Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 19, 2017
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Pray for snow

Quebec's Mont-Ste-Anne is the patron
saint of Eastern skiers

There's nothing like being the first person down a freshly groomed slope. In a perfect world, this kind of morning would be chilly — around -15°C — but on this particular day Mother Nature hadn't been so kind. The thermometer outside my hotel window read -35°C. That meant that on the summit, I'd be facing temperatures below -40°C, not including windchill.

My partner and I met up with our guide at the gondola platform for a free tour of the mountain. Aside from the low hum of the generator, there was a silence that gave the impression that everything was frozen.

As the gondola climbed, the view became more and more spectacular. The sun was just rising above the St. Lawrence Seaway. The water was frozen solid and, in the distance, I could see tankers in the mouth of the river. Then, about two thirds of the way up, I felt like I was falling into the water — I couldn't see anything below or above me, just the majestic expanse of ice straight ahead.

At the top, we slipped in to the ski patrol station to find out what the best trail was before bundling up for the ride down. Apart from the biting wind, my first run was everything I'd hoped it would be. The sun bathed the slope in warmth, softening the icy base just enough for a clean descent. My legs were numb from the cold, but after a few large turns they warmed up. That's when I let it rip, enjoying the steepness of the run, pushing the edges of my board into the semi-frozen pack. For many fans of alpine sports this is the feeling they crave — with the first signs of snow comes anticipation to get out there and enjoy.

Mont-Ste-Anne has a lot more going for it. Nestled in the quaint village of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré — a popular tourist destination in Quebec's Charlevoix region — the mountain is one of the best in the northeast, comparable to major New England destinations. Just 45 minutes from Quebec City, it rises 800 metres above the St. Lawrence. From the summit, you look south to the provincial capital and north into an expanse of high mountains and rocky cliffs.

The mountain has a wide variety of runs, including challenging chutes and glades for the kamikaze in your group. The majority of the 63 trails are intermediate level. They're easier than those out West, but challenging by Quebec standards. There are also a number of easy runs for the kids and families. It'll take you roughly 20 minutes from summit to base, non-stop, at a decent clip.

Located in a snow belt, conditions are near perfect for most of the season — be it hard pack in January, soft granular in February or perfect spring skiing in March and April. That's not an easy feat considering that winters of late haven't been kind to Eastern skiers.

It was unseasonably cold during my visit, but you should still expect some crisp weather in January when the mercury tends to hover around -15°C. February brings warmer weather, longer days and lots of snow — it's one of the best times to enjoy the resort. March offers mid-winter conditions for the first half of the month, but as temperatures rise and spring sets in, be prepared for corn snow.

Joie de Vivre
Good skiing isn't the only reason why the resort continues to charm visitors. Unlike Mont-Tremblant in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains, which boasts a polished, hip vibe, Mont-Ste-Anne has a familial feel and coziness that is truly Quebecois.

 

It's not uncommon to meet new friends on the ride up. I shared a gondola with a group of skiers who had been regulars for the past 20 years. They'd been through many lean snow seasons, new owners and renovations. They only had good things to say about the mountain — to them, the snow here is always great and the beer at the end of the day couldn't taste better. They captured the joie de vivre of the resort — a big mountain with a mom-and-pop feel.

Mont-Ste-Anne offers free guided tours for alpine skiers and boarders, and it's worth spending a few hours with a guide, not only to get a feel for the mountain, but also the region. Many of the instructors are locals who grew up carving up the backwoods. Don't worry about language issues; all the staff is fluent in English; the resort can even cater to groups who only speak Italian.

The après-ski atmosphere is laid-back. A host of small bars and cafés, with crackling fireplaces, wait for tired bodies to roll in for a refreshing brew. It was the perfect spot to thaw my frozen feet, and I wasn't alone: most skiers were doing the same while sipping hot chocolate.

If dining on the hill isn't your style, you can venture 20 minutes down the road to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, where you'll find everything from a local rotisserie to fusion cuisine. For something a little more refined, the province's capital is a short drive away. A steak frites in a little French bistro in the snowy narrow streets of Old Quebec is a great way to end a busy day on the slopes, and the ride back to the resort is beautiful. On a clear night you can see the lights from the slopes 50 kilometres away.

Gone to Mush
A host of other winter activities await those who aren't keen on the adrenaline rush of an alpine descent, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, ski-dooing or the more unique adventure of dogsledding.

If you've never been near a pack of huskies and malamutes, don't let their aggressive look scare you: these dogs love to play and run.

One of the first things you'll learn is the hierarchy among dogs, and the fact that these pups need love. My guide taught me to spend a good 10 minutes with the leader of my pack — Whiskey. I had to pet him and encourage him, to show the other dogs that I had confidence in him to lead me down the frozen trail.

Once behind the sled, I just had to shout "mush" and we were off! At first I found it difficult to control the sled with 12 dogs pulling wildly, but thanks to some tips from the guide who sat in the sled while I stood driving — I nailed it, and it was a thrill.

Les Secrets Nordiques (tel: 418-827-2227; www.lessecrets nordiques.com) offers a number of dogsledding excursions: everything from an hour-and-a-half introduction to the basics while driving your own Husky team — don't worry, a guide is always close by — to a laid-back nighttime excursion, with you and your partner wrapped in furs as a team of huskies leads you into the crisp winter. Adventure lovers can even snowshoe or dogsled over to a heated Innu hut, called a shaputuan, and camp for the night on the Nomad trek.

If you'd rather tour the area on your own two feet, you can also explore the 212-kilometre network of groomed cross-country trails. Don't let the cold weather dissuade you — there are seven heated shelters along the way, three of which can accommodate visitors for the night.

 

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

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