It was a dark and snowy night. Hunched against the cold, we bump into a big-bellied albino man covered in snow. The white guy chuckles—but oddly makes no sound. He seems most entertained by his plight. He’s seven feet tall and full of bonhomie. He is Bonhomme, the man.
Carnivale’s cheerful chappy doesn’t give a hoot that exposed skin will ?ash freeze in under a minute tonight. Amid -35 temps, Quebec City revellers are bundled up bravely against this uncertain future. After 400 years of mercury-challenged winters, they have learned to laugh in the face of cold. And all those stairs up to the Chateau? No cheating with the funicular: the rise in body temperature might be what keeps you alive tonight.
Here’s how to get the best from Quebec City’s triumvirate of downhill delights all winter long…
Forget the swimsuit.
It’s oddly tempting, thinking you’ll somehow slide right off the slopes into the cool, clean waters of the St. Lawrence. The ice ?oes and oil tankers will bring you back to reality. Honestly, the on-ski views at Le Massif should be bottled and sold to Americans—but until they get planning permission for that, it’s still something of a regional secret. Best to visit now while the 43 runs are virtually empty, you can ride the lift with Ambassador Jean Luc Brassard (who really does hang out) and groove to the fantastic low-key après-ski bands over Baie- Saint-Paul micro-beers. Oh, and the skiing actually stops just 36 metres above sea level.
Watch this espace: big plans are afoot. The founder of Cirque de Soleil, Daniel Gauthier, who bought this uncut jewel of the St. Lawrence in 2003, knows how to bring magic to the stage. His $230-million scheme for the Territoire Le Massif, a four-season recreational tourism project planned for Quebec’s Charlevoix region, includes a tourist train running on a 137-km route between Quebec City and La Malbaie, expansion of skiable terrain by more than 30 per cent and the transformation of a large farm building in Baie-Saint-Paul into a 150-room fourstar hotel, with a restaurant and spa. The historic structure burned down this year, but developers plan to adjust their designs and move ahead. The ?rst phase expects to be operational in 2009.
One of the loveliest bits of the area, the village of Baie-Saint-Paul, we hope won’t change. A 15-minute drive from the ski area, it’s a funky artists’ haven of galleries, cafés, artisan food shops and unblemished Quebecois wooden farmhouse architecture. At Gallery Iris you can admire in warmth pictures painted by local Jean-François Racine, who specializes in painting slopeside in all pea-soup weather.
BEST FOR: Art and scenery lovers.
DISTANCE FROM QUEBEC CITY: 73 km.
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow Route 138 east to Le Massif.
Order the Gallic special When does a ski area amount to more than the sum of its parts? When well-groomed runs, ef?cient lifts and ample snow are capped off with extras that make a holiday memorable. Like warming next to a pot-bellied stove in the slopeside sugar shack, and watching Claude boil down the sap then pour it into sticky twirls on a bed of snow. “Bon appetit, mesdames, et bon ski,” he enthuses, in an impressive impersonation of Jean Chrétien. After our maple break, we stroll through sled-dogland at the base of the mountain, admiring dozens of Alaskan dogs howling for a chance to pull. Les Secrets Nordiques dogsledding runs tours through pristine woods for a few hours or several days. Sixty-? ve four-legged race machines are at the ready to give you a true Quebecois memory.
The gem of the Côte de Beaupré, Mont-Sainte-Anne skiing stretches across three full sides of the mountain. With 65 runs covering 68 km, views extend to the St. Lawrence River in the south and the Laurentians in the north. Burn off your maple sugar high on 10 hectares of black- and double-black-diamond glades, among the steepest in the east.
BEST FOR: Activity add-ons like dogsledding, snowmobiling and skating.
DISTANCE FROM QUEBEC CITY: 40 km.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take Hwy Dufferin-Montmorency (#440 East) and Route 138 East, following signs for Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and Mont- Sainte-Anne. In Beaupré, follow Route 360 to Mont-Sainte-Anne.
Don’t waste your time
Which is to say, you couldn’t make better use of 20 minutes than to drive to Stoneham, even if you only have half a day. Which would be a shame, given there’s a lot more than half a day’s skiing here.
The Quebec City locals’ area boasts a respectable 32 runs on four mountain faces. Though the vertical barely grazes the 400- vertical-metre mark, one run manages to wind down more than three km. There are eight lifts and, perhaps most interestingly, the terrain park is a doozy. Its nearly 30 rails, a dozen tabletops and a halfpipe with seven-metre walls have repeatedly hosted terrain park comps, including the Snowboard World Cup.
Whatever kind of rush you’re in to get back to the delights of Quebec City just down the road, don’t leave without nipping into Le Feu Follet at the base. Its signature poutine dish is elevated by the addition of foie gras and tomme de chèvre. Ooh-la-la. “Vaut le detour” as they say in the Michelin guides.
BEST FOR: High-energy families including park rats.
DISTANCE FROM QUEBEC: 25 km.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take Hwy 73 North and exit at Stoneham. Follow road signs to the resort (6 km).