While somewhat overshadowed by the glitzier Mont-Sainte-Anne down the road, Le Massif should not be missed and is well worth driving the extra half an hour from Quebec City. There are plenty of reasons why it was recently named one of the world’s top 15 winter destinations by National Geographic Traveler.
1. Le Massif is massive, at least by East Coast standards. Hence the name. Boasting the biggest vertical drop (770 metres) east of the Rockies, the mountain features more than 50 trails and glade runs – most of them black diamonds – on more than 400 acres of terrain that drops down to near sea level. On some of the steeper runs, views of the Saint Lawrence below provide the optical illusion that a wipeout might result in ending up in the water.
2- The base is on top. Figuratively if not literally. When the hill first opened back in the eighties, skiers were driven from the seaside town of Petite-Rivière-Saint François in a schoolbus up to the top. A team of guides would then accompany skiers back down, and four or five runs would be all you could squeeze in on a typical day. Most people now access the hill via Route 138 (be sure to watch out for moose) and amenities – including a surprisingly healthy cafeteria that doesn’t serve fried food, including poutine – are all located inside the aptly named Summit Chalet.
3. Le Massif is now slightly more massive. Not content to simply add a base at the top, the mountain’s owner Daniel Gauthier, a keen skier and one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, added an 80-metre ramp, known as Cap Maillard, as part of an abandoned bid for a Winter Olympics by Quebec City. Olympic officials ultimately ruled it still wouldn’t be high enough for the men’s downhill, falling short of the required 800-metre minimum.
4. It’s a poacher’s paradise for those willing to organize the shuttle. There is road access to both the top and bottom, and Le Massif is famous for it’s out-of-bounds area to the east that has the added bonus of being super difficult to get lost in. (So long as you keep heading down, you’ll eventually hit the river.) Le Massif closes up shop each year at Easter, which this year falls on March 27, meaning the in-bounds runs themselves will also be fair game so long as there is still snow. Which given the mountain typically gets around six metres a year, there likely will be.
5. The Hill is Home to North America’s First and Longest Sled Run. Through an activity called rodeling (a German word for sledding that rhymes with yodelling), you can zoom down a 7.5-km trail stashed well away from the main runs and the judgmental eyes of skiers and snowboarders. Sledders descend either lugestyle or on sit-on-top rodels that are steered by shifting their weight and dragging their feet Flintstones-style, and speeds of up to 40 km/h can be reached in the steeper sections.
All photos by Tourism Charlevoix