Car a few months ago Share Tweet Pin Share Skiers are finishing their last runs of the afternoon when my husband calls to say his flight to Mont Tremblant International Airport has touched down. I’ve driven up with the kids from Montreal, and we meet in the pedestrian square of Tremblant, an all-season sun/ski resort in Quebec’s Laurentian Highlands. I’ve organized a Gilles Villeneuve Tribute Road Trip: we’re visiting three rural towns rich in Villeneuve lore – Mont-Tremblant, Berthierville and Trois-Rivières – on a deep-dive into the life and legend of Quebec’s Formula One hero. Bonus: Want to stay up to date on our latest Rare Norm news ? My ride, a 2019 Nissan Pathfinder, ticks several must-haves for family road-tripping, starting with a roomy interior to really stretch out in. Its 3-row/7-passenger configuration with a flat-floor design yields a ton of trunk space (enough to fit my two big Yeti coolers, plus duffel after duffel of clothing, outdoor layers, pillows, boots, camera gear, you name it). In mid-April, the weather’s warm yet there’s still plenty of snow. It’s nearly après-ski hour so we join the crowds clicking out of bindings and filling outdoor patios of the resort’s restaurants and bars. Classic rock pipes from loudspeakers, and families lounge on Muskoka chairs in the sunshine. It’s a perfect time for a relaxed ski vacation – and motorsport fans will appreciate the area’s rich racing history and events. But of course, every winter trip to Tremblant starts with skiing or snowboarding in mind. At Snow School early Saturday morning, Louise Dalbec, our instructor, takes it slowly and patiently. I haven’t skied since I was a kid and it’s my children’s first lesson. In just two hours, my 10-year-old, Tyler, feels ready to leave the bunny hills so we head up to the Nansen, Tremblant’s longest and oldest run, open since 1938. He’s tentative at first, falls a bit, but quickly gains confidence. A light snow is falling, too, licking our faces. My son is having a blast on the first ski day of his life and I get to share that memory with him. Priceless. From Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, you can fly direct to Mont-Tremblant, gate to gate, in about an hour. Winter flights with Porter and Air Canada run from December to late March, and Porter flies all summer long. Sarah Staples There’s a record 600 cm of snow this spring-skiing season at Tremblant, and trails will remain open until April 22 (Easter Monday). Sarah Staples Spring skiing at Tremblant means sunny slopes and terraces, record snow this year, and a lively pedestrian village. Sarah Staples As part of 17 million in upgrades, the resort has added a new chairlift, six new trails, 31 snow guns, a renovated ski lodge, and is planning a $3.8M makeover of its popular indoor waterpark. Sarah Staples The pedestrian village at Tremblant is ringed by restaurants, bars, shops and activities. Sarah Staples The relaxed après-ski vibe is the thing at Tremblant resort in April. Sarah Staples Tremblant’s Activity Centre can book dozens of family-oriented activities. Some, like the new Virtual Reality Experience Centre, take place at the resort. Sarah Staples Yorkshire-born Craig Ewart came to Canada in 1996, and set about creating the Activity Centre at Tremblant that now offers 44 different non-ski activities. They include the new Virtual Reality Experience Centre, just off the pedestrian village’s main square, whose rides and games rotate every two weeks. Sarah Staples Tremblant’s Ski Valet safely stores ski or snowboard equipment, day or night, and can set it up for you in the morning by the trails. Overnight tune-up costs extra. Sarah Staples You can rent skis or snowboards at the base of the mountain. Sarah Staples At Snow School, certified instructors like Louise Dalbec, pictured with my daughter Lexi, take it slowly and patiently with the kids on Tremblant's bunny hills. Sarah Staples Tremblant's bunny hills are collectively known as the Beginner Zone. Here, instructor Louise Dalbec leads the way downhill to the Snow School meeting point, on one of two ski runs accessible by an escalator-like 'magic carpet,' pictured at right. Sarah Staples Snowmobiling, invented in Quebec, is the second most popular winter non-ski activity that Tremblant can arrange through local tourism operators of the Laurentian Highlands surrounding the resort. Number One is dog-sledding. Sarah Staples Snowmobiling is a Quebec invention, and the Le P’tit Train du Nord has one of the longest seasons in Canada. It's an old train track network whose rail ties were removed to create 232-km of all-season trails, with individual sections set aside for cycling, snowmobiling and other winter and summer sports. Sarah Staples Sunday, our family takes a guided snowmobile tour along Le P’tit Train du Nord, an old network of train tracks whose rail ties were removed, converting it into 232-km of all-season trails. Snowmobiling was invented in Quebec, and in the early 1970s, Gilles Villeneuve was winning races across North America. One of his sleds, a red, souped-up Alouette, was painted lucky Number 13 like his Ferrari would be. With each win, he’d earn enough prize and sponsorship money to sign up for the next race – Villeneuve was truly betting on himself with every chip he had to pursue his passion for speed. He’d later credit his preternatural car-control skills to those early