A tropical breeze brushes my face. The ocean laps at my toes. A crab scuttles by, peering at me quizzically behind rimmed bifocals and asks, “You alright, man?” “Never been better,” I smile. Wait — crustaceans can’t talk, nor can they get a prescription from an optometrist. The mirage, conjured by my mind to escape a much frostier reality, crumbles as I open my eyes.

Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant

Sprawling out over 72,000 square feet in the Laurentian forest, Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant is a year-round wellness campus and relaxation mecca with dry saunas, cold plunges, heat-lamp hammocks and more. Phones are banned, there’s no WiFi and loud talking is strictly prohibited.

This is no white sand beach. I’m deep in Quebec’s Laurentians region, just north of Montreal, at Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant. Specifically, I’m shivering on the bank of Diable (Devil’s) River, sporting only an unfortunate pair of mojito-patterned swim trunks. Oh, and it’s the dead of winter. Temps are loitering around a balmy -20 C.

Like all guests, when I checked in to Scandinave Mont-Tremblant, I was encouraged to participate in a cycle of hot and cold experiences. The temperature fluctuation, I was told, has restorative effects for the mind and body. A freezing dip into the Devil’s River is the spa’s most extreme trial, and I’m about to attempt just that.

A man in The Devil's River at Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant

A single heat lamp dangling above the river keeps it from freezing over, and a less-than-inviting ladder descends into its depths. My poor, numb toes brush aside snow as I shuffle closer, cloaked in goosebumps. I gather my courage, suck in a chestful of air and — “Nope. Fuck it. Can’t do it!” I spin and scamper back up the bank, tail tucked firmly between my legs, then dive headfirst into a steaming bath. I’ve been defeated.

My winter trip in Quebec will redefine cold for me. Every day is a deep freeze, with a chill that seeps, uninvited, through my thickest jacket. It’s unforgiving, harsh and humbling — but I’ll be damned if it isn’t also tons of fun.

Still in the Laurentians, a group of journalists and I fat-bike through forest trails with D-Tour Tremblant, a local tour and rental company. Despite our e-bikes and thick tires, we’re all tomato-faced, huffing and puffing within minutes of trekking through the snow. D-Tour owner and our guide, Audrey Leclerc, eventually stops the group on Jackrabbit Bridge and glances at my rosy cheeks, snotty nose and tendrils of frost clinging to my beard. “Ah, now you’re a real Canadian, eh?” she guffaws in a thick Quebecois accent, clapping me on the back. I respond with a mildly disgruntled shiver.

The bridge crosses my nemesis, the Devil’s River. Leclerc matter-of-factly explains it got its name because of the logging-related deaths that occurred in the waters over the years. Despite its sinister reputation, the river is beautiful. It hasn’t completely frozen over yet, but snow-capped ice islands that look like albino turtle shells are forming.

After snapping a few pics, we press on with our fat bikes. “This way!” Leclerc veers left down a narrow mountain biking path and picks up speed. I follow closely behind, silently thanking my snow pants for the extra padding as I bounce in my seat. Leclerc slows and looks behind me. “Oh!” she exclaims. I spin and see the rest of the group in a tangled mess of limbs, spokes and snow. They’re roaring with laughter. Quebec: 1, us: 0.


More than 100 different trails wind through Mont-Tremblant’s slopes. Whether you’re a beginner or prefer a more extreme course, you’ll be satisfied with these runs.

Next up, we’re at one of the most popular ski resorts in Canada, Fairmont Tremblant, gearing up for a day on the slopes. A ski-in-ski-out chateau at the base of its namesake mountain, the luxurious 312-room property is open year-round. Fairmont Tremblant offers ski valets, rentals and instruction, which is good because it’s my first time and I have no idea what I’m doing — and I’m wearing jeans.

Mont Tremblant activities | The chairlifts at Mont-Tremblant

Skis strapped on, I totter out of the hotel like a tipsy penguin. Outside, skiers rip down the hill at breakneck speeds, plumes of powdery snow blasting upwards in their wake. Gulp. My group is all beginners though, so we start at the bunny hill. I manage to climb to the top, nearly impaling my feet on my flailing ski poles.

Suddenly, I’m petrified of face-planting in front of the group of people gathered near the bottom of the hill. I start inching downhill. I’m stiff, bent over like I’m suffering a crippling stomach cramp. But I’m standing, and that’s a feat. My thighs wobble, and I curse myself for skipping leg day (read: avoiding all physical activity). My hip flexors groan in protest as I “pizza” my way down the slope. I make it to the bottom upright though, and beam like I’ve just won an award. Maybe I can do this skiing thing after all.

It’s dog sledding that almost breaks me. It’s a sunny -25 C day when the group rolls up to Tanwen Pack, a canine training site 90 minutes from Ottawa that offers sledding rides. Owner Eric Pichette has more beard than face, a mischievous glint in his eye and a snug toque that strongly resembles a hacky sack. “Are you ready to be warriors on the sled?!” he roars. We nod meekly.

