Charlevoix, Quebec: A backcountry skier's paradise
The region east of Quebec City boasts plenty of powder and skiing well into May.
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It took me more than 20 years to realize that I really didn’t want to die in an avalanche. It was hard, because I had become addicted to backcountry skiing. I was joining friends in annual treks to rustic secluded cabins amid the magnificent peaks of the Canadian West, skiing some of the deepest, wildest powder snow on the planet.
But every year there were more stories of fatal accidents. Experience had taught me it could happen to anyone. So I decided to give up backcountry and spend the rest of my life “on piste” — skiing groomed trails at commercial resorts.
I’m happy to report that firm resolution melted into slush recently when I joined a group sampling the newest opportunities for backcountry skiing in the Charlevoix region east of Quebec City. It’s already the best backcountry ski destination east of Banff, with an annual snowfall of more than six metres and a season that can last well into May, long after the resorts are closed. New developments promise to transform it into the ski-touring epicentre of eastern North America.
In the past, the legend of Quebec powder lay buried in the remote, barely accessible Chic-Chocs mountains on the Gaspé Peninsula. Ground zero today is Le Massif de Charlevoix, a chic resort that overlooks the mighty St. Lawrence River. Only an hour and a half from the provincial capital, it boasts the highest, longest and most scenic ski runs in the east.
Already a hot spot for young Quebecois, Le Massif will attract more of the It crowd when it opens a new, all-inclusive Club Med mountain resort in 2020.
But for a ski resort, being on trend today means offering access to the backcountry. At Le Massif, the guiding company Whisjack now provides a full suite of instruction, equipment rentals and day tours into the off-piste “side country” accessible from the lifts. It’s an ideal setup for resort skiers who are curious to discover what the cool kids are up to.
The company is also negotiating with Le Massif to create a true backcountry experience on an enormous swath of untouched terrain adjacent to the resort. “It’s basically Le Massif multiplied four times,” explains Whisjack’s Frédéric Blouin.
If all goes well, skiers willing to climb a 700-metre bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence — taller than Mont Tremblant— will soon be able to enjoy forested runs flowing down to the shore, along with a collection of strategically located warming huts. The result will be the modern equivalent of the experience enjoyed by the pioneers who introduced skiing to the Laurentians almost a century ago.
You can already do that 80 kilometres north of Le Massif at the obscure but charismatic Mont Edouard, which only has two chairlifts but is leading the province in the development of new backcountry terrain.
And that’s exactly what skiers want the most.
“There’s a huge push away from the lifts,” Blouin affirms. More and more, skiers are bypassing the lineups in search of ungroomed, wild snow in a completely natural setting. And more and more, they are finding that amid the forested mountains of Quebec.
The only thing missing is the threat of an avalanche. It’s irresistible.
John Barber was a guest of Whisjack at Le Massif de Charlevoix, which did not approve or review this story.
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