Roughly 350 million years ago, a massive meteor impact convulsed the landscape and sculpted the Charlevoix mountain range of eastern Quebec. This meteor has proved a boon to skiers and boarders, and to anyone who stands at the top of Le Massif de Charlevoix resort and breathes in the view of the St. Lawrence River as it begins to widen into The Seaway.
Seventy-three kilometres east of Quebec City, the Charlevoix region feels like another country, especially to an Ontarian. Here, the rivers are wider, the mountains higher, the food better, the architecture and couture more refined. And English, of course, isn’t often spoken. We’re east of Quebec City, and I’m at a slight disadvantage due to my terrible French. I get by, apart from the odd comical episode, for example: when I enter the pro shop to pick up my pre-arranged rentals and ask for my contact, Jerome. My pronunciation of “Jerome” is apparently so off-base that the perplexed ski-tech claims that no one of that name works there.
When Jerome finally appears and announces himself, the pro shop dissolves into laughter. “Ah! Vous disiez Jerome!”
We stay at the resort’s newly opened hotel, not mountainside but in the nearby town of Baie-Saint-Paul, a port on the banks of the St. Lawrence. Hôtel La Ferme (“The Farm”), is a complex of five buildings on the edge of town, each one boasting different styles of haute-designed rooms (catering to all combinations and preferences of guests and including an option for economy-minded groups: chic dorms with trundle beds). Some of the pavilions are modern re-imaginings of structures inspired by the farm that formerly occupied the site; the surrounding fields are still farmed, and supply the hotel restaurant. The main building boasts various train station motifs, and is in fact a gare: a resort-owned train runs between Quebec City and the hotel.
The resort has no ski-in, ski-out accommodations but this means fewer distractions from skiing and boarding. The shuttle from the hotel delivers you to the main lodge at the summit. The lodges and pubs (located at summit, mid-mountain and base) are comfortable and rustic, with wood-burning fireplaces and creative fare – think lunch in a bread bowl, and local sausage, cheese, and beer.
Le Massif offers Canada’s highest vertical drop east of the Rockies. Due to its riverfront location, snowfall is reliable. The 52 trails generally stick to the fall lines of the three intertwined mountains, and glades abound. Some glades are steep and tight and more skiable after fresh snow, while others are roomier. The huge off-piste glade area of 99 acres on the north side is the powhound destination after a snowfall. From summit to base, within view of the glades and groomers, the heavily forested Charlevoix wilderness never seems far away. The south side’s long, wide and steep groomer named Le Charlevoix – designed for an Olympic course – is built for pure speed. Other trails twist and swoop through the thick forest.
Surrounded by the Charlevoix wilderness, Le Massif feels close to nature. A sledding course (known as “rodelling”) takes you along a 7.5 km track down the seesaw ridge of outlying Mont à Liguori and you feel as if you’re on a trapper’s luge course in the hinterland. But when you come to the bottom, a lodge and gondola await. Que c’est bon!