Active Family Travel – Easter Weekend in Mont Tremblant

After getting priced out of a lot of ski resorts for March Break, we opted to put the kids in local camps for that week, and make our winter/spring family vacation take place over an extended Easter long weekend.   We opted to stay in Canada this time and selected Mont Tremblant.   We had skied there as newlyweds with my wife being pregnant with Shark Boy years ago.

It seemed like a good plan, especially once we had excellent accommodations locked down and saw how much money we were saving by going late in the season.  Our first snag was that the convenient local airport didn’t have flights from Toronto past the very beginning of April.  The second was that shuttle service from Pierre Trudeau Airport in Montreal was expensive and not ideal for our flight schedule.  Renting a car (I upgraded all the way to a Dodge Durango to make sure we could fit our skis in) proved the smartest option.

By the time we landed, picked up the car and had dinner, it was dark, but still, driving through the mountains was enough to get me excited.   Our condo was at the bottom of the ‘Village’ right across from the Westin, and had two bedrooms (including a king sized bed in the master bedroom) and a pull-out couch so the boys could sleep separately.

On Good Friday morning, we grabbed breakfast from the Au Grain de Cafe, and then got the kids dressed for their ski lessons.  We opted to put the Lightning Kid in a ‘Mother Nature Camp’ where the morning would be dedicated to learning to ski, and the afternoon would be in a daycare-like environment.  Downhill skis and boots are still pretty heavy for his legs, and it’s been slow going getting him to get the hang of it.  Shark Boy was in a ski camp for both Christmas and March Break holidays and he’s gotten pretty good – to the point of being able to use poles, although we hadn’t been able to secure a pair of his own yet.

Once the kids were squared away, my wife and I stopped for an extra coffee and a treat (which became the daily ritual) before going back to our room to get our own ski gear on, and trudge back uphill through the village to the gondola and get our own skiing done.

Both Friday and Saturday were nice, sunny days, and as skiers from Ontario, we’re not too fussy about snow quality – we were just happy to be there.  All we are really looking to do on these trips is spend some time in the simple pleasure of sliding on snow without worrying about anything more than keeping our skis beneath us.

Shark Boy’s favourite runs were ‘La Crete’, ‘Tascherau’ and ‘Dynomite’.  Mine were ‘La Traverse’, ‘Toboggan’ but of course, I have to give an honourable mention to my namesake…

It rained on the Sunday, and though Shark Boy lasted the whole day, we got pretty miserably wet.  Luckily, we paid a visit to the water park known as AquaClub (which also had a fitness centre which I did not take advantage of).  This place has various pools with a tarzan rope, a small slide and a little cliff to jump off of.  Both boys did everything, though the Lightning Kid always simply jumped into the water by releasing the rope before his swing could start.

The one day we didn’t swim after skiing, we rode a little open gondola called ‘Cabrio’ from the bottom parking lot to the top of the village and back.  And up again, and down again.  And up again…

We were very satisfied with the ski school overall.  Lunches were provided, and Shark Boy really liked his instructor, who had tall (though true) tales from all over the world.   I personally would have liked to see the Lightning Kid get more runs in on the bunny hill (served by a magic carpet), though I understand that when the kids get tired, forcing them into it is not going to yield good results or a positive attitude toward snow sports.  He had 3 different instructors, and they were all warm, friendly and great at teaching the skills.

On the Monday, I got an opportunity to ski with each of my sons individually.  I took Shark Boy for a run from the top of the mountain to the bottom before his lesson.  I should point out that though I claimed we’re not fussy about snow quality, the warm weather generated some heavy slush that really wore on your legs after a while and didn’t always yield optimal technique.  Still, I had a lot of fun skiing with Shark Boy and was so impressed that he stuck with me (not skiing too far ahead or afield) without me having to yell and shout.

At the end of the day, I took the Lightning Kid out, and promised him a ride on the chairlift.  I had scoped out a route of green runs from the top of the one chairlift that is accessible from the bottom and was trying to be optimistic that my back would hold out for the entirety while I held him between my legs.  Sadly, his tickets didn’t include lift access, and though it was the last day and last runs of the year, rules are rules, I guess.  I took him back to the magic carpet to see what he had learned and what he was capable of.

