“Have you been to Club Med before?” asks the woman at the front desk of Club Med Québec Charlevoix, as she clips a maroon bracelet with a white disk bearing the company’s trident trademark around my wrist. This magic token will unlock the offerings of the all-inclusive ski resort over the next three days.
“Usually you have the beaches and the pools and the piña coladas,” she notes, ticking off the attractions at the company’s well-known beach resorts. “But here —” she waves her hand around the lobby of the newly opened resort at the base of Le Massif de Charlevoix — “everything is inside. You never have to go outside.”
“Um, except for the skiing,” I protest, imagining myself trapped in a bubble of buffets, forced camaraderie and variety shows for three days.
“Except for the skiing,” she nods, perhaps seeing the dread in my eyes.
Opened last December, Charlevoix is Club Med’s first North American ski resort in decades, though worldwide it offers more than 20 skiing destinations, including many in the Alps. Le Massif de Charlevoix boasts impressive terrain, Canada’s highest vertical drop east of the Rockies (a bit over 2,500 feet). An “upside down” mountain, it falls from a summit rather than rising from a base, and at times it can feel like you’re about to ski off one of its 53 trails straight into the St. Lawrence River below.
But it lacks the kind of accommodations that turn a ski mountain into a destination resort, which is where Club Med comes in. “It’s a destination that needed Club Med,” said Carolyne Doyon, the president and chief executive officer for the company in North America and the Caribbean. The plan is to follow Charlevoix in 2025 with a new resort at Utah’s Snowbasin, another mountain known for its excellent skiing and lack of lodging.
While people of a certain age — like me — might have visions of Club Med as a louche escape for swingers, these days the company is focused on the upscale family market. Its resorts are aimed at “affluent active parents and their children” for whom its all-inclusive model is “excellent value for money,” said Ms. Doyon, including not only lodging and meals, but lifts, group ski and snowboard lessons and après ski or non-ski activities for both children and adults. (Equipment rentals, kids’ clubs for children under 3 and spa treatments are extra.)
The resort stretches along a ridge overlooking the St. Lawrence at the base of Le Massif. Two buildings are devoted to hotel rooms (the higher-priced “exclusive collection” rooms have their own lounge and section of the resort). Activities take place in the central building, with a floor devoted to the pool, gyms and spa; another to winter activities, including ski rentals, ski lockers and kids’ clubs; and another to dining, bars and a theater for live performances.
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My superior family room cost about $2,300 for two people for three nights of ski-in, ski-out accommodations, a ski locker, all meals and drinks and daily lessons if we wanted them. The lodging itself is shipshape, with a bedroom that fit a queen-size bed and not much else, a smaller room with two twin beds, a bathroom with a sink and a tub/shower, and a separate toilet. (“We’ve done a lot of surveys,” Ms. Doyon said. “The bathroom is important.”)
The design is a kind of whimsical Ikea-style modernism: In the hallways, lights over the room doors are shaped like bird houses; some chairs look like they’ve been borrowed from chairlifts, while others might be canoes. Kleenex boxes resemble houses. The main restaurant, Le Marché, borrows design elements from the landscape of Québec, evoking fishing boats, fields of wheat and stores of wood for fires, and there are clever trompe l’oeil photographs that turn a wall into what looks like the interior of a Québécois farmhouse.
My friend Julie and I arrived between the end of the ski day and the start of dinner. Canada had only recently relaxed its Covid regulations and guests were taking advantage of the freedom, arriving straight from the pool in terry cloth robes and Crocs and carrying drinks from the bar to big communal tables. The kids running around and challenging each other at Ping-Pong made it feel like we’d wandered into the tail end of a bar mitzvah.
After getting ourselves outfitted with ski equipment and storing it in our locker, we decided to try the resort’s skating rink. I had visions of myself as Sonja Henie gliding under the lights, only to find the rink was a sad, unshoveled rectangle, with ice that was pitted and rough under our skates. Maybe we would be better off inside.
By that point, Le Marché had opened, with stations offering steak, grilled fish, pizza and plain pastas to which you could add your chosen sauce, small salads, smoked local salmon, a bean soup, desserts like a Saint Honoré tart, raspberry coulis with meringue. Waiters roamed the room pouring red or white wine.
