Québec City is my new favorite ski town.
With over 500,000 people, it’s an unlikely choice, but I’ve never been anywhere where winter is so embraced and celebrated.
“Winter is our best season,” my guide Michelle told me. “It’s everyone’s favorite.”
And this attitude shines through. While temperatures may be plummeting, the mighty Saint Lawrence River freezing over, and snow piling up everywhere, les Québécois relish the cold weather.
It’s their season.
History, Architecture, Shopping and More
Four hundred years old, Québec City is North America’s only walled city, and a United Nation’s Heritage Site. Everywhere you turn, there is history, from ornate churches and government buildings (it’s also the provincial capitol), to the still functioning army garrison at the Citadel, to the historic and grand Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac which towers over the city.
The old city, the Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville both, are filled with charming stone buildings full of art galleries, fashionable boutiques, and of course, options and more options for coffee, chocolate, casual bakeries and gourmet French cuisine.
Best of all, though, is the riverside park known as the Plains of Abraham.
Formerly the fields of a farmer named Abraham, the plains were the site of the decisive Battle of Québec in 1759, between the French General Montcalm and the English General Wolfe. While both men lost their lives as a result of the fighting, the English eventually triumphed, incorporating the French-speaking region into English Canada from that time on.
It’s a result not everyone is happy about, but as far as I could tell, most everyone loves the actual Plains, with outdoor ice skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Just outside of the City the winter delights continue. I visited, but did not stay at, the spectacular Hotel de Glace, or Ice Hotel, with it’s uniquely hand carved décor. Most rooms have a theme and it’s worth a visit just to tour them and perhaps have a cold drink at the cold bar.
Even more fun, especially if you have your family with you, is the tubing park at Village Vacances Valcartier. In the summer, it’s a large water park with a campground.
In the Winter, Valcartier is a 35 run tubing park, with the Everest plunge run, a 12 person raft run and an 8 person spinning tube run, as well as more traditional 1-5 person tubing lanes. The slides are rated green, blue and black, just as in skiing, and it’s a super fun place to laugh and scream away a sunny afternoon.
And the Skiing?
My visit to Québec had me skiing at three nearby resorts: Ski Stoneham (20 minutes from Québec City), Mont-Sainte-Anne (30 minutes away) and Le Massif de Charlevoix (about an hour drive). Newly united as the Saint Lawrence Summits, visitors can ski all three resorts on one ticket.
Mother Nature didn’t quite cooperate and on the day we were to ski at Le Massif, and enjoy its expert terrain and supposedly stunning views of the Saint Lawrence River, it rained. Luckily, Le Massif also has North America’s only public luge track, a wide, 7.5 km run of fun.
Ski Stoneham is the smallest of these resorts with a vertical drop of 1380 feet and 333 acres of skiable terrain. The resort has a vibrant freestyle community and is a stop on the FIS Snowboard Slopestyle World Cup tour.
Even if you’re not into park and pipe, the resort is fun.
Long groomed runs like Petit Champlain and La Randonnée dominate the center of the mountain offering blue and green delights, while extensive advanced and expert terrain is found to far skier’s left.
The Olympic halfpipe and learning areas are found to far skier’s right, with everything easily returning to the small, central base. Gladed skiing is popular at Stoneham as well, with beginner tree runs like La Casimir providing a fun, exciting introduction to going off-piste.
Mont-Sainte-Anne is Stoneham’s sister resort, as both are owned by Canadian ski powerhouse RCR. Like Le Massif, Mont-Sainte-Anne lies above the Saint Lawrence river and the views out over the river are stunning, especially when the sun reflects off the water. With a vertical drop of just over 2000 feet and 530 acres of skiable terrain, Mont-Sainte-Anne is known for it’s signature double black runs, La S and La Super S, with steep pitches and moguls.
Accessed by the new high-speed Panorama Express Quad, this is also the area where you’ll find The Black Forest (La Foret Noire) and La Crete, the westernmost run on the mountain’s south side. La Crete is the easiest of the advanced runs in the area, and arguably has the most beautiful views of the river.
Although Mont-Sainte-Anne is known for it’s difficult terrain, it is also beginner heaven. With a 185 meter (607 feet) magic carpet right at the base, beginners have extensive terrain upon which to learn and explore. The Express du Sud lift is nearby with easy access to top-to-bottom green runs and lots of intermediate terrain.
One blue run, La Pichard, offers an on-mountain cabine de sucre or sugar shack, part way down. While pouring hot maple syrup onto snow and then scooping it up on a stick as it cools to make a tasty taffy treat is obviously popular with kids, I loved it too!
As an added bonus, the bunny hills at both Stoneham and Mont-Sainte-Anne are free, and of course, both resorts have full service winter sports schools.
When You Go…
I stayed at the skyline dominating Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Renovated in 2014, every guest room, as well as the lobby and many public spaces were updated, and it is now more spectacular than ever. Since history is celebrated in Québec City, the Chateau remains true to it’s grand roots, but with new added contemporary comforts.
While you may be going to Québec City to ski, take time to wander the streets, explore the Plains of Abraham, and walk along the river.
Our guide Michelle, also recommends lunch at the Parliament building, where the chef is said to be fantastic, the prices reasonable, the dining room elegant, with local and visiting dignitaries on view.
Her other off-beat recommendation? Take a ferry from Québec City across the Saint Lawrence River to Levis and listen to the ice crash into the vessel.
Also, don’t miss the spectacular Montmorency falls, which are higher than the famous falls at Niagara. Frozen in winter, they are a ice-climbing paradise, take a hike, ride the cable car, or enjoy a meal with a lovely view.
Another thing to consider is the Winter Carnival (Carnaval d’Hiver) which takes place each year during the first two weeks of February (January 30 – February 15, 2015). Unlike any other winter celebration that I know of, the City turns out to party, led by the traditional host, a giant snowman, named Bonhomme.
Friends who’ve been tell me that Bonhomme is a rock star.
When he appears, children and adults alike rush to him, normally sensible women scream his name, and even the most rugged of men have been known to brush away a tear. Bonhomme is a historic and beloved figure in Québec, and his winter palace is the centerpiece of the active fun that is Carnival.
If you prefer to stay at the ski resorts, we stayed at Le Chateau Mont-Sainte-Anne in their contemporary Espace Nordik suites. They were lovely, roomy and had cooking facilities.
At Le Massif, I was completely taken by Hotel La Ferme, a modern, architecturally ambitious property connected by train to the ski resort.
My favorites there? Outdoor skating and the “dorm” rooms, four single beds and a shared bathroom for only about $50 per night per bed. While I’m not really a “dorm” kind of girl, it is a perfect set-up for a family of four.
- Revelstoke Mountain Resort: For Families Who Love to Ski and More, March 3, 2014.
- At Quebec’s Le Massif We Can All Be Lugers, February 4, 2014.
- British Columbia’s Family Paradise: Silver Star Mountain Resort, January 27, 2014.
- Heli Skiing…Falling…And Getting Up Again, January 14, 2014.
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