Hall of Famer
Joseph ‘Joe’ Bondurant Ryan
Joe Ryan’s contribution to the world of skiing was the single-handed development of the internationally well-known and largest ski resort in eastern Canada, Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
A native of Philadelphia, USA, scion of an extremely wealthy family, Joe Ryan had always had an interest in wilderness and, in his youth, spent considerable time exploring the rivers and forests of eastern Canada. He was first introduced to Mont Tremblant, then a wilderness area, in the 1930s by the late Lowell Thomas, the internationally acclaimed broadcaster.
In 1937, Joe Ryan, accompanied by Lowell Thomas, climbed Mont Tremblant on skis with skins to discover the outstanding views across the Laurentians from its summit. At the top, an exhausted Joe Ryan was reputed to have said, “This has to be the most beautiful sight in the world. There is only one thing wrong. It is too difficult getting up here. I believe I’ll fix that!” The “fix” he had in mind was purchase of the mountain itself. Although he was able to buy about 700 acres of freehold land purchase of the mountain itself would prove to be a frustrating experience. The owner, the Province of Quebec, was not particularly interested in selling.
Enlisting the help of the local curé, Father Hector DesLauriers, a petition was circulated, signed by the region’s inhabitants, requesting that the government sell the mountain to Joe Ryan. Father Deslauriers’ argument was that Ryan would bring prosperity to what, at that time, was a very poor area by providing employment and attracting skiers to the mountain. The Quebec government remained unmoved.
Increasingly desperate, Joe Ryan went to New York to approach Ben “Sell ’em” Smith on the issue, a very well known Wall Street broker. Initially reluctant to become involved, Smith was finally persuaded to call Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, to plead Ryan’s case. Shortly thereafter, a bill went through the provincial legislature paving the way for Ryan to purchase the mountain with the exception of the peak, part of provincial parkland. It provided that Ryan could lease the land in the park for 50-years for skiing only. That was not the end of the
saga as premier Duplessis called for a confidence vote in the legislature while Ryan was still in New York, and, surprisingly, lost. The bill remained unsigned and a concerned Ryan hurriedly returned to remind the premier to sign the bill before leaving office. Duplessis obliged.
Nevertheless, sale of the mountain and 6,000 acres of land was accompanied by onerous conditions possibly because Quebec’s citizens viewed the undertaking with some uncertainty. The government insisted that Ryan put up $30,000 as evidence of good faith, buy at least $50,000 worth of land, spend at least $90,000 in the provincial park, and sink a minimum of $500,000 into development of the property. Worse, the province gave him just two years to meet these onerous conditions or risk cancellation of the agreement.
In a sense, the unrealistic 2-year term, was a boon to the extraordinarily rapid development of Mont Tremblant as a ski resort. In short order, Ryan implemented a program of frantic activity, clearing the site and constructing 20-buildings for the proposed village, developing the ski trails, building numerous on-mountain rest houses, installing chair lifts and T-bar bar lifts to service about 20 downhill runs, providing access roads within the resort and connecting with the main highway, and all the remaining infrastructure necessary to service the emerging area. The
village itself was unique, incorporating architectural features which replicated rural French provincial design.
He established a first class ski school employing the best instructors and this alone attracted thousands of skiers eager to learn. All this was done in a remarkably short period of time, the resort quickly establishing a world-wide reputation for quality and attractiveness.
Please Note: The ski information gathered here is compiled from a number of sources; it may not be inclusive of all accomplishments.
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Joe Ryan is 2nd from right. CSHFM Collection.
Mont Tremblant single chairlift view from the base of the South Side. Source Mont Tremblant Story p. 51, John and Frankie O’Rear.
Chalet Des Voyageurs, Mont Tremblant. CSHFM Collection.
Brad Vancour: WME Mont Tremblant 1994
Warren Miller Entertainment Ski Filming at Mont Tremblant, Quebec in 1994 with Brad Vancour, Roch Neuberry and Luc Bombardier skiing in 1930's ski equipment. Also Dr. Snow skiing at 100 years old at Grey Rocks Resort.
Ernie McCulloch and the Mont Tremblant Ski School
Enjoy vintage footage of legendary Canadian skier Ernie McCulloch making powder turns with members of the Mont Tremblant Ski School. Circa 1950's.