He’s getting the hang of putting his skis into the snowplow/’pizza’ position, and according to the instructor reports he can do some stops and control his speed a little.  He’s also fully independent on the magic carpet, so we’ll call the endeavour a success overall.


I figure I’ll call out some of our favourite meal experiences separately rather than try and enumerate them all chronologically in the main story.


The first night’s dinner was going to be a kid-friendly one.  There were two pizza joints within reach, one small and at the bottom of the village, the other larger around the midpoint of the climb to the top.  The kids chose the latter.  Pizzateria is decorated like a log cabin, and the pizza has a homemade, authentic style I really liked.

La Savoie

I grew up with both fondue and a home Raclette appliance, and we’ve also gotten one as a wedding present that we’ve never used.  Raclette is a kind of Swiss cheese that you melt over potatoes or just about anything else you can think of, and it’s delicious.  We haven’t dared to try eating something like these two Swiss delights for fear of the kids’ pickiness (and how their unruly behaviour poses a safety risk)… until now.  Shark Boy was lured in by La Savoie’s menu because it offered Salami as one of the options for dipping or melting cheese over.  We were really surprised at how well the boys took to the experience, and the restaurant service made the kids feel more the kids feel more than welcome.

There’s an element that melts the cheese onto a plate below
Shark Boy and I fondu-ing it!



Creperie Catherine

Sweet crepes for breakfast!  Shark Boy and I had their ‘Grand Maman’ which was loaded with ice cream… a bit much for breakfast.  The Lightning Kid had a Nutella and banana crepe and the results speak for themselves….

Le Q.C.

I picked this place for lunch date, just the grown-ups.  They had an interesting selection of tartares; my wife’s tuna was delicious.  Great cocktails too, I had a Dark and Stormy which was like a Moscow Mule only with coke, and my wife had a maple syrup based cocktail.

Samurai Pub

Great sushi, well presented, funky vibe.  Another great lunch date.  I didn’t partake of the Sake Bomb… maybe next time.


While ski vacations seem to be a lot of work in terms of planning, logistics, packing and lugging gear, when they’re done, we’ve always enjoyed them and grown closer as a family while living the life of adventure that we’ve always dreamed of.

Active Family Vacation: Skiing in Mont Sainte Anne

I’m really behind on blog post topics.  As the subject matter becomes less current (or even irrelevant), I’m left with either abandoning the topic, or going ahead with a ‘better late than never’ attitude.  This one falls into the latter camp; I know you don’t want to hear about winter, but we had a good time, and maybe the information will be useful for next season.

Winter is tough.  For everyone, but even worse for families with small children.  If you’re a family with small children and want to lead active lifestyles, EVEN TOUGHER.  We’ve done a good job of embracing the elements that a Canadian Winter gives us, but the snow in Southern Ontario is inconsistent at best, and really immersing yourself in the winter environment takes more time than than the average weekend allows (think packing, driving, herding the cats kids).  Enter the ski vacation.

Two years ago, we shopped around at the Ski and Snowboard Show for ski resorts that could accommodate a family with a child less than 18 months.  All the reps at the show acted like it would be no problem, since they simply wanted to make a sale, but the truth was, that the 18-month mark is a dividing line for daycare licensing and insurance and most resorts didn’t have that capability.  Shark Boy was going to be 17 months old (close but no cigar) for the dates we were looking at, but Mont Ste Anne takes kids into it’s daycare from 6 months on!  Staying inside Canada meant no customs/border hassles, avoiding invasive TSA screening procedures and dealing in Canadian currency.   Long story short, we loved it and booked another trip this year, which we did in the end of March.

We flew to Quebec City with Porter Airlines from the Toronto Island Airport. That made for some excitement as the kids got to enjoy a taxi ride, a ferry ride and a plane trip… I made the pre-boarding a little more exciting by forgetting one of our suitcases, necessitating a panicked taxi-ride home and back (an extra hundred bucks, ouch), but we made our flight just fine.  

