Story by Mark Stevens
SAINTE-ADELE, QUEBEC — Tuesday afternoon: two’o’clock. I’ve stopped to both reflect and to give my thighs a rest, halfway down a ski run called Normandie.
It’s a blue run, somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty, but that doesn’t do it justice. In terms of ambiance and appeal, it would be a black diamond. That’s true for the whole region.
Make that a double-black.
I look up the hill — an unbroken, uninhabited expanse decorated with birch and maples, a congregation of pines lined up along the edges of the slope like spectators at a parade. I look downhill.
I own Normandie.
Tomorrow we’re tackling Mont Gabriel, doing a hot breakfast then slapping on the boards and skiing right from the lodge (Mont Gabriel Resort and Spa, a rustic charming hilltop hostelry replete with huge stone fireplaces) down to the bottom to pick up our lift tickets.
Skiing Quebec’s Splendid Mountains
We’re exploring a collection of six ski resorts known as Les Sommets. Five of the resorts are right around here, fanning out from the village of Saint-Sauveur: Saint-Sauveur and Avila, Morin Heights, Mont Gabriel and Olympia. Edelweiss, the sixth performer in this stellar sextet, is located closer to Ottawa, so it doesn’t count for my purposes.
My friend and I are looking for something different during this little adventure.
To be fair, Tremblant, just north of us, is a skier’s must-do. Some of the biggest verticals in the east, a great little village at the base of the slopes.
But I don’t have the ski skills my buddy does. I want a place that’s a little more forgiving, a little more rustic, a little more “local.”
We’ve decided to ski the other Laurentian hills.
By the end of the week I’m convinced we’ve made the right call, both on-piste and off-piste. Furthermore I’ve discovered that the attractions off-off-piste are as appealing as the skiing.
Case in point: Day One at Saint-Sauveur.
Boasting both history and a wealth of runs, Saint-Sauveur’s the flagship of the fleet.
Here’s the history: The earliest T-bar in North America once chauffeured skiers to the peaks at Saint-Sauveur.
More to the point from a skier’s perspective: “We’re always the first Quebec resort to open at the beginning of the season, the last to close,” says Dave Dufour, director of operations.
The resort offers an extensive learning program that features private and group lessons at snow schools recognized across the province. Choose from among 700 instructors (when you factor in the various partner properties), learn to ski or work on your moguls technique.
By the end of my own private lesson, I got the groove back like never before, exploring on my own extensive and scenic runs like a pro.
The variety and scope of runs are part of the appeal at Mont-Saint-Sauveur. The hill boasts 40 trails serviced by eight lifts, trails that offer easy and intermediate runs in a roughly equal percentage to the “hard” stuff. And if you tire of schussing down those hills you can go for a ride on a sort of alpine rollercoaster called the Viking.
Finish up the day beside a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace with poutine and a rum toddy at T-Bar 70.
But save some energy for Morin Heights.
It proves to be one of my favourites of Les Sommets’ offerings. A bit farther afield, Morin gets you away from it all, offering challenging but rewarding and scenic runs nestled in the bosom of nature itself.
But that’s hardly Morin’s only appeal. Two hundred kilometres (130 miles) of cross-country trails, twenty-four kilometres (15 miles) of snowshoe trails (rentals available). You can even “crash” in one of their 20 rustic cabins, though we’ve opted for the Mont Gabriel Hotel and Spa, since we’re spending tomorrow exploring the slopes of its namesake hill.
Runs here are some of the steepest in the Sommets collection. That challenge makes me darn grateful for my late afternoon massage back at the hotel, sometime between my hot tub and craft beer in a Muskoka chair around a bonfire on their patio.
It gets me ready for Olympia. My last day skiing in Quebec is maybe the best. Between the perfect conditions and the fact I’ve got my groove back I decide that Olympia’s one of my favourites. But it strikes me — zipping up the chair without a single lift line wait and flying down the hill — that choosing a favourite from the Les Sommets collection is harder than choosing a beauty pageant winner.
It also strikes me, that afternoon, a couple of hours before our last expedition into the village of Saint-Sauveur, strolling down Rue Principale past patisseries and fromageries, past the stone façade of the local church, its steeple illuminated by a kaleidoscope of lights, trying to choose between the melt-in-your-mouth ribs at Le Rio or the haute cuisine entrees at Lola 45, both housed in rustic and historic buildings, that we’ve made the right call.
My friend Dave’s found the skiing itself sufficiently rewarding and we’ve both been charmed by the real Quebec. Sure, my thighs may be throbbing and I’m sore in places that I never knew I had. But my adrenaline flows and my heart soars.
Par for the course when you ski the other Laurentian hills.
MORE ABOUT SKIING LES SOMMETS
What to Do: To discover a whole cornucopia of regional amenities and attractions visit https://www.laurentides.com/en. Mont Gabriel Resort and Spa is rustic, scenic and convenient to at least one of the hills. Manoir Saint-Sauveur boasts elegant rooms and a village setting so you can walk to dinner and drinks and get to Sommet-Saint-Sauveur in minutes on their shuttle.
Visiting: For more information on this stellar sextet of ski stations around the village of Saint-Sauveur, click on https://www.sommets.com/en/