WINTER FUN IN QUEBEC
Somehow a family ski trip has become an annual March Break tradition - not surprising, since my wife is passionate about skiing. I'm okay with that, with the tiny proviso that every year we experience someplace different, a new unique and charming locale. This year, that would be Quebec, where winter is a season to be celebrated in toques and mitts - whether at the annual Quebec Carnival, with a stay in the Hotel du Glace, skiing the nearby slopes of Mont Ste. Anne and Le Massif, or snowshoeing, camping and ziplining in the Outaouais.
The coolest bar around at the Hotel du Glace in Quebec City
Quebec City is a four century old fortified city, full of historic sights and superb restaurants. Wandering the old city's cobbled, snow-laden streets, sampling fondue, and touring the Ice Hotel, all served as my kids' first introduction to a European-style winter experience. Enjoy the city by night and hit the slopes by day. The mountains surrounding the historic city -- Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif -- boast enough diversity that regardless of skier ability, there's compelling terrain. Long, meandering, easy-to-conquer runs snake down the sides of both resorts, but there are also steep slopes and glades galore for experts.
Mont-Sainte-Anne: Thirty minutes from Quebec City, Mont-Sainte-Anne tempts skiers and snowboarders with 67 trails spanning three sides of the mountain. It's known for its slick, race-steep runs on the north side, and its Black forest glades on the south. For on mountain lodging, the Chateau Mont Sainte Anne is perfect for families, the only ski in ski out hotel in this region, so you can ski first tracks in the morning and end the day on the 19 lit trails.
For the kids: A permanent 7-metre high half-pipe, and a traditional slope-side Sugar Shack, dolling out maple taffy on snow.
The beautiful view eastward of the Saint Lawrence River from Le Massif
Le Massif de Charlevoix: I have skied many beautiful resorts around the world, but few can compare with Le Massif de Charlevoix. Here, you actually arrive at the main lodge at the top of the mountain, and then ski down towards the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. The views are spectacular, sweeping eastward, the tide coming in from the Atlantic and the ice breaking up on the spectacular river. Le Massif is the most exciting resort on the Canadian ski map right now, the inspiration of Cirque de Soleil cofounder Daniel Gauthier. Everything is top notch, from the lifts and lodges to the grooming, the view and the perfect pitch of the runs. With eastern Canada's largest vertical drop, Le Massif offers supreme skiing and snowboarding on 53 trails. The best way to get there is a leisurely one-hour train ride from Quebec City. The route runs along the scenic St. Lawrence River, with vistas of waterfalls, wooded hills and the spectacular Charlevoix landscape.
For the kids: Give rodelling a try, a brand of extreme sledding on a specially designed 7.5 km trail.
Snowshoeing from a backcountry cabin in Kenauk Nature, the Outaouais
The Outaouais: After four days of downhill skiing near Quebec City, we headed west to the Outaouais to do some cross-country skiing in magnificent Gatineau Park and snowshoeing in Kenauk Nature. Located just across the Ottawa River minutes from downtown Ottawa, Gatineau has one of the largest networks of cross-country ski trails in North America with over 200 kilometres of groomed runs and 45 kilometres of back-country trails. There are day shelters with wood-burning stoves, and cabins and yurts for overnight stays.
For the kids: Visit Parc Oméga, a wild animal park. Here you can slip on your snowshoes and go exploring among the elk and white-tailed deer, or stay overnight in one of the park's new lodgings near the wolves' enclosure: choose from a prospector tent, yurt or house on stilts. In the morning follow the Park guides as they feed the wild animals. Another fun stop is at the Arbraska Laflèche Aerial Park where the kids will love the tree-top trekking and ziplining, and can experience the largest visited cave on the Canadian Shield.
Quebec - where there's nothing like a good winter celebration. My wife and I found that the coolest place for a cocktail is in a bar made of ice, and a new food we crave is some hot maple syrup on the snow at a mid-mountain Sugar Shack. Our accommodations included a bed of ice at the Hotel du Glace, a ski chalet with the fire crackling in Mont-Sainte-Anne and a quiet cabin in the woods at Kenauk Nature - cosy and classy.
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PHOTOS by Jamie Ross
1. The coolest bar around at the Hotel du Glace in Quebec City
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