The weather in Ontario had been iffy, sometimes cold, sometimes mild, but not very good with snow, but immediately before we left, Sainte Anne got a dump of fresh snow.

From what I could tell, this wasn’t powder of the very highest grade, but it was good enough for me. We were booked into the Chateau Mont Sainte Anne, and in one of their newer Studio (Nordik) rooms with a King bed. We had a crib for the Lightning Kid and Shark Boy slept on the pull-out couch.

The morning after arriving, we brought the boys to the daycare where they were welcomed with open arms. My theory on child-care givers is that experience brings an air of cool confidence that kids can read, and things tend to go smoother; the staff at Mont Sainte Anne has that air. We kept Shark Boy in for the whole day on Saturday which gave us the time to ski almost

all day.

Problem: I hadn’t downhill skied in two years at least. We took mostly Blue runs, but we found we had to take frequent breaks on the hills, and even on the Blue trails we found moguls we weren’t ready for. My theory is that downhill skiing is quite the opposite of most sports I do: rather than applying little to moderate force through a fairly large scale movement (like a running stride or cycling pedal stroke), you’re mostly pushing with a great deal of force through very little movement at all when you’re digging your edges in on turns. It’s dynamic versus static muscular strength and endurance.

We’d pick Shark Boy up after his second ski lesson, and had a few runs with us so we could see the progress he was making – it seems like he’s a natural. After that, we’d pick the Lighting Kid up (typically once he’d woken up from a nap) and take them for a ride up the gondola… and of course, back down.

He got frightened during a plane take-off but this didn’t bother him a bit.

Dead times before (and sometimes after) meals were spent in the kids room in the basement of the Chateau (there is also a video arcade, but our kids are too young for that kind of thing, and we weren’t going to encourage it – though later on, I got smoked at Dance Dance Revolution). The kids loved the toys in there and frequently played with other children – language barrier be darned.

I did have a little scare in the kids’ playroom. One morning, the Lightning Kid woke up around 5, and wouldn’t go back down. I had to dress quickly and hustle him out of the room before he could wake up his brother. I took him down to the playroom and let him go. I ended up finding a very large bug, which (to my surprise, since I was feeling sluggish as you can imagine) I was able to capture and bring to the front desk. Any parent wants their kids to be able to play in a fairly clean environment so my paranoia was going full tilt. When I followed up later, a member of the staff explained that they deemed it a grasshopper (rather than something more scary), and that these sorts of things could come in from all over the world in visitors suitcases. They take a lot of measure to prevent infestations like the kind my imagination was running wild with, and I had to admit, it didn’t really look like a cockroach or anything like that, so I was basically satisfied.

There are a good variety of restaurants within the resort grounds, so we tried a new place every night. We also ended up packing up our food before we could complete a proper meal, because the kids wouldn’t behave properly (I think they were a little overstimulated by the new environment and/or activities). Quebecers are really laid-back and don’t bat an eyelid at kids’ behaviour; unfortunately, I’m not a Quebecer, I’m an uptight Ontarian and meal-times ended up stressing me out.

The last gasp before bedtime was a swim in the pool (also in the basement of the pool). I was able to get Shark Boy to show me some of the skills he’s been learning in his swim lessons, and we’ve long since discovered that swimming is an excellent way to tucker them out so they’ll sleep.

Once they were out one of us had to stay in the room with them, so we weren’t able to enjoy our evenings as a couple. We’d do a little solo (drinks, the aforementioned arcade) but conk out early from exhaustion. There were many wake-ups to deal with, so it was good to get all the rest we could.

The next day, I felt so much stronger and more confident on my skis. We still stuck mostly to Blue hills, but it really felt like the best I’ve ever skied in terms of technique. We made sure this time to put in a stop at the Maple Syrup hut on the East side of the mountain. Here, they pour maple syrup into a trough of snow where it congeals, then you pick that up on a stick by rolling it all up (see below). Delicious!

In the trough
I got all the syrup… LIKE A BOSS!

