Mary Ryan, Tremblant pioneer

Born Mary Rutherford in 1906, in the small town of Paoli, Pennsylvania, Mary Rutherford met and married Joe Ryan in New York. She visited Mont-Tremblant for the first time in 1940 and settled there with her young children, Peter and Seddon, in 1942.

This woman, who knew the rich cultural life of New York and who had, thanks to her husband’s fortune, access to all it had to offer, found herself in a region with almost none of the comforts of modern life.

At the foot of the slopes, everything was still to be built: the roads, hotel, village…not to mention the basic infrastructure that would provide running water.

When her husband died in the fall of 1950, Mary Ryan inherited a ski area, no less. It was quite a challenge, but she didn’t hesitate to take over the reins.

At the time, women did not head up big businesses, but from the beginning she brought a delicate, refined touch that attracted an exclusive clientele looking for something new.

She soon took charge of the details: the style of the little village at the foot of the slopes, the customer service, the dining room, the chef, decoration of the small chalets and the common areas. The spaces were not necessarily luxurious, but they were comfortable, cosy, and rich in colour and personality.

The cornerstone: the team

In the year that followed the death of her husband, Madame Mary (as she was called) was approached by investors who wanted to purchase the ski centre. After all, why would a woman on her own in the back of beyond want to pursue the dream of her deceased husband?

She refused the offer for two reasons.

In the first place, the offer was ridiculous. In the second, she recognized and appreciated the talent of the people around her, and she remained confident that she had the ability to bring Joe Ryan’s dream to fruition thanks to the management and operations team he had put together.

Mary Ryan

The beginnings of sustainable development

When he first arrived, Mr. Ryan had acquired an immense piece of land, some of which was located at the southern end of lac Tremblant. During the ‘50s, Mary Ryan instituted a zoning project to ensure protection of the beauty of the lake and its shores.

Future owners of these lots had to respect the space allocated for construction, limit the number of trees felled and keep their buildings a certain distance from the water’s edge. The initiative was largely responsible for preserving the magnificence of our lake.

The elite of skiing: the basis for Tremblant’s fame

Mme Ryan was also responsible for activities on the mountain and she encouraged skiing competitions. She invited international-class racers to participate in the competitions held at Mont Tremblant.

At the time, there were three important competitions: the Québec Kandahar, the Ryan Cup, in honour of Mr. Ryan, and the Taschereau Cup. Mme Ryan knew very well that the quality and calibre of these competitors had a direct influence on perception of the quality of the slopes and the importance of her ski centre.

The businesswoman

Even at the end of the ‘50s, ski centres depended on the temperatures. Mme Ryan was not a great skier, but she was an excellent businesswoman. She realized that if the slopes were in bad shape in January and February, where the hotels were full, the cash flow suffered.

So she took out a “snow insurance” policy with Lloyd’s of London thanks to data permitting the establishment of a snowfall model. In this way, she ensured that during difficult periods, Tremblant wasn’t operating without a net.

It was, of course, before the magic of artificial snow.

I take my hat off to Mme Mary Rutherford Ryan, a true pioneer who was able to meet an incredible challenge in an era reserved for men. She managed to distinguish herself in a remarkable manner and succeed in spite of the pitfalls.

This woman, with her sense of hospitality, her good taste and her elegance contributed greatly to the legend that Mont Tremblant became.


By the same author: The forgotten: Osias Ouimet (Click the image below)


Peter Duncan72 Posts

Membre de l’équipe canadienne de ski alpin de 1960 à 1971, skieur professionnel de 1971 à 1979 et champion américain en 1965, Peter Duncan a participé aux Jeux olympiques de 1964 à Innsbruck ainsi qu’à ceux de 1968 à Grenoble. Intronisé au Temple de la renommée du ski au Canada, au Panthéon des sports du Québec et récipiendaire de la médaille du gouverneur général, Peter a longtemps été commentateur de ski à la télévision./ Peter Duncan is a Canadian former alpine skier who competed in the 1964 and the 1968 Winter Olympics. He was named to the Canadian National Alpine Team in 1960 at the age of 16 and competed at the national level for the next 10-years until 1970 before retiring.


Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password