“Are you ready to be warriors on the sled?!”

We head into the snow-kissed Petite Nation forest trails we’ll be sledding today. Temperatures drop under the canopy, but Pichette’s enthusiasm doesn’t falter. “I love the cold. I was born in it,” he booms, gesturing affectionately at the frozen scene around us as he takes us to his dogs. As we approach, a concert of barks and whines greet us through the trees. Each of us will be driving our own dogsled, we learn. I’m paired with a pack of four spunky-looking canines; they’re already tugging at their harnesses, eager to get going.

I balance myself on two thin wooden strips at the back of the sled. A tight knot of nerves is churning in my stomach. Once again, I have no idea what I’m doing. The leader of the pack, a husky-like male with a jet-black coat, turns back and looks at me. For a second, I swear he’s got the same mischievous glint in his eye as his owner.

“ALLONS-Y, CHIENS!” howls Pichette, at the helm of our troupe. My dogs yelp in glee and send us hurtling forward. We glide around twists and turns on the snowy path. Every muscle in my body is clenched so as to not tip the sled or lose control. After a few minutes though, I’m just like the dogs, yipping and howling as we zip through the snow.

The dogs turn and shoot me an impatient glare over their furry butts

Heading uphill is a different story. Despite their enthusiasm, four dogs simply can’t pull a 180-pound human up a slope. That means jumping off the sled, and sprinting through the deep snow. Then, like an action movie star, jumping back on when the ground is level again.

Quebec dogsledding | Eric Pichette and his team of dogs sledding across a lake

By the third or fourth hill, my breaths are coming in short gasps, and my legs are burning. I can’t sprint anymore; I limp up slowly. As we fall behind the rest of the pack, the dogs turn and shoot me an impatient glare over their furry butts. I blurt out a weary sob, gather myself, then start running again.

Fairmont Le Château Montebello

Fairmont Montebello is the quintessential log cabin hotel. It’s the world’s largest, with more than 210 guest rooms and two excellent restaurants. There’s also a beautiful indoor spa; an aquatic centre with saunas, a pool and whirlpools; a yacht club; and much more.

After my wind-sprints in several-feet-deep snow, I’m drained. Checking in to Fairmont Le Château Montebello for a night, my eyes feel heavy. Everything aches — I’m almost unable to register the beauty of this jaw-dropping hotel. Montebello is a cross between a castle and a cabin; its cavernous lobby, composed of a web of thick logs, takes my breath away. I cozy up to a crackling hearth with a nightcap from the bar, and fight to keep from dozing off to the sounds of soft music and hushed conversations.

Each time the winter has worn me down in Quebec, a warm experience has built me back up. Like the thermal cycle at Scandinave Spa promised, I’m beginning to feel more resilient; birthed from the cold, like Pichette.

Back at Mont-Tremblant, I come to understand why Quebecers love après-ski. The hotel and ski hills back out onto a twinkling European-style village with countless restaurants and bars that defrost skiers, fresh off the hills. Inside each one, the atmosphere is merry, heaters are cranked to the max, and drinks flow freely. We post up at Restaurant La Savoie for a gooey raclette dinner. I’m seated by a window, and am amazed to watch groups of wild deer calmly roam the snowy village streets. One even clip-clops right up to my window and peers inside, likely envious of the globs of cheese we’re shoving into our mouths.

Nordik Spa-Nature

Nordik Spa-Nature’s Källa treatment contains 10 tons of Epsom salt per 1,200 cubic feet of water. It’s the second pool of its kind in the world. Capacity is restricted to 20 people at any time.

In the final leg of my trip, I check in to Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea, Quebec. I’m here for the Källa treatment, a large underground saltwater pool. In the water, you float weightlessly, like the Dead Sea. I descend the steps to the cave — the only noise is my flip-flops clapping against my heels. It’s a strange scene down here, almost like some kind of temple. Moody purple light bounces off the walls and shimmers across the dark water.

I barely stop myself from chuckling. It’s a bit of an absurd sight; immobile guests aimlessly drift to and fro, bellies up and eyes shut. They barely seem to notice when they bounce into a wall, or one another.

I pop in some earplugs, wade into the warm water and lie on my back. I expect to sink, but I coast atop the water like a freshly fallen leaf in a puddle. Within a few minutes, I’m completely entranced. With my body liberated from gravity’s eternal grip, my mind wanders. A deep relaxation washes over me. I have no idea how much time passes, but when I do eventually get out, something is different. I feel at peace.

After all of my freezing misadventures in Quebec, I eventually muster the courage to give a dip into the Devil’s River another try. Sure, it’s going to be agony, but it’ll make me stronger. Maybe the thrill of it is a tiny bit fun, too. I scamper back down to the riverbank in my mojito swim trunks and stare into the depths. A chunk of ice bobs to the surface beside the ladder, and I wince. I slow my breathing and empty my mind like I’m in the Källa pool again. Then, without further ado, I jump in.