Quebec City area a great destination
Even though the calendar says mid-January, when the weather gets a little soggy and the enthusiasm for a day on the slopes starts to slip away, what is a skier to do?
Well, as you may recall from the movie classic “Animal House,” just when things are looking the worst, an option pops up.
Conditions will improve locally. After all, there are at least 10 more weeks of winter left. But in the meantime, how about a midseason trip?
But where to go for good conditions at a cost that wasn’t in the budget?
Earlier this week, I reconnected with a great spot where I’ve had fun in the past. It offered good snow coverage, and best of all, didn’t require me to get on an airplane. The place was eastern Quebec, around Quebec City. Sure, it’s a six-hour- plus drive. But it is almost all super highways, and if you didn’t leave the luggage at home in the garage, chances are all your gear was with you when you arrived at your destination.
And what a destination it is. Quebec City, the old part in particular, is more European than much of Europe. Check into a hotel and go for a walk. Not only do you get the leg stretch you need by the time of arrival, but you get to wander in quaint surroundings, enjoy a fine meal in any of the great restaurants in the area, and try out the high school French that tormented you years ago.
The class of the city has long been The Chateau Frontenac, a regal eminence that sits overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It has been renovated over the years, and is now undergoing a modernization. There are plenty of alternatives to the Frontenac in the city, but if you want a special feeling of adulthood as part of your “get out of Dodge” ski getaway, give the Chateau a try.
There are three fine ski choices within an easy drive of Quebec City. The closest of the three is Stoneham, about 25 minutes from the Frontenac. For a short ski day, this is an attractive choice.
Imagine what it would be like to have a place about the size of Hunter Mountain just a few minutes away. Depending on time, you can enjoy a full day on the hill or just a couple of runs at a place that has enough muscle to host World Cup events.
Don’t want to be that close to Quebec City?
LeMassif and Mont Sainte-Anne are two areas that will make you think about a return visit when this trip is done.
LeMassif de Charlevoix was barely on the radar 20 years ago when it was primarily a locals’ hill off Route 138 east of Quebec City. The first lift had just been built, replacing the old school bus which previously was the only alternative to walking up the mountain. The base lodge was across the street from the St. Lawrence River and was accessible only via a tight, curvy access road down the hill from the highway and through the town of Petite-Riviere Saint Francois. Visitors to the area generally stayed in the neighboring town of Baie-Saint Paul, then and now still known for at its assortment of art galleries.
But, oh, what a ski hill! At the time, it didn’t have snowmaking. But most often, it didn’t need any. Located at a left-hand turn in the St. Lawrence River, the bend served as a big catcher’s mitt for storms coming in from the Atlantic. The snow piles up there. That often meant great natural conditions on appealing natural terrain.
Enter Daniel Gauthier. He is a co-founder of the Circ de Soileil and a native of the Charlevoix region. He decided he wanted to develop LeMassif and a modern tourism industry in his home area.
There are lots of places these days that wish Gauthier had been born there.
In less than 20 years, Gauthier has developed a modern, attractive ski area with all of the original natural characteristics, but now with direct road access from Route 138 that avoids the once-treacherous car ride to ride the base and a comfortable main lodge at the top of the mountain, where the offerings deliberately omit fried foods like burgers, hot dogs and fries. And no Poutine!
The great mix of trails is still there — groomers and moguls and glades — and there is some snowmaking, as well as a lot of all-natural surface. And if you want a luge ride, there are sleds and a track and a lot of fun on this change of pace from skiing.
The newest attraction in the area is LaFerme (The Farm), a stunning hotel outside Baie-Saint Paul that in 2012 was voted the best new hotel design in the world. It didn’t steal the award. There are some features that still need a little work, but the graphics and interior design are exceptional and it can be available at a bargain price. What the hotel calls its “dorms” are 12 comfortable multi-bed rooms that can be rented for as little as $49 a night on a shared basis or family style for $149.
Get ready for the trip to ski at LeMassif, and hop on the train that connects the hotel directly to the ski area. At the end of the day, take the half-hour ride back along the river to the hotel.
About a 40-minute drive back toward Quebec City is Mont Sainte-Anne, the largest of the three ski areas in the region and in many ways the most appealing. There is the Chateau Mont Sainte-Anne, a recently refurbished, classy hotel which is about a 100-foot walk from its ski lockers to a gondola to the top of the mountain. The adjacent base area village features the childrens’ center right in the middle and a village that includes shops and restaurants.
Since Mont Sainte-Anne is about 45 minutes from downtown, it offers not only excellent skiing on its own, but is also a good central location offering easy access to both LeMassif and Stoneham if you would like to try all three.
You can certainly get great skiing much closer to home. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, or you just want a getaway that is a bit more exotic than Vermont, the Quebec City area is an excellent alternative for fine skiing. And no airline bag fees.
EMPIRE STATE GAMES
The annual Empire State Winter Games are set for the Lake Placid area starting Feb. 6. The Games were sponsored by the state for 30 years, but when New York dropped the event in a budget move four years ago, local organizers, led by regional tourism director Jim McKenna, rounded up sponsorship and the Games have gone on without a skip. More than 1,000 athletes from throughout the state will compete.
RIDING THE RAILS
The Saratoga–North Creek train, the only regularly scheduled ski train in the East, is up and running again with trips Friday through Sunday until the end of March. It is a nice change of pace and a very pretty trip along the Hudson River. Skiers will be shuttled from the
station in North Creek to Gore Mountain and back and the pricing can include lift tickets making the cost comparable to driving and buying at the mountain.
The East’s other snow train, from outside Quebec City to LeMassif, is not operating that route this winter. For details on the Saratoga-North Creek service, check www.sncrr.-com.
Last winter, long-time ski reporter Herb Stevens was replaced at SnoCountry Reports by perky young snowboarder Halley O’Brien, who once worked for Mt. Snow. She did the sponsor-driven, packaged on-air reports last winter. But where is she now?
Well, O’Brien is still on the air throughout the Northeast. But Channel 13, which ran the Snocountry reports for many years, dropped it this year, indicating last summer that it planned to do its own reporting.
That hasn’t happened yet and in the meantime, no other local outlet has picked up O’Brien.