years cornering on ice at 115 km/h. Monday morning, it’s time to load up again. The 2019 Pathfinder is fully kitted out with conveniences to make long drives more enjoyable – like a remote starter that can be activated by mobile app or smartwatch, and a nifty button on the driver-side door handle that locks the vehicle so you don’t need to fumble for a key-fob. It takes no time or effort to sync my smartphone to a well-equipped infotainment console. There’s also iPod integration, and six standard USB type-C and type-A ports in various locations. This mid-size crossover yields the spaciousness and comfort of a larger SUV – yet for all its size, it’s still remarkably easy to park. Something else I’ve noticed is smooth steering. On Mont-Tremblant’s hilly, winding roads, it proves crisp and highly responsive. There’s no chasing the turn with this Pathfinder. We drive past Circuit Mont-Tremblant – where Villeneuve earned his road-racing license and entered Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic series events – on the way to Berthierville, population 4,700, where the racer grew up. It’s the location of the Gilles Villeneuve Museum, which opened six years after his death on May 8, 1982, during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. “We wanted his museum to be simple, like Gilles was,” explains director-general Alain Bellehumeur, and indeed, the collection feels very intimate. Along with Villeneuve’s snowmobiles and early race cars, there are oil-stained racing gloves, hand-painted helmets and rare posters, family and trackside photos, and dozens of trophies on display. The museum has welcomed 300,000 visitors from at least 30 countries, and a $750,000 expansion is planned to accommodate more memorabilia that fans and family members have been dropping off for years. Once, a Ferrari mechanic came and pointed to himself in a rare photo taken with Villeneuve in the pits at Zolder. The Quebecer would die moments later after colliding with Jochen Mass’s car at 225 km/h. Bellehumeur’s favourite museum pieces include an F1 trophy used as a key-holder by its owner. “Trophies didn’t matter to Gilles; only pushing limits did,” he says. The Gilles Villeneuve Museum has received almost 300,000 visitors since it opened in 1988. Each year, people from 30 different countries come to little Berthierville. Visitors from Brazil, France, Switzerland, Canada and the U.S. had signed the guest book when this photo was taken. Famous visitors have included David Coulthard. Sarah Staples Villeneuve's hometown of Berthierville is the location of the museum. Visible at the gift shop entrance, one of son Jacques' F1 cars for Honda. Sarah Staples Gilles and his brother Jacques’ snowmobiles from the 1970, 1972 and 1975 racing seasons are on display. He worked with Alouette to create the red snowmobile pictured, adding a knee bar to give it more control while cornering. Gilles was self-taught and needed to be constantly learning. He taught himself piano and trumpet, learned to pilot a helicopter in mere weeks, and learned Italian so he could discuss matters directly with Enzo Ferrari. Gilles wasn’t an engineer or mechanic, but he still tweaked and improved his snowmobiles. Sarah Staples When Gilles won his first F1 victory in October, 1978, you could go to the Grand Prix for $10. It was the only race where drivers on the podium toasted their win with sponsor Labatt beer, not champagne. The museum has the suit Gilles wore in his first outing in a Ferrari, in 1977. An accompanying photo shows Gilles wearing his racing suit as he tests the Ferrari. The photo is signed, which is rare for star photos of the era. Sarah Staples As Villeneuve's funeral cortege drove from Montreal to Berthierville, cars stopped and parked on either side of the highway in tribute, all the way to his hometown. Villeneuve’s body lay in public viewing at the arena for two days. Enzo Ferrari, distraught, asked Jody Scheckter to deliver the eulogy. A Berthierville citizen committee handled funeral arrangements. The town's 4,700 inhabitants temporarily swelled by several thousand more for the church service. About 1,000 were inside, the rest were outside listening to the service over loudspeakers. Sarah Staples The first time that Jacques Villeneuve raced the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in 1996, he finished second and threw his helmet into the crowd. The person who caught the helmet immediately donated it to the museum. This is Jacques' IndyCar from the mid-1990s Forsythe-Green team, arguably the most aesthetic period in car design for that series. Sarah Staples After visiting the museum, a worthwhile pitstop is this donut shop, which customers drive from as far as Montreal to visit. Pictured with the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Trois-Rivières, on the St. Lawrence River. Once a pulp-and-paper juggernaut, today the town boasts a pretty main street, interesting museums, locavore boutiques and arts festivals. But its main attraction is unquestionably the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, in August. Sarah Staples This year, the GP3R, North America’s oldest street circuit, will celebrate its 50th running with a vintage Formula Atlantic race featuring Villeneuve’s cars from the Berthierville museum. Learn more at https://gp3r.com/ Sarah Staples With more than 140,000 spectators expected to