The other thing we made time for is making sure we caught some of Shark Boy’s ski lesson. Then we took him for another run with his parents on “The Big Magic Carpet” as requested.

On our third day, I actually opted to head back to the room and sleep rather than ski. Normally there’s a voice inside that makes me seize the day, and says:”You can only ski like this so often, but you can sleep anytime!” but that isn’t actually true anymore. A chance to sleep without being woken up by the kids (or a phone call or whatever) is about as rare as good powder, which I missed out on that morning by all reports. I did manage a couple of Black Diamond runs in the afternoon, though the snow had gotten granular.

The vacation wound to an end… but they left me wanting more. There is an extensive network of cross-country skiing trails that we haven’t explored yet, and other winter activities like dog-sledding beckon too. My one gripe is that access to other services isn’t so great; two years ago I had to hail a taxi to get to a drug store for infant pain-killers because Shark Boy got an ear infection. There is also no shuttle to/from the Quebec City Airport making cab rides necessary.

Even as the kids get older and the daycare requirements get lighter, easier and more flexible I could see us returning to Mont Ste Anne. For another view on this trip, please visit the Lightning Kid blog.

The Rollerblade Commute

Recently circumstances led us to become a 1 car family, and I wanted to use the opportunity to commute to work by bike; our overall schedule will only allow this twice a week, but still, better than nothing.

It was Friday the 13th, and I found a flat tire on my morning ride. My attempts to patch it didn’t really take. And without my own car to run errands, I still haven’t replaced the inner tube. No problem, I found another way to keep my commute active.

Inline skating! a.k.a. Rollerblading. I’ve always wanted to do more of this, especially once triathlon season is over to start to get in shape for cross-country skiing.  It’s been fun, and I’m lucky that my way home is more downhill than my way to work, so that getting home is less of a slog.

Here’s a few tips I’ve picked it up if you want to try inline skating to work.

  • Don’t underestimate hills.  Going up is harder than you think, and a decline will get you going faster than you want.  The better your ability to break, the happier you’ll be.
  • Sidewalks are navigable, but some of the cracks are nastier than others, so be alert, and prepare to step over the uneven parts that might make you stumble.  You can time your strides so that the foot you want to put down for the next stride clears the discontinuity and lands on the flat part of the sidewalk tile.
  • When passing other pedestrians, stop striding and start gliding.  You can pass slowly with your hands at your sides this way, taking up less room.
  • When crossing intersections, even when you have the green light or right of way, try to make eye contact with motorists.  That way you’ll know they’ve seen you; it’s a good practice on a bike too, but on skates you’re even less anticipated by drivers.
  • Pack your shoes near the top of your bag so they’re accessible when you want to change into them at your work’s front doorstep.

Rollerblading to work has been a great way to cross-train.  It’s a moderate workout, yet I know I’m working my glutes and a lot of lateral muscles in my legs that might get short shrift during running and biking.  Have you ever used inline skates or another non-conventional way to commute?

Race Bucket List

Bucket lists seem to be all the rage these days, but I’ve always found the idea daunting – how could I list everything I ever wanted to do?  My list would be something like: 1.) Live Forever and do everything.  Yet, if I focus on the idea that there are endurance/athletic events I would like to participate in, then maybe I can come up with something.

These races will be in the ‘Bucket List’/Pipe Dream category for one or more of the following reasons (in increasing order of likelihood):

  1. Conditioning.  I’m too far out of the shape I’d need to be in to complete
  2. Skill/Equipment.  One or more of the disciplines involves a skill I don’t know how to do
  3. Geography/Logistics:  Getting there with equipment won’t work while taking care of my family at the same time

All of these are fixable or will change with time, and so will the list as I find out new possibilities and opportunities… so let’s get started!

