Sport: Mountain High, River Wide

  • Karen Cakebread

Skiing Le Massif, situated about an hour’s drive northeast of Quebec City, can be a disorienting experience. Because the main lodge and the parking lot are at the top of the mountain, you begin your first run before your first lift ride, and you do so with a view of what appears to be open ocean in the distance. The mighty St. Lawrence, about 12 miles wide here, flows eastward past the base of Le Massif to the nearby Gulf of St. Lawrence. Oil tankers and freighters coming from the Atlantic forge westward past the mountain, skirting ice floes on their way to the Great Lakes. At your back are the Laurentians, and across the river are the northerly peaks of the Appalachians.

A traveler making a winter visit to Quebec City could be forgiven for remaining cloistered within the urban center—perhaps ensconced at the fortresslike Château Frontenac, dining on flambéed meals at local restaurants, and taking in the city’s winter carnival. But for a skier, to do so would be lamentable, because a trio of distinct resorts that includes Le Massif beckons not far beyond the walls that surround the city.

Twenty minutes north of downtown is the smallest of those three hills, Stoneham, where four snow parks and 17 lit trails—the most night-skiing acreage in Canada—draw boarders and nocturnal skiers. The largest of the three resorts, Mont-Sainte-Anne, lies 30 minutes northeast of Quebec City. It has trails on three sides of the mountain, offering varying conditions as you follow the sun. Mont-Sainte-Anne reveals its true charm halfway down the mountain, where smoke curls from the chimney of a sugar shack at the side of a trail. For pocket change, an attendant pours a helping of hot maple syrup, fresh from the evaporator, onto clean snow. Once the syrup cools enough to solidify slightly, you stick a tongue depressor into it and roll it up, creating a sticky maple lollipop—a logical snack choice when you are covered with snow and surrounded by French-speaking children.

The highlight of the trifecta, Le Massif, has Canada’s highest vertical drop east of the Rockies, so the trails are long and steep. The resort is a recent arrival on the ski map. Before 1992, when the resort’s lifts were first installed, the plentiful snow and five ungroomed trails drew local skiers from the Charlevoix countryside. They would ascend in a school bus and could complete as many as four runs on a good day.

Skiers remain sparse on Le Massif; the mountain has lifts now but still no lines, enabling you to ski until your thighs burn and then some. To stop is to abandon that view of the St. Lawrence, the river and the gulf and the maritime traffic they bear. Such a backdrop might cause you to lose your bearings initially, but you certainly could get used to it.

Le Massif, www.lemassif.com
Mont-Sainte-Anne, Stoneham, www.fun2ski.com
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, 800.441.1414, www.fairmont.com/frontenac

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