Eventually someone surely would have taken the initiative to turn what the Algonquins called Manitonga Soutana and the locals called Mont Tremblant into a popular outdoor recreational destination.
As it turns out, though, it was an American, Joseph Bondurant Ryan, described as an eccentric young millionaire from Philadelphia, who not only had the money, but the vision and perseverance to turn the large Laurentian lump north of Montreal into a world-class year-round resort and training ground for Olympic athletes.
Perseverance, we say, because in 1936, when he tried to buy the mountain from the Quebec government of the day, he was required to meet a long list of conditions for development, including having his resort project finished in two years.
This he did, with the aid of his determination and famously deep pockets, and 75 years ago, Mont Tremblant welcomed the first wave of the millions of skiers and winter enthusiasts that would follow.
Until roads were built to pierce the mountainous wilderness, people would take the train — le Petit Train du Nord — to access Mont Tremblant and the other ski centres that began sculpting the hills.
The train was abandoned in 1991, and the tracks ripped up to create a popular cycling and cross-country ski trail, and now a freeway speeds motorists to ski territory and the foot of Mont Tremblant.
Coincidentally, 1991 was the same year the Mont Tremblant ski resort, at that point falling into decline, changed hands from a local ownership group that had bought it from the Ryan family. Intrawest, an ambitious company that scored a winner with the iconic Whistler-Blackcomb resort in the Rockies of British Columbia, sought to do the same thing with Laurentians of Quebec.
Though some might quibble with how Intrawest has transformed the formerly sleepy resort with its faux Quebec village look and proliferation of condos and how it altered what had been a more regional and family clientele, few can argue that Joe Ryan’s mountain vision has developed beyond his wildest expectations and been a tremendous boost for the local economy.
Alas, Joe Ryan only lived to see the realization of the beginnings of what he envisioned on his first visit to the hill in the company of legendary broadcaster and adventurer Lowell Thomas and Harry Wheeler, from the American-ex pat Wheeler family that founded the now-defunct Gray Rocks ski station.
Ryan was only 44 when he either fell or jumped from a 20-story building in New York in 1950. His wife, Mary, had him buried in the village at the base of the mountain, and she took over the operation of Tremblant until selling it to the locals in the 1960s.
Intrawest, initially a Canadian company, was bought in 2006 by Fortress Investment Group, a New York City-based private-equity company worth a reported $58 billion.
(Fortress last month acquired the assets of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the same that operated the runaway oil train that killed 47 people in the downtown of another quiet Quebec resort village, Lac Megantic.)
Fortress made headlines four years ago, in the lead-up to the Vancouver Olympics, when problems arose about the financing of its acquisition of Intrawest, owner of the Whistler-Blackcomb site of alpine events. Fortress spun off the B.C. property to resolve the problem but held onto Tremblant.
With another Olympics underway, Canadians are now looking hopefully to Mont Tremblant for some podium prospects. The mountain is home to no less than five athletes in Sochi, in sports from downhill (Erik Guay), to slalom (Brittany Phelan), to slopestyle (Charles Reid).
Once again, Canadians have Joe Ryan to thank, in part, for their current prowess in alpine skiing. He established a first-class ski school on the mountain that cultivated a culture of competition that has made Mont Tremblant the premier alpine training ground in eastern Canada.
According to legend, Joe Ryan, having climbed to the top of Mont Tremblant on skis equipped with sealskins for traction, said “this has to be the most beautiful sight in the world. There is only one thing wrong. It is too difficult getting up here. I believe I’ll fix that.”
And fix it he did.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.