    • Pentathlon Des Neiges.  I was going to put the Ottawa Winterlude Triathlon here but I just happened to stumble across this event in IMPACT magazine. Both events include skating, cross-country skiing, and running, but the Pentathlon des Neiges adds snow-shoeing and cycling.  The latter discipline can be done with mountain or cyclo-cross bikes and actually takes place first (followed by a run, then ski, then skate, then snow-shoe).  There are short (9+4+6+6+4=29km) and long (15+6+9+9+6=45) distance races and it all takes place on the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

    • Men’s Health Urbanathlon What I like about this obstacle course is it seems focused on the fitness aspects needed to complete while leaving out the fear factor/bravado and quite frankly, mud involved in mud runs, Warrior Dashes and Spartan Races and the like.  If they bring one to the Toronto area, I’m as good as signed up, but I wouldn’t mind travelling to one of the fine cities that are currently offered when my schedule would allow it.
      • Ski 2 Sea what if a race included even more of the Canadian Multi-sport experience, enough to span all seasons?  And what if it was a journey with an end destination that was far away from the start?  What if you started on top of a mountain, downhill skied 2km, switched to cross-county skis for another 8km, jumped on a mountain bike and rode 28km out of the mountains only to hit the road with your road bike for 36km.  Now jump off the bike and run for nearly 15km and get in your canoe/kayak so you don’t get wet because there’s another 8km before the finish line.  It’s a lot of distance to cover, and the logistics are quite intimidating so people often do this as a team relay, but it seems like such a dream journey (and it is a net downhill, after all) that I can’t help but be tempted by this one.

        • Ironman 70.3 Laguna Phuket Thailand  I’m a little wary of iron or half-iron distance racing and it’s not only the daunting training schedule and training volume.  Races with the Ironman brand don’t exist in everybody’s back yard, and most people who have done one turn it into a trip with overnight accomodation, meals and maybe a little vacation time… if you’re going to drop that kind of cash and time, why not make it a more once-in-a-lifetime experience?  I love Thailand (from having honeymooned there) and I can’t picture a better destination for a ‘destination race’ than the land of smiles.  So far, you don’t even have to qualify!  This race took place this past Sunday, in fact.

        • Berlin Marathon   My wife and I both have a lot of friends and family in Germany, and Berlin has become a bit of a home away from home for us.  The Berlin marathon is also considered the fastest course there is so there’s my motivation to beat my previous, pitiful marathon time.  What really put this marathon into my dream file was a conversation I had with a gentleman who had done more than 50 marathons all over the world, but when I asked him his favourite, he said it was the Berlin Marathon, during the year of German re-unification.  He had run through part of the city that were inaccessible to him growing up, and attempting to leave those parts in the East had gotten people shot and killed over the course of the Cold War.  By the time he ran through the Brandenburg Gate (below), he was blind with tears in his eyes and needed the guidance of a friend simply to find his way through the pillars.  So many Big City Marathons have a lot of historical draw, but none like this, at least not to me.
        Runners going through the Brandenburg Gate
        • XTERRA Canada (Canadian Open Championship) I already like taking my running “off-road”,  and it’s my honest intention to get a mountain-bike for cross-training purposes and to participate in some non-navigational adventure races (like Logs, Rocks and Steel) and off-road triathlons.  From the latter category, XTERRA is pretty much the biggest and baddest.  This race takes place in beautiful Whistler, BC which only adds to the draw.  Until that time, maybe I’ll get to do the Mine Over Matter as my introduction to off-road tris…

        This list is long enough for now, but I’m always up for recommendations… dream big!

          Winter Cross-training through Cross Country Skiing

          If you’re a triathlete living in a more northern climate, the odds of keeping in shape to the degree you’d like are somewhat daunting. Each of the separate disciplines are impacted; and the warm outdoors affords you the best opportunities to have longer workouts that will increase endurance and distance. There are indoor possibilities that can be limiting. Indoor pools are crowded and not often the size you’d like; it’s not uncommon for gyms to have a mere 10-12m pool. Spinning classes have helped me up my biking endurance, but the technical aspects such as aero-position and gear shifting are lacking. Running on a treadmill is an option; but my main objection to using indoor solutions is boredom. Without a change of scenery, most cardiovascular activity descends into repetitive tedium, and you wind up wondering if the couch potatoes are right.

