MONT TREMBLANT, Que. -- "Are you a snowman?" asked a smiling face leaning over me as I laid on my back, skis and poles scattered about.
Considering this was my third fall in 15 minutes, I was starting to think the answer to that question was affirmative.
Luckily for this novice skier, Mont Tremblant communications specialist Annick Marseille was the only one to see my thrilling spills as we took advantage of some early morning runs before the crowds descended -- literally -- from the top of Quebec's winter sports gem.
As I picked myself up and tried to gather my equipment, Marseille qualified her question by pointing out just how much time I'd spent in the snow that morning.
"You seem to like it," she said with a grin.
As we once again skied down P'tit Bonheur -- a beginners run with a gentle drop and wide berth, a welcome sight to any novice skier -- I couldn't help notice the beautiful expanse revealing itself around each corner.
Snow-covered pines, as far as the eye could see, stretched out across the rolling hills of the Laurentians before us, creating a beautiful monotone landscape pierced occasionally by the bright red or yellow outfit of a passing skier.
Making good use of our First Tracks pass, which is complimentary for guests staying in the village and grants access to the lifts as early as 7:45 a.m., we had our first run in the bag well before the thousands of other sliding enthusiasts made their way to the top.
While about 12,000 skiers and snowboarders would call Tremblant's 95 runs home that day, to say there is plenty of room for everyone is an understatement.
With 14 lifts -- including the Cabriolet that runs sports people from the lower portion of the village to the top -- operators can transport more than 27,000 skiers per hour up the hill. Lineups are short and move quickly.
A skier takes in the view from the summit before heading down P'tit Bonheur, a beginner run, at Mont Tremblant, Que. on Friday January 24, 2014. CRAIG GLOVER/QMI AGENCY
While riding the Lowell Thomas lift -- named after American radio journalist and friend of resort-founder Joe Ryan -- I couldn't help but wonder if this is what the pair had in mind when they first ascended the mountain in 1938.
Only a year after that visit, 75 years ago, Ryan opened the hill to skiers, with Thomas broadcasting from the mountain on occasion to drum up interest among his listeners.
With stunning views in any direction from the highest point in the Laurentians, it's easy to see how Mont Tremblant has become Eastern Canada's premier ski destination.
Bought by resort developer Intrawest in 1991, measures were taken to ensure any expansion reflected the resort's roots.
From the original lodge, which still stands in the heart of the village, to the small cabins, built in the 1930s and now home to cozy restaurants, pubs and clubs, each does its part to pay homage to Tremblant's humbler beginnings. The result is a quaint ambiance that doesn't feel forced.
Blending old with new isn't just at the base of the mountain, either. A small mid-hill log cabin is a good example of tradition meeting new demand.
Le Refuge du Trappeur on the Versant Soleil side of the mountain makes for a good mid-morning pit stop.
The cabin -- marked by signs for "Refuge" from the summit -- is located on the right side of Tiguidou, a black diamond run.
Less adventurous types, like this journalist, can access it by taking the intermediate Toboggan run and cutting through the treeline on an unmarked trail that appears on your right. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the turn, however, as it is easy to miss. If it wasn't for my ski guide, I'd likely have been looking all day.
Skiing up to the Refuge, you quickly forget the surroundings and begin to feel you're in a remote back country area. The sounds of other skiers carving their way down the mountain are deadened by snow-covered trees, creating a tranquil feeling.
Leaning my skis on the rack outside, I counted only nine other pairs, giving me a sense I wouldn't have a hard time finding a seat.
Inside, old skis and snowshoes hang from the walls as the fireplace glows and throws much-needed heat into the room.
Skaters take to the ice at the chapel skating rink in the village at Mont Tremblant, Que. on Friday January 24, 2014. CRAIG GLOVER/QMI AGENCY
Sitting at long rustic tables with a group of journalists (all far more experienced skiers than me), we catch up on our adventures so far.
After sipping hot chocolate and laughing about my earlier troubles staying upright, our thoughts turn to the waiting slopes and we bundle up to head out into the cold once again.
With temperatures below -30 C, and a pre-lunch activity planned, it is time to make tracks and head for the village.
Taking in the beautiful scenery once again, I couldn't help but notice how quickly I was building up speed -- or how the tree line was narrowing ahead of me.
That's when I glanced up through frosted goggles and noticed a familiar yet daunting shape on a sign as I whizzed by -- a black diamond!
I was speeding straight down Laurentienne, an expert run that leads directly to the base of Le Soleil lift.
Immediately I hit the brakes after spotting a cut that could take me to a neighbouring run, Tapecul, and a friendlier intermediate-rated jaunt to the bottom.
After apologizing to passing skiers, one of whom took the time to point out I was going the wrong way as I side-stepped back up the mountain to make my switch, I finally made it down to the group, with a few more tumbles under my belt.
As we left the slopes satisfied, our group of smiling novice and expert skiers could agree on one thing.
No matter what your skiing or snowboarding skill level may be, Mont Tremblant offers a unique experience for everyone.
NEED TO KNOW
-- Season: Mont Tremblant Ski Resort will be open through April 21, depending on weather and snow conditions.
-- Lift Tickets: Adult (18-64) 1-day $79, half-day (noon on) $59. Senior (65+) 1-day $68, half day $51. Youth (13-17) 1-day $56, half-day $42. Children (6-12) 1-day $46, half-day $34. Peewee (3-5) 1-day $8.44, half-day $4.22. Toddler (0-2) free.
-- First Tracks: $16 online or by phone 48 hours in advance, $21 the day before or day-of at the ticket office. Provides access to lifts at 7:45 a.m., with slopes opening at 8.
-- Runs and lifts: 95 runs totalling 78.9 km of trails (17% beginner, 33% intermediate and 50% expert). The longest run is Nansen, a beginner route about 6 km long. There are five high-speed four-passenger lifts, one four-passenger lift, two three-passenger lifts, two gondolas, three Magic Carpets, and one Cabriolet lift that runs between the upper and lower village. Combined lift capacity is 27,230 skiers per hour.
-- School break deal: Five days of skiing from only $119 for kids and teens 6-17, $249 for adults. Lift tickets must be purchased by March 12 for skiing through March 16.
Getting to Mont Tremblant is easy with direct flights on Porter Airlines from Toronto's City Airport to La Macaza's Mont Tremblant International, about 35 minutes from the resort by shuttle. With a flight time of just over an hour, those looking to step into their bindings for some downhill action can be on the slopes in Quebec by early afternoon. When your time in Tremblant is up, your bags can be tagged and secured when your airport shuttle picks you up, leaving your flight check-in hassle free and quick so you can enjoy the view of the rolling Laurentians from the lounge. See flyporter.com.
-- Mont Tremblant, tremblant.ca or 1-888-738-1777.
-- Quebec Tourism, bonjourquebec.com or 1-877-BONJOUR (266-5687).
-- Tourisme Laurentides, laurentides.com or 1-800-561-NORD (6673).