the hikes – especially the “cornice” hiking trail that offers a spectacular view at the top.