Written by Nelson Phillips.
The trip gets off to an unorthodox start. Ontario is in the midst of a detrimental February cold snap. We miss our flight to Québec City by four minutes, but keep our spirits up by booking tickets to the Remparts game that night.
On the plane, Chris Banks – my travel buddy/photographer – asks if I want to share headphones. He’s listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, and tells the stewardess we’re on vacation and orders two Alexander Keiths at 11am. In the parking lot of QC’s Jean Lesage Airport, a shady guy from Seattle wants to know what kind of trouble he can get into if he’s caught with the weed he’s apparently smuggled through customs. We should have pretended to speak French. He tells us it’s cold as hell – we tell him we’re from Ontario and -24 feels balmy compared to the -43 windchill we left behind.
Things calm down, and like most Ontarians we stop at the first corner store and drop $74 on beer brands we can’t pronounce, giggling the whole time. The dry cold coming off the St. Lawrence has left the hills with a hard-packed layer of styrofoam on top, not ideal when you come from a region known for regular lake-effect snow dumps – but this is as far as Ontario bragging rights go.
We pop into the Stoneham Resort rental shop to pick up Chris’s board. “Oh, monsieur Banks!” the rental guy says. “Marc, monsieur Banks is here.” The resort has an early 90’s vibe that makes it feel like a French-Canadian Warren Miller flick. It’s definitely Québec: nostalgic, cultured, authentic. We catch the Remparts game at the old Nordiques barn 20 minutes from the resort’s front door. The sports culture in QC is unavoidable; hockey, skiing or biking comes up in every single conversation we have with the locals, specifically: Why doesn’t QC have an NHL team, despite the fact they’re building a new arena right next door?
Stoneham shows us a good time. The glade runs are incredible, tight yet meandering. Our guide Lisa Marie Lacasse shows us the lay of the land and helps us acclimatize to the additional terrain, meaning she rides circles around us and introduces us to the infamous 40’s.
“You guys want to start with a really good coffee?” asks the gent in the resort’s breakfast bar. The snow loosened its icy grip overnight and we enjoy the treed runs of Stoneham again, taking in every caffeinated second we can before packing it in and heading to the Charlevoix’s big bad wolf down the highway: Mont-Sainte-Anne.
But first, we get hooked up with a tour of the city, and dinner and drinks with Paule Bergeron from Québec City Tourism. This city is treating us like kings; the whole day just oozes La Vieille Capitale. Paule takes us to the swankiest restaurant in town, Savini, complete with acrobats doing their thing above the bar. Anything she can’t answer for us over dinner finds its way to my inbox by 9am the next morning.
“In Québec if you’re not an athlete, you’re a bum,” says Sébastien Roy, Director of the Château Mont-Sainte-Anne, during après the next day. “It’s part of everything here.”
The riding at MSA is unbelievable. It’s got everything you could ask for: open groomers, tight glades, challenging backcountry runs and jib parks scattered throughout the tenure. And it boasts some of the best views in the eastern half of the continent. (And winter is only half of MSA – the downhill biking and camping offered in the summer months is well known across eastern Canada.)
Lisa Marie meets up with us again and gets us on the gondola before the floodgates open. We get to enjoy first tracks overlooking Île d’Orléans – an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence that’s bigger than Manhattan – in the early morning sun. Schwing.
Go to Québec City. And do yourself a favour and try your hand at communicating in French like we did. They may laugh at you, like they did at us, but the locals sure do appreciate the sentiment. The culture is addictive and friendly. The riding is second to none, and the people treat you like you’re old friends. Smiles ear to ear and two thumbs way, way up.