I learned about Owl’s Head from Luc St Jacques, at the ski show in Boston and it sounded like my kind of mountain. A trip there last month proved that it was. Owl’s Head has a fascinating story, magnificent views and it’s great fun to ski. Located on the west shore of the big and beautiful Lake Memphremagog, which straddles the Vermont-Quebec border, Owl’s Head has lake views from almost every trail on the mountain.
Owl’s Head is located in the Eastern Townships of the province of Quebec in Canada, an easy five-hour ride from Boston and Hartford. Once in Quebec, you get the flavor of France in the food and ambiance, and laid back skiing experiences. And you don’t need to speak French to enjoy it.
The feel of 1960s skiing with up-to-the-minute snow and grooming
Owl’s Head is not in a town, and no town has grown up around it. Born in the 1960s as the dream of one man, Fred Korman, Owl’s Head has kept its isolated feeling, a sense of a place where skiing is the focus and fashion seems irrelevant. The slopes are big and beautiful, the atmosphere hospitable and friendly. It is the kind of place where you can left your kids ski by themselves, without worry.
Skiing with Luc, a tour of many choices: Learning and novice space
Luc took me on a tour of the mountain, heading first to the learning and novice areas. At Owl’s Head this is behind the base lodge, separate but not isolated, a safe and comfortable place to begin. Lift 3 leads over to the mountain’s lower east face and a set of very nice green trails: Panorama, Nice and East, and Chouette (Owl), a really nice blue (Upward Trail) and a great black (Lake View) to stretch skills on.
Taken together, there is enough terrain in this section alone to keep novices and even intermediates busy. It is also nice because it keeps most of the more experienced skiers away from novices polishing their skills.
Big challenges for intermediates, experts and daredevils
But the rest of the mountain is equally enjoyable. Just outside the lodge, Lift #1 runs to the top of Owl’s Head Mountain. On the ride up you get to assess the challenges of a premier expert trail, Kamikazee. Broad and challenging, it’s big, bold and exciting for even the best skiers. But for pure enjoyment, continue straight ahead at the top of the lift and just to the left of the Yurts to pick up Lilly’s Leap (named for Lillian, Fred Korman’s wife). This nice broad blue trail skirts around the left shoulder of the mountain and then drops down, circling around the east face. It also reconnects to those green and blue trails on the east face. A turn to the right as you get off the lift leads to Peak, a challenging blue that leads down to Crossover. At that intersection there are several choices, all of them good.
Experts don’t lack for challenges here. Stand on the shelf where Cote Court crosses Colorado and the drop-off is almost vertical on the steep Colorado trail. Korman’s Dive, named for founder Fred Korman, and Newport Express are other double-diamonds, as is a big section of glades called Ponsoon. Owl’s Head is also well known for its big back-country skiing space. These areas are wilderness and undeveloped, open to only experienced expert skiers with the proper equipment.
Skiing for the whole family at bargain prices
Lift tickets at Owl’s Head are only $45 for adults, $38 for ages 14-18, $27 for ages 6-13 and free under 5. Seniors age 65 and up are only $20. One of the best deals of all, however, is available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when everybody gets in for only $20, and remember that’s in Canadian dollars, and the exchange is currently in our favor.
Lodging and dining
For the full experience, stay right at the mountain, where there are two options. Nice ski-in-ski-out condo apartments with 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms are located at the base of the Chouette and Upward Trails. The other option is a stay at the funky Auberge Owl’s Head, very basic but clean and comfortable rooms on the third floor of the Base Lodge. Call and ask for the Don’t Tell Fred special: $90 for a room in the Auberge plus a lift ticket. These small hotel rooms have the look of an old-fashioned ski dorm, but each has a private bathroom and comfortable beds, but no TV or internet. And they look right out onto the mountain. Breakfast is downstairs in the lodge and skiing is a few steps away. Another option is to book rooms in Magog, a fair size town about half an hour away at the head of the lake.
Along with cooked-to-order breakfast, the Base Lodge serves lunch, with old-time ski lodge feeling where everyone eats at picnic tables and the food is really good. For a hearty lunch that will keep you fueled, try poutine, fries and gravy with fresh cheese curd, a local specialty. For dinner, plan on eating in the dining room where Lillian still oversees the preparation of every meal served. The menu is based on local products and may feature choices like rabbit or duck (the Eastern Townships are known for duck). Before dinner, have a drink in the lounge in front of the stone fireplace – it’s like suddenly being back in ski lodge from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Getting to Owl’s Head
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 Orleans, Vermont, exit and take Route 5 North and at Coventry take Route 14 to the left, turning right at Route 100. At the intersection with Route 105 go left on Route 105 through Newport and North Troy Vermont to the border station at Highwater, Quebec. The route number changes to Route 243, and in Mansonville turn right onto Rue du Vale Perkins and in about 5.5 mile turn right onto Chemin Owl’s Head. There will be signs on the left.