The snow is melting fast and the trails are icy at home, but after three hours on the road, zipping northeast along the shore of the St. Lawrence, there are promising snowbanks beside the highway. I was worried that mid-March would be too late for one final cross-country ski trip to close out the season, but by the time I pull into the parking lot in Mont-Sainte-Anne, half an hour past Quebec City, with soft white stuff everywhere, and more falling from the sky, I’m wondering why more Nordic nuts don’t flock to North America’s largest XC centre come springtime.
By Dan Rubinstein.
Not only does Mont-Sainte-Anne have 200 kilometres of trails (with 191 km for skating), the area averages more than four metres of snow every winter, and the cold keeps conditions stellar when most Ontario tracks are well past their prime.
In fact, the network closes after the first week of April only because most people stop coming, says Pierre Vézina, director of the ski centre for the past three decades and a former member of Canada’s national XC team. (Current members, including local hero Alex Harvey, train here every year before heading to Europe to compete.)
Killer trails include number 38, a rolling single-track in the woods, and 24, which climbs and climbs a subalpine hillside and, from one of the centre’s half-dozen propane-heated backcountry cabins, offers views of Mont-Sainte-Anne’s downhill resort. A 6.5-kilometre route along the rushing sun-splashed rivière Jean-Larose links the base of the hill to these trails, so if you’re bunking at the comfortable, modernist Château Mont-Sainte-Anne, there’s an ideal warm-up before you start exploring the loops.
For après, hit Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés, a 10-minute drive from the hotel. With 15 house-made beers on tap, including a light and hoppy pale ale named after the Mestachibo Trail, which ascends a waterfall-rich canyon with help from a pair of suspension bridges. Perhaps a summer visit, and a pint on the patio overlooking the St. Lawrence, is in order too.