And it was snowing. In fact, it was still snowing the next morning, with no sign of stopping. And Le Massif’s gondola was just out the back door. Time to ski.
The mountain naturally divides itself into three sections, with a corridor of blues in the center, some nice gladed bumps to the east, and long, steep black and double-black runs to the west. I quickly fell in love with the tree skiing, bouncing down a slope named for the Canadian Olympic snowboarder Dominique Maltais and hunting out powder among the trees on L’Archipel and La Derive. I was having so much fun I didn’t bother to head back to the resort for lunch with Julie, instead making do with a granola bar from one of the on-mountain restaurants and skiing straight through till the lifts closed at 4 p.m.
Usually on a ski vacation the ensuing hours would be filled with a soak in the hot tub followed by either cooking dinner or going out to eat, before falling into bed. Club Med had its own rhythms. First, as skiers came in for the day, starting around 3:30, there was the Après, a spread of sweets laid out in the main hall. That was followed a bit later by the Apéro of meats, cheeses, crudités and dips. While these — and drinks — were being served, on the theater stage there were singers followed by, perhaps, a child-oriented circus show. There was more adult entertainment later, but I didn’t stay up long enough to watch it.
I did visit the indoor pool and the small outdoor hot tub. In it, a woman with a cast on her arm tried to keep it out of the bubbling water. Had she hurt herself on the slopes? No, in fact, she said, she’d fallen on the skating rink.
The next morning I joined a group of intermediate to advanced skiers for a lesson. It was unlike any I have had in the United States. Jack, our instructor, did not chat with his students on the chairlift. In fact, he didn’t even sit with us. At the top of the mountain he’d speak about a technique to think about: Where were we initiating our turns? What part of our foot was most in contact with the snow? Then we’d ski straight down to the bottom and ride the lift up again, without any commentary on our performance.
Jack’s silent approach left us to talk among ourselves and I struck up a conversation with Michelle Taggart and Alex Wilson, both 41, who were visiting the Club Med with their three daughters. Ms. Taggart told me she thought the hotel still had “some kinks to work out.” Later she said they’d had a somewhat mixed experience. “The skiing was fabulous,” she said. “The lockers, the quality of the mountain. I would go back to ski.” But things like being left to deal with their own luggage at check-in and the lack of activities for children who weren’t keen on skiing, like her youngest daughter, made the value-for-money proposition a little less true.
I had arranged to meet Julie back at the Club Med for lunch. Coming in I was greeted by Club Med staffers in My Little Pony costumes dancing to disco music and serving coffee spiked with Tia Maria, which was another new experience for me.
From the lunch buffet I got salmon with arugula, a beet salad with orange and feta, and grilled vegetables. I finished up with a cookie and a pecan tart. Compared to the cheeseburger wrapped in foil and kept under a heat lamp that I’d eaten the last time I went skiing, it was downright luxurious.
Through the resort windows that night we could see family-size S.U.V.s with luggage pods on top rolling in, backing up along the driveway to Charlevoix’s front entrance. It was spring break in Ontario and the families were flowing in. The pace picked up at the ski school desk. At dinner, Le Marché was buzzing.
The next morning, a flood tide of parents and children washed over the kids’ area, with families backed up out the door. In Le Marché, which offers a view of the river, the sun shining off the St. Lawrence was dazzling. Though we were checking out that day, we could stay and ski until 3 p.m., so I headed back out to the slopes. By that point, the powder from our first day of skiing was long since tracked out, but the sunshine and the blue of the river was its own reward.
Riding the chairlift on my own, I struck up conversations with longtime Charlevoix skiers, some of whom remembered the days when, instead of lifts, the resort had a bus that took you from the bottom back to the top. They told me how charming the nearby towns were, including Baie-St.-Paul, known for its arts scene. I regretted that we hadn’t jumped in the car one night and visited.
But then we would have missed the Après and the Apéro. We might have signed up for one of the nighttime excursions, like riding sleds down the mountain, but frankly that seemed terrifying. We did try to sit by the firepits outside, but getting someone to light them proved a challenge. Then it got dark in the mountains, and cold. The food was good and plentiful. The drinks were free.
It turned out to be true that everything was inside.
Except for the skiing.