attend the GP3R's two race weekends , August 2,3,4, and August 9,10,11, the time to organize a trip is now as hotels fill up fast. In Trois-Rivières, book at Hôtel Oui GO! for the 50th running of this classic Canadian racing event. Sarah Staples From Berthierville, it’s a half-hour to Trois-Rivières, on the St. Lawrence River. The Pathfinder uses a 3.5-litre V6 engine with 284 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. It delivers a ton of usable power for acceleration, helpful when overtaking on the drive’s single-lane highways cutting through flat farmland. The engine’s direct injection system improves not just wide-open throttle performance but fuel economy and emissions compared to non-direct-injection versions – one tank of gas is enough for my entire road trip. Official fuel economy estimates are 12.4 L/100 km in the city, 9.2 highway, and 11.0 in the combined cycle. The Pathfinder is an equally great choice for ferrying kids to the local hockey rink or on family road trips to ski country. A special edition called the Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition debuts this summer, featuring extra chrome for a richer look, 18-inch wheels with 255/60R18 all-season tires, beefier trim and fender flairs that give it a wider stance and help prevent scratches from kicked-up gravel. Once a pulp-and-paper juggernaut, today Trois-Rivières boasts a pretty main street, interesting museums, locavore boutiques and restaurants, and summer festivals. But the main attraction is unquestionably the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières every August. GP3R is North America’s oldest street circuit – like Monaco, downtown Trois-Rivières becomes a racecourse. And in 2019, folks here will celebrate the 50th running of the GP3R with a vintage Formula Atlantic race featuring Villeneuve’s cars from the Berthierville museum. The Formula Atlantic race of September 1976 was arguably Villeneuve’s most pivotal victory. He’d won in Trois-Rivières for years, in different series. That year, he was up against invited drivers James Hunt, Alan Jones, Vittorio Brambilla, Bobby Rahal and Patrick Tambay. The Quebecer blew by everyone. And an astonished Hunt quickly convinced McLaren bosses to test Villeneuve in F1. GP3R’s general manager Dominic Fugère tours around what are essentially two interconnected race courses: a street course and a dirt oval. We drive beneath the famous Duplessis Arch onto downtown streets lined with a retirement home, a college, a daycare, a football field; all protected behind cache fencing or steel barriers. “We’re part of the DNA of this town, its identity,” says Fugère, as we round Villeneuve Corner (number 10) aiming for a final straightaway that’s one of the longest and fastest in racing. GP3R is also a bigger deal internationally than most Canadians realize. Trois-Rivières hosts the only North American event of the FIA World RallyCross Championship and the only Canadian event in the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Supermoto series, along with track races like NASCAR Canada and the Nissan Micra Cup. More than 140,000 spectators are expected this summer, and the races will be broadcast in 155 countries. There will be star appearances by RallyCross’s Timmy and Kevin Hansen, DTM champion Timo Scheider, ex-F1 driver Scott Speed. And hopefully, maybe, Jacques Villeneuve. After testing with McLaren, Gilles Villeneuve, the ‘piccolo canadese,’ joined Ferrari, replacing Niki Lauda. “The fastest driver in the history of motor racing,” as Jody Scheckter would eulogize, was on his way to reaching icon status. But it’s Villeneuve’s humble authenticity that continues to inspire fans. “Gilles was the guy who never quit, the guy with a dream who made it come true,” Bellehumeur had said. “But even after proving that he deserved to be in F1, he still seemed like he could be your next-door neighbour. Gilles never took himself for a star.” If you go Drive: From Montreal, take Highway 15N to Tremblant in a couple of hours; followed by the 117 and 158 to Berthierville, and the 138 to Trois-Rivières. From Ottawa, take Autoroute 50E to the town of Montebello, where you can overnight at the Fairmont and visit Parc Omega, before continuing on Quebec-323 N to Mont-Tremblant. Fly: From Toronto, fly direct to Mont-Tremblant. Winter flights with Porter and Air Canada run from December to late March, and Porter flies all summer long. Stay: At Tremblant resort, book a two-bedroom corner suite at Le Westin Resort & Spa, Tremblant for its especially family-friendly layout with two baths and a full kitchen. In Trois-Rivières, choose Hôtel Oui GO! for the 50th running of the GP3R this August 2,3,4, and August 9,10,11. Do: Go spring skiing at Tremblant until Easter Monday (April 22), or book early to save on your summer vacay. For more about summer activities, check out our previous road trip: Road Trip: Mont-Tremblant offers relaxing scene and adrenaline activities. Some $14 million in new resort improvements include renovations to its main ski chalet. Try private ski or snowboarding lessons, and the Extreme Roller Coaster Ride at the new Virtual Reality Experience Centre. Book snowmobiling and Via Ferrata experiences with Tyroparc Adventure Park through the activity centre. Check the spring-summer schedule at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, including Nissan Cup racing.