Le Massif is forging ahead with plans to transform itself through a four-year construction project that will cost at least C$230 million.
The area, about an hour east of Quebec City, is starting from a pretty good place: Le Massif has 49 trails and glades, 410 acres of skiable terrain, five lifts, and a vertical drop of 2,526 feet, greatest in Canada outside of the Rockies.
The Territoire Le Massif project will increase skiable terrain 30 percent, to 533 acres; add a new base area and lifts; initiate train service to run 134 kilometers from Quebec City to La Malbaie with a station at the ski area; build a hotel/conference center in Baie Saint Paul, and a new summit village; and add a total of 850 rooms of various types.
Canadian Jean-Luc Brassard, gold medalist in moguls at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, is a skiing ambassador with Le Massif. He played a role in attracting local support for Gauthier's vision of the project.
"We gathered together people from this region and took everybody on a bus tour of Vermont, to show what can be done in a whole region with a shared vision of how development can happen in a way that is respectful of everybody, and profitable," Brassard said.
"The idea was to learn how to do it and make it beautiful," he said.
Brassard skis every day at Le Massif, and is a popular figure among the resort's regulars.
Cries of "Jean-Luc" follow him down the mountain as he bounces off moguls.
He competed at the top levels of freestyle for 12 years, at four Olympic games, and retired when he realized the fire was diminishing.
"You need the fire inside to ski the way you must to win," he said.
It was hard to discern any diminishing of the internal flames, after several days of watching him on the trails.
General Manager Pierre Raymond said the work will improve the experience for skiers by solving traffic flow problems on the resort's trail system, which funnels downhill to a single point.
"The project will extend the base area east along the river, and make for an easier movement of people around the mountain," Raymond said.
Le Massif now offers a variety of trails and lifts that allow skiers and snowboarders to find their own comfort level, and to move around the mountain as conditions and crowds change.
The resort also offers three lodges which serve different menus, emphasizing custom-made food rather than the fast-food fare customary at most resorts. Several visitors observed that wait times are a little longer, but the food is a lot tastier. It also comes from local suppliers to the extent possible, in step with current "buy local" trends in food supply to minimize the impact of transportation on environment, and to support local economies.
The project also will transform Le Massif into a four-season resort at the center of tourism east of Quebec City.
Frederic Gonzalo, VP of Groupe Le Massif, said, "This has to be a four-season resort. Considering the amount that must be invested in snowmaking, gondolas, and everything that goes into a ski resort, nobody in their right mind will invest in that for four months of the year."
Daniel Gauthier, a founder of Cirque du Soleil, bought financially troubled Le Massif in September 2002 for $10 million (Canadian), and has since invested $15 million in lifts, snowmaking, and lodges. Gauthier also acquired La Ferme, a historic farm in Baie Saint Paul, in April 2005. He acquired the 134-kilometer-long Quebec City-La Malbaie rail line in November 2008, beating out Canadian National.
Gauthier and Groupe Le Massif developed the Territoire Le Massif master plan, presenting it to neighbors and officials in 2005. Development was to begin in 2007, but was delayed by a fire that destroyed La Ferme, tough bargaining with Le Massif employees, and lengthy negotiations over the rail line.
The project is set to break ground in the summer of 2010 and proceed in phases to 2013.