It’s official: Club Med is once again trying to conquer the North American ski market, with the opening on Friday, December 3 of its first all-inclusive club in Charlevoix, Quebec. The new hotel offers 302 rooms, spread over 41,000 square meters and eight floors. Currently owning 11 winter sports villages in France, two in Italy, one in Switzerland, two in China and two in Japan, Club Med had already tried its hand in the United States, in 1981, at Copper Mountain and in 2000 at Crested Butte in Colorado, before selling these resorts to reinvest the money in the company.
Under the leadership of Henri Giscard d’Estaing, Club Med’s Chairman and CEO since 2002, the company has decided to focus on the upper end of the market, reducing the number of villages and concentrating on renovating some of them and building four- or five-trident villages, according to the group’s specific range classification.
The establishment of Club Med in Quebec City-Charlevoix has been a long process, which began about ten years ago. “We have invested $130 million in this project, a symbol of our perseverance in developing tourism in this must-see destination for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts, and also a symbol of a strong relationship with Canadians that we want to build for the long term,” explains Henri Giscard d’Estaing.
The Club is located in Petite-Rivière Saint-François, in the Massif de Charlevoix, about an hour and a half northeast of Quebec City, along the St. Lawrence River. Le Massif has been owned since 2002 by Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, who does a lot of work for tourism in the region: “When I left Cirque du Soleil, I said that Cirque allowed me to travel and discover the world, but now what I want is to allow Charlevoix to be discovered by the world. This region has enormous wealth and potential.”
And the stakes are high for this region, which is little known to Canadians and foreign tourists alike: Club Med does not intend to limit itself to the ski season alone, but to offer activities that will make the Charlevoix massif attractive all year round. As Quebec Premier François Legault points out, “In the fall, we have magnificent colors and landscapes, while summer is whale season, and spring is maple syrup harvest season. Hiking and mountain biking replace winter activities. Having year-round activities, even outside of the peak ski season, will ensure year-round employment.”
Excursions are also offered to discover the nearby village of Baie Saint-Paul, which can be reached by taking the Charlevoix train along the St. Lawrence River, or to Quebec City or Valcartier and its ice hotel.
For the moment, the Club is facing a staff shortage that affects the entire tourism industry: “Out of 350 positions, 200 have been filled by Quebecers, and we still have 5 to 10% to hire,” explains Henri Giscard d’Estaing. “We have enough staff to run the club, but it is not optimal. The Club aims to be particularly attractive, with competitive salaries and 75 residences reserved for employees.”
This desire to highlight Quebec’s heritage is reflected in the architecture and interior design of the building. Built on a hillside, it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, the St. Lawrence River, which is 18 kilometers wide, and the mountain.
It also incorporates many reminders of local traditions, such as the Quebec-style terraces in the rooms, a façade that imitates wood, or the quilt, a traditional patchwork quilt, that decorates the reception area. The architecture and interior design were entrusted to Lemaymichaud, a Quebec firm. “The mandate entrusted to our firm was clear: to put Quebec at the forefront and make an international clientele discover the beauty of the river and Charlevoix,” explains Alexi Lemay, the architect.
In the kitchen, too, Quebec is given pride of place in the Club’s restaurants: 80% of the products used come from Canada, 30% of which are sourced within a 100 km radius. Local charcuterie and cheeses, venison tartar, tomato wine and maple syrup ice cream can be found in the hotel’s various restaurants.
With its all-inclusive packages, Club Med offers a unique package for its skiing enthusiasts: accommodation, food, drinks, ski, snowboard or snowshoe equipment, lessons given by ESF instructors, ski lifts, all included in one price. Families with children can also take advantage of these packages with ski lessons offered from the age of four. “Often, a ski vacation is more of a ‘relocation’ than a true moment of relaxation because you have to think about booking lessons, picking up or renting equipment, …” says Carolyne Doyon, CEO of Club Med North America.
“The Club Med package removes this burden for parents, who can enjoy their stay as much as their children.”The resort has 53 ski runs, including 19 black runs, and offers the largest vertical drop east of the Rockies, as well as a 7.5-kilometer-long sledding hill. Sleigh rides, ice fishing, gourmet hikes and snowshoeing complete the list of winter activities.
A large heated swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a spa, two gyms, and a yoga area allow you to relax after a day on the slopes or hiking trails. The cost of a stay reflects the hotel’s gold standard: The introductory price for a departure now starts at $160 per person per night, without transportation to the club. For a week for two adults and two children in February, the site shows us a rate of $15,000.
For the holidays, bookings seem to bode well: “The Club is sold out!” Henri Giscard d’Estaing, Club Med’s CEO proudly announced. “Our Canadian and American customers have responded, and Europeans and Brazilians should follow soon.”
But there is no question of Club Med resting on their laurels: Another Club Med, located in Snow Basin, Utah, is scheduled to open in 2024.
Translated from the original article by Hélène Labriet-Gross which was first published on French Morning on December 6, 2021.