Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 22, 2017

© SEPAQ/Daniel Mallard

The Chic Choc Mountains have the best powder east of the Rockies with an average 7.5-metre snowfall.

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Dashing through the snow

Quebec's ski hills offer unparalleled Eastern powder and great views

I heard the moose munching before I spotted him through a tangle of trees, knee deep in powder, his antlers dusted with snow drifting from the branches. He snorted steamy puffs into the winter air. It reminded me to start breathing again.

I had just skied down a long slope of virgin powder, zigzagging around trees, floating free of gravity. I hoisted my backcountry skis over my shoulder and realized it was gravity payback time: I scrambled to keep up with über-guide Jean-Francois Dubé as we stomped uphill. My legs were already wobbly and I was grateful that I had peeked at the menu for the dinner that awaited back at our log lodge up top. My post-dinner plan was a massage, then a soak in the outdoor whirlpool beneath snow-capped peaks and a full moon.

Shockingly good

The Rockies? Kootenays? Coast Mountains? Nope. Way-out-there Quebec. The remote Chic Choc (“shick-shock”) Mountains — the forgotten northernmost tip of the Appalachians on the Gaspé Peninsula — are remote, wild, untouched. They have Canada’s best powder east of the Rockies, with a hefty annual average dump of 7.5 metres.

And the Chic Choc Mountain Lodge (tel: 800-665-3091; sepaq.com) is smack in the middle to catch every inch of it. Dust off your high school French to chat with locals who make up most of the clientele at this rustic 18-room inn. Run by the provincial parks authority, it is the only full-service backcountry ski operation in Quebec. Getting there involves a 90-minute rumbling snowcat ride from the nearest road at the village of Cap Chat on the St. Lawrence River’s South Shore (nine hours from Montreal by car or two by plane).

The Gaspé Peninsula has long been the domain of hardcore backcountry trekkers, but the lodge and its expert avalanche-trained guides have opened a spectacular landscape to timid powder-puppies like myself who prefer to take it easy on ultra-wide Meta-skis or on snowshoe tramps through silent forests where you’re outnumbered two to one by moose.

In the Townships

But you certainly don’t need to head that far into the wild. There are dozens of ski options for day-tripping from Montreal and Quebec City.

In Montreal, there are two schools of skiers — those who prefer the Laurentian Mountains north of the city, and lovers of the Eastern Townships to the southeast. The latter has church spires towering over quaint villages of fieldstone houses, and country roads dotted with pubs, boutiques and restaurants. The region is home to the hamlet of Knowlton, one of Quebec’s 34 official “Most Beautiful Villages” known for its antique stores and restaurants.

Bromont (tel: 514-276-6668; skibromont.com) is the closest hill, less than an hour southeast of Montreal, and it boasts the largest lit skiable terrain in North America with 66 night-skiing trails. Not far away, Mont-Sutton (tel: 866-538-2545; montsutton.com) is famed for its glade skiing on 54 trails that interconnect with regular downhill runs. The mountain is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Further east, Mont-Orford (tel: 866-673-6731; orford.com) has a cluster of yurts on its summit with wood stoves where you can sip hot chocolate, nibble on snacks and warm up. Orford also has an extensive network of cross-country/skate-skiing/snowshoeing trails meandering through 48 kilometres of forest. I like to finish up my Orford day in the town of Magog for a raclette dinner in front of a fireplace in one of the town’s restaurants or, for a special treat, at the Relais and Châteaux Manoir Hovey in North Hatley.

Voyageur country

North of Montreal in the Laurentians, Saint-Sauveur (tel: 450-227-4671; montsaintsauveur.com) is the first of a string of alpine ski villages. Only 40 minutes from Montreal, it has a lively nightlife scene among the old wood and stone houses that have been revamped into boutiques and bistros serving brick-oven pizza or Belgian-style mussels and fries.

Cutting straight through the Laurentians, the former 1920’s rail line, the P’tit Train du Nord (tel: 800-561-6673; laurentians.com/parclineaire), or “little train of the north," starts in Saint-Jérome in the northern suburbs of Montreal and runs 230 kilometres north. This popular bike path morphs into a cross-country ski route winding with a mere three-percent grade through dozens of villages.

You can ski inn-to-inn and arrange with Laurentian Tourism (tel: 800-561-6673; laurentians.com) for your luggage to be delivered to your trailside B&B. Then just head off with a daypack, stopping along the way for lunch in one of the old train station cafés.

Just 90 minutes from Montreal is Quebec’s most high-profile downhill resort, voted number one in Eastern North America by Ski Magazine 10 years in a row. Intrawest-owned Tremblant (tel: 866-356-2233; tremblant.ca) looks like a mini-Whistler with a French accent. Soar to the 822-metre peak by gondola for 360° views of the surrounding mountains, and finish off at La Diable microbrewery. Then warm up with a Finnish sauna and a Norwegian steam bath at the Nordic-style Scandinave Spa (tel: 888-537-2263; scandinave.com) tucked into the banks of the Rivière du Diable.

Capital Fun

Outdoors-crazy Quebec City has some of the province’s best skiing. With killer views across the St. Lawrence River, Quebec’s ultimate multi-day cabin-to-cabin hut trek is along 120 kilometres of powder on the Traversée de Charlevoix (traverseedecharlevoix.qc.ca) that follows a forested ridge above the river. Go for a day ski along one section or have your luggage shuttled and waiting for you at day’s end, when you tuck into your sleeping bag at a rustic log cabin or lodge en route. Tackling the entire traverse takes six days.

Mont-Sainte-Anne (tel: 888-827-4579; mont-sainte-anne.com), host to many World Cup events, has an impressive network of downhill runs within 30 minutes of the provincial capital. It’s open for night skiing so you can prowl the cobblestoned streets within the walls of Old Quebec by day. At the mountain’s base is Parc Mont-Sainte-Anne. With 210 kilometres of trails, it is the biggest cross-country ski centre in Canada. Bring a thermos and lunch for a picnic in a log cabin in the woods en route.

But Quebec’s best-kept ski secret is Le Massif (tel: 877-536-2774; lemassif.com), 75 kilometres east of Quebec City in the Charlevoix region. It’s come a long way since the early ’90s when we used to hop into its trademark yellow school buses after each run for the bumpy ride to the top. What hasn’t changed is Quebec’s top downhill powder that makes Le Massif the best western skiing in the east. It’s also the highest vertical drop in Eastern Canada. The glades and trails plunge down the mountain face and it feels dizzyingly as if you’re skiing straight into the ice-dotted St. Lawrence River.

Le Massif won’t stay little-known for long. Purchased in 2002 by one of Cirque du Soleil’s founders, Daniel Gauthier, it’s undergoing a Cirque-sized revamp en route to becoming a cutting-edge resort by 2014. A new gondola opening this winter will double the off-piste area to 26 hectares. Coming soon is a chic eco-lodge called The Farm in the nearby artsy town of Baie-Saint-Paul complete with a greenhouse, circus workshops and public market. And starting in the summer of 2011, an old rail line will shuttle skiers on the 30-minute hybrid rail-car trip from Baie-Saint-Paul to Le Massif.

The perfect end to a day on the slopes is fine dining in one of Baie-Saint-Paul’s country inns, or at Chez Bouquet Eco-Bistro which specializes in fresh local cuisine or Le Saint-Pub, a microbrewery with a beer line-up inspired by the brews of Belgian abbeys. How do you say “blissed out” in French?

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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