Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
MONT-TREMBLANT, QUEBEC — Imagine you have this really fun, outgoing life-of-the-party kind of pal who owns a giant log house with the ultimate guys’ basement.
This basement has everything you need for maximum fun times — a fireplace, armchairs, mini-fridge loaded with all your favourite drinks and a flat-screen television. Now take it a step further and imagine that this “ultimate basement” is an airport. Ladies and gentlemen allow me to introduce Serge Larivière and his baby, Mont-Tremblant International Airport.
Instrumental in making Mont-Tremblant’s airport a reality Larivière – who serves as president – has played a major role in helping the region grow into one of Quebec’s tourism powerhouses. A 40-minute drive from Mont-Tremblant in La Macaza, Mont-Tremblant International Airport is a former US-Canadian Forces air base that was created in 2001 and has become the gateway to thousands of skiers and vacationers who access the resort from Toronto and Montreal.
If you’ve travelled as much as I have airports tend to look and feel the same, but I promise you’ve never seen anything quite like Mont-Tremblant International Airport. The first thing I think when my Porter Airlines flight rolls up to this giant log building in the middle of a forest deep in the heart of Quebec is “where the heck is the airport?”
The story of the birth of Mont-Tremblant International Airport is as colourful as Larivière himself, who seems to be involved in every job except actually flying the planes.
“Well, one thing you have to remember is that I was one of the guys building the resort in the 1990s, and after a few years of building up what is a big destination like Tremblant we kinda realized that we needed to go a little bit further out in the market and get better access to Toronto and the New York market and so on and so forth,” Larivière says. “One of my colleagues said, ‘Well Serge, there is an abandoned airport, a military base, just north of us at La Macaza why don’t you check it out, you know?’”
Next thing you know, Lariviere and his friends are jumping a fence with a couple of engineers to see this airport for themselves. One of those friends, a pilot with Air Transat, tells the group there is enough runway to accommodate a Boeing 747. Larivière couldn’t believe this gem was just sitting there, waiting to be put to use.
That was the good news. The bad news? When the Canadian Forces left the property, they had ripped out the lights. The only thing left was the runway. No problem, though. A runway was more than enough. Larivière and his team sat down with the municipality and cut a deal that would alter the tourism landscape of Mont-Tremblant forever.
“We were having a coffee [with the municipality members] at a coffee shop in the village and we said, ‘Well, how much do you want for it?’ And it was an unreal kind of discussion. That [airport] is worth millions. But they said we aren’t doing anything with it, so let’s cut a deal,” Larivière recalls. “’I’ll give you a stupid low price but you’ll have to make it an international commercial airport like you’re asking [the municipality] to do.’ And I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ So we cut a deal, for a 50-year transfer of the airport. We created an entity called Mont-Tremblant International, and we acquired it in 2002. But it was only the runway, so we needed to build everything around this runway to make this airport what it is.”
According to the 2006 Northern Escape Magazine, more than $1 billion has been invested in the Mont-Tremblant airport concept. Expansion makes the new airport particularly important because it has allowed the region to draw on those markets served by direct flights. That has ensured even more tourists arriving from New York, New Jersey, Toronto and the world using Toronto’s Pearson International as a connecting hub. Today, Mont-Tremblant handles more than 10,000 passengers.
Larivière is constantly moving from one side of the airport to the other. Over there, he is helping gather the luggage from the plane. Next, he’s inside making sure everyone has their bags and is heading for the shuttles. Next minute, he’s at his office conveniently located next to the fireplace. Yes, the fireplace. When we leave Mont-Tremblant to go home, Larivière is packing bags on the plane. You will also find his wife and daughter diligently working with him checking luggage or organizing shuttle buses.
“Well, you have to understand that we only have about 17 flights a week — we are still waiting for the winter schedule from Porter Airlines — which is a lot of flights because it’s purely tourism. But for an international airport that isn’t that many flights, so everybody does everything,” says Larivière. “So when we have a flight where we are scraping the runway, we’re doing a bunch of other stuff, and here comes a plane, everybody comes out of their office, we turn the plane, and we go back to our office after.”
It isn’t just Mont Tremblant that has been inspired by the airport. Larivière refuses to name names, but says they have nine other airports calling for advice and information, sometimes for tips on a particular problem with customer service for example or asking them if he would be part of some project.
“We’re kinda happy to share what we’ve learned, and team up with other tourism destinations out there,” Larivière says. “I think we’ve created a model that works, and that could probably work in other places. So yeah, we did inspire. I think the word is out there. Before it was an interesting idea, let’s see what happens. But now Air Canada is there, Porter is there, and they’re having success. And the airport, even from an economical point of view, is a success. We have no financial assistance whatsover from anybody for the operation of the airport.”
MORE ABOUT MONT-TREMBLANT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Address: 150 Roger Hebert, La Macaza, Quebec
Shuttle Service: The airport shuttle service was created to connect the airport with the numerous hotels and other lodging properties in the Mont-Tremblant area. This service is supported by an airport fee of $40 per passenger (taxes included) round-trip ($25 for kids 12 and under) .