          You do see people braving the elements to run outside, and I applaud these individuals (those that bike in the snow, earn nothing but scathing contempt – it’s just not safe). Braving the cold is about having the right number of layers and the right equipment at each layer. Cold temperatures are only part of the problem of running in snowy weather; park trails are closed and poorly maintained, sidewalks can be inconsistently shoveled, and the roads are narrower and more crowded thanks to snowbanks, shorter days mean a lack of sunlight. If you’re like me, and find these obstacles ruin the fun of endurance training, allow me to present a solution. The benefits of cross-training are well documented. Using our muscles in different ways makes them more resilient and more efficient, making us faster in races and less prone to injury. A triathlete’s free time for training, however, is already split between 3 disciplines, so extra time for sports that don’t benefit us directly is thin on the ground. Cross-country skiing (sometimes known as Nordic skiing) is one of the most difficult endurance sports, burning the most calories per hour. Cross-country skiing gives triathletes several benefits that vary depending on the technique used.

          Basic Technique for Beginners

          The first few times someone straps on a pair of cross-country skis, their motion tends to approximate an exaggerated walk. The skier strides their legs back and forth with opposing motions in the arms (left foot and right pole/arm forward while the right foot and left pole/arm are backwards). The strides use the hip flexors and glutes, while the arm motion creates a nice approximation of the front crawl swimming stroke, exercising the same shoulder muscles needed for a powerful drive forward in the water. With both upper and lower body in use, it’s easy to see why cross-country skiing is such a great whole body exercise.

          Advanced Classic Technique: Diagonal Stride

          Whether through lessons or the comfort that comes with practice, skiers who want to get a little more speed involved in their technique will find themselves leaning further forward, shifting their weight onto the forward ski, and enforcing a glide time with each stride. The forward lean and weight shift result in increased power and friction on the kick, driving the skier forward with more power. This also engages other leg muscles especially the calves and quadriceps. Maintaining balance with the forward lean works the core muscles, especially the lower back. As the skier discovers how to use generated momentum to increase average speed and conserve energy, the fun of the sport really shows itself. You coast after building up a head of steam (or coming off a downhill stretch) and there are techniques that can extend that coast time or increase speed, such as the marathon stride, marathon skate, or simply double-poling. While the former 2 techniques are a little complex to explain here, the double-pole technique involves using the poles to get an extra burst of power by bending at the waist rather than pushing solely with the arms and shoulders. It will use the abdominal muscles, but it’s also a good opportunity to fight a cramp building by forcefully exhaling on the bend.

          Ultimate Workout: Skating Technique

          I think of skating and classic techniques as analogous to front crawl and breast stroke. The former is simply faster and better if you have the strength and fitness to pull it off for the required distance, though it can cause you to run out of gas early and be forced to stop if you don’t. The latter is slower and more conservative and well suited to a pace that doesn’t up the heart rate toward those aerobic threshold maximums. There are many different sub-techniques for skating, but I’ll concentrate on illustrating the benefits of the Gear 4 (V2 alternate, Open Field Skate, 2-Skate) technique where you double pole on every other leg stride. For example, I double pole while my weight is on my left ski, and bring my arms forward again while my weight is back on the right. The skating motion uses the glutes even more and the abductor and adductor hip flexors work through the action of pushing off the skate leg and bringing it back (closing the space between the legs) again. Double poling works the core and shoulders as in the classic technique.

          Getting out there
          I have long held the view that the only way to really love living in Canada is to embrace the opportunities winter affords us, otherwise it’s just 4-5 months of misery. Downhill skiing is fun, but endurance athletes need a bigger, better, badder workout to get the most out of the so-called ‘off-season’. Cross-country skiing is cheaper, better exercise, and has a reduced environmental impact by comparison. There is a small (and in my opinion, too well hidden) community of serious cross-country skiers in South and Central Ontario, and they could use some company from the multi-sport community. Find a resort with rentals and take a lesson, or buy an old pair used and go to your nearest provincial or national park one weekend. It’s the ultimate cardiovascular exercise, how can you pass it up?


          Diagonal Stride illustrated in Video