While the province of Alberta has a big name in skiing and boarding circles, there are great winter outdoor sports activities with the allure of foreign travel closer to New England. At Ski Mont Orford, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’Est) you get to ski in the uncluttered beauty of a Canadian National Park. The added fillip is that the trip has the aura of foreign travel without having to cross the Atlantic.
The Eastern Townships, although French speaking, were settled by refugees (Loyalists) fleeing the American Revolution. A large number of its people speak both French and English and everyone involved in the hospitality industry can communicate with ease. This is a laid-back, largely agricultural region with a wonderful gastronomic tradition that parallels France in cheeses and wine, but has its own distinctive dishes such as poutine (fries with cheese curd and gravy), tourtiere (savory pork based pie) and maple syrup pie.
Winter excursions in the Canadian Appalachians: Nordic and Snowshoes
Located in the fringes of the northern Appalachian Mountains, Mont Orford National Park is a magnet for hikers in the summer, and in winter it draws skiers and boarders to the slopes of Mont Orford, the highest peak in the park, and cross country skiers and showshoers to the 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) of trails at the Discovery Center Le Cerisier. The Center is located close to the shores of beautiful Etang de Cerises (Cherry Pond) where a long easy trail winds up along its shores to the shores of Lake Stuckley before looping back. A full map of the trails is available online. All the trails are marked, groomed and packed; 26 kilometers (about 15 miles) are skating trails.
Skiing one of Quebec’s highest peaks
Located in the southwest corner of the park, Mont Orford, at 2,814 feet is one of the highest peaks in the province of Quebec. Ski Mont Orford has trails from the top it and from the neighboring peaks of Mont Giroux and Mont Alfred-Desrochers as well. Taken together, these three peaks satisfy beginners, intermediates, experts and lovers of ungroomed natural snow.
The trails on the shoulders of Mont Alfred-Desrochers are rated for beginner and intermediate and are served by a double chair. This entire area, however, is a dedicated natural area and all snow there is ungroomed and natural. If skiing this terrain is your goal, make sure before you leave that it is open and that the conditions are acceptable.
Mont Giroux, at about 2,080 feet, has a lot of heft with trails on two faces, with the learning area and a few green and blue trails on the slope facing the lodge (including a terrain park). On the north face is a beautiful blue named Slalom and a set of four challenging black and double-black trails with additional double-black side trails.
Mont Orford also has a variety of trails for all skill levels, but is heavily tilted to expert skiers that like extreme slopes. The entire center of the mountain, on both sides of the dual chair-gondola, is for experts only. Ranked double-black, they are nearly vertical and will challenge the best. But this part of the ski area also has something for everyone. A gorgeous green trail named 4KM (it is 4 kilometers – 2 ½ miles long) winds off from the top of the gondola, over the back shoulder of Orford and then back to the front, with an overlook onto the top of Mont Giroux below. Intermediates can go to the right off the gondola and follow Grand Coulee, which slides off the north shoulder of Orford toward Mont Alfred-Desrochers before turning easterly and down the challenging valley between the two.
A place apart
Unlike areas where the resort owns the land and can develop around the slopes, Mont Orford is surrounded by National Park. Outside the park there is some development, but at the mountain development is limited to the lodge and the ski infrastructure. The atmosphere is casual and friendly, a good place for families. The lodge is big and well organized with a full range of service from boot room to equipment rental and a full service cafeteria and a separate lounge perfect for après-ski. Special 3-day and 6-day passes are available for $143 and $166, with lower rates for students.
Places to stay and eat
Because Orford is in the park there is no on-site lodging, but consider Estrimont Suites and Spa, only a few miles from the mountain. It is at 44 Avenue de l’Auberge, (800) 567-7320. Most of the suites have views of the mountain, are beautifully decorated and have one of the most fully furnished mini-kitchens we have encountered. For dining, lighter fare is available in the bistro and fine dining in Estrimont’s dining room, under the direction of chef David Vinas, is extraordinary. They have ski packages starting at $89 (Canadian). Another place to consider is the Auberge 4 Saisons, on the backside of the mountain. It has large rooms, a nice restaurant and a convenience store.
Getting to Mont Orford
From Boston and southern New Hampshire take I-93 past Littleton into Vermont, then I-91 north. From Hartford and western Massachusetts take I-91 north. At the Canadian border continue ahead on Highway 55 to the intersection of Highway 10. Take it west (toward Montreal) to the exit Chemin du Parc (Route 141), turning right from the exit.