How many ways can you descend a mountain? No matter the season, Tremblant is always searching for a new way. Currently you can hike, snowshoe, ski, luge, zip, tube, or get pulled along by dogs. A year and a half ago I checked off a few of these while visiting Tremblant in the dead of winter, my Floridian soul meeting arctic temperatures for the first time. I learned to ski and opened my mind to a concept I never thought possible: Winter can be fun. This time around, I visited Tremblant in the middle of summer to see how the village transforms itself when all the snowflakes have melted away.
As we drove to Tremblant, the resort came into view. My memories were of cool white mountains — these were replaced with the deep greens and bruised clouds I saw now. The village was designed with winter in mind, which means that in July, the property looks like the yard of a neighbor who forgot to put away the holiday decorations. Despite this disjointed aesthetic, the resort was humming with activity. I walked into the main plaza and saw thousands of concertgoers attending the yearly Blues Festival. As I walked through the crowd, I couldn’t help smiling at the mostly grey-haired attendees: dancing in that adorable way older people do, barely bending their knees and swinging both arms side to side. The music was wonderful, a relaxing distraction from my anxious anticipation of the activity I was scheduled for in the morning: a 4-kilometer zipline down the mountain.
Ziptrek is not a conventional zipline experience. On a normal, single zipline, you take a deep breath and have a brief moment of panic. On Tremblant, it’s broken up into five different lines, and between each one, you hike through the forest and psych yourself up to take the plunge again and again. You have to repeatedly face your fears until they finally disappear. As we boarded the gondola to bring us to the summit, I felt a familiar sense of worry. Last year, while skiing, I sang myself a song to calm down: “You are in controool, You are in controool.” With a zipline, you are most definitely not in control. Suiting up for the experience requires you to wear a helmet, harness, and carry a fastener that holds you to the line. Before each zip, there is a wooden platform with two small gates and a guide to coach you through. As you walk down the steps, you can feel your harness tighten, and you’re asked to sit. At this point, all you have to do is lift your feet and off you go. Into the abyss. Never to be seen again.
Or at least, that’s what it felt like. The second line is steep, a freefall between mountains where you quickly lose yourself in the trees. I noticed that while on the line, my brain turned itself off. I talked with my fellow zippers about how hard it was to be present while on the line. Maybe, we joked, it’s because if our brains fully realized what was happening, we’d have a stroke. Human bodies probably aren’t meant to hurtle downward at 40mph and arrive unscathed. On the third hike, I noticed that smiles were permanently plastered on everyone’s faces, including my own. The fear was still there, but it was flirting with elation. We were the survivors of an endless series of near-death experiences — I think that’s the definition of thrilling. On the last line, I had the courage to go upside-down, and that tipped the emotional scale from secretly anxious to purely blissful. As I watched the sky fly past, and the village came into view, I was saddened by the return to reality. I was no longer immortal.
My next adventure was an apprentice falconer class, where I walked the woods with a Harris’s Hawk named Onyx. Birds of prey don’t care about you. They don’t want to be pet. They don’t want their talons played with. They don’t want to be talked to lovingly. They’re like cats, but somehow even less interested. When they land on your glove, all you can do is marvel at them until they decide to fly off again. You can see it in their eyes: their brains are wired to hunt, not to love. Even so, I could feel the one-sided affection my teacher Sarah had for flippant little Onyx. Sarah was a bubbly young falconer who taught me all about the history of falconry before releasing Onyx into the woods. I learned that falconry peaked in the Medieval Ages, when people used birds of prey to hunt smaller birds and animals for their own meals. At the time there were social ranks, even for birds: Kings hunted with eagles, peasants with kestrels. Nowadays, falconry is used to ward off flocks of small birds at airports and landfills, and to educate people about the importance of birds in our local ecosystems.
After releasing Onyx, who wore a tiny little bell so we could keep track of where he was, Sarah taught me the basics of calling him back. The process was quite simple: Raise your glove and put food in it. Our class was on a hiking path right across the street from the resort, so an added element was showmanship. As hikers walked by in awe when I called Onyx to my glove, I immediately felt like a pompous magician, or a character from Game of Thrones come to life. “Keep walking, peasants,” I thought to myself, as Onyx soared gloriously through the forest and onto my hand. Meanwhile, out loud, I was giggling like a child.
I could have used Onyx’s sight and agility the next morning, when I set off at sunrise for a fly-fishing lesson. Growing up in Florida, my only experience with fishing was when I was twelve: my dad took me to the river with a brand new Kermit the Frog-themed fishing pole. On my first cast, I accidentally threw the entire thing into the river, somehow hooking the back of my neck in the process. My dad said we could try again another day but, understandably, we never did.
This second attempt at Tremblant began in a field where we practiced casting, away from trees and water and all the things that could lead to disaster. After an hour of casting my fly into the center of a neon green hula-hoop, I decided I was no longer a danger to the sport. We drove to the Diable River and began the repetitive process of wading and casting, on repeat, forever. I suppose in the right mindset you would find a certain Zen, but I found myself thinking the recent Pokémon Go craze would be a more active and exciting way to spend the morning—at least in virtual reality, I could catch something. It felt like more of a sport to stay upright in the river, tripping on rocks and fighting the current, than it did to be fishing. After three hours of casting, I drove back to the resort with nothing but a sunburned neck and damaged pride. From there, I had to run to my hotel room to pack and make my flight.
During the drive to the airport I watched the green blur of the forest fly by. I never thought I’d say this, but I realized I prefer Tremblant in the winter. Though the warm weather activities are amazing, there is an extra magic in the colder months. Either way, you can’t go wrong in escaping to Tremblant. And who knows — maybe by the time you arrive, they will have invented yet another way to fly, fall, tumble, or ride down the mountain.