East of Montreal lies a region of Québec known as the Eastern Townships — a cluster of small cities and towns and lots of natural places to explore. A short drive from northern New England, the Eastern Townships make for a great weekend getaway! With Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend typically bringing crowds to our local mountains in Vermont, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to head north of the border for a quick getaway and explore a couple new ski areas. Here’s what we found on our January Québec ski weekend. A favorable exchange rate for Americans visiting Canada made this brief getaway a real bargain, too!
Where to Ski
Owl’s Head | Mansonville, Québec
We skied the mid-sized, family friendly Owl’s Head on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, just across the border from Vermont. Due to a mild winter, the lake hadn’t completely frozen over offering stunning views of the lake and neighboring Vermont. There were lake views from nearly every part of the mountain, and the Black Chair and Lake Chair both go nearly down to the shore of the lake. The mountain’s beauty wasn’t just about the views, as the ski trails were varied and pretty too. With a lack of natural snow, the skiing was limited to a handful of mostly beginner and intermediate cruiser runs open on man-made snow, such as Centennial, Lilly’s Leap, Upward Trail, and Chouette. The trails were all pretty with excellent lake views from many parts of the mountain. It looked like there were some good gladed areas and interesting, narrow trails like Grand Allee and Newport Express that would be fun with more natural snow. Even the double-diamond expert terrain didn’t seem terribly steep, but the terrain all had character and personality – there are no boring “avenues” here. Despite visiting on a Sunday, crowds were manageable. There was barely a wait on either of the detachable quad chairlifts that were running, though the two main trails off the top did get crowded at times due to the minimal terrain open. There’s a rustic hotel with rooms right above the base lodge as well as slopeside condos available for ski-and-stay packages, but we opted to stay in nearby Magog instead.
Ticket deals: We paid about US$25 a piece for tickets by purchasing online in advance from Owl’s Head’s website. They also have great midweek deals with tickets starting as low as $21.75 + tax on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (2015-16 pricing).
Mont Orford | Orford, Québec
After bright sunshine on the first day of our ski trip, the weather took a big change overnight and we awoke to bitter cold and light snow falling. Up at Mont Orford, an easy 10-minute drive from our B&B in the town of Magog, winds were strong and visibility was limited, but we made the most of the slopes at Mont Orford anyway! The ski area offers lift service to three peaks: Mont Orford itself is served by a unique chairlift-gondola combination lift (you choose how to go up the mountain) and offers the longest runs, including the easy cruiser 4 km, steep groomed runs like Maxi and Trois Ruisseaux, some classic, twisty, natural snow bump runs such as Contour, and some fun-looking glades. Mont Giroux has trails on 2 faces: wider, groomed runs for all abilities on the north side, accessed from the base area, and a large selection of glades on the east side, over the backside of the mountain (which was closed on our visit). Mont Alfred-Desrochers was also closed when we visited, but it looks to have several long, mellower runs that are open on natural snow only. Conditions were not great, with a couple inches of new snow falling on a fairly icy base, but the mountain seemed like it would be worth another visit for a day of exploring with better conditions and less fog!
Ticket deals: We saved a bunch by packaging our lift tickets with our B&B stay. Tickets are also available at a discount from Orford’s website by purchasing in advance.
Spa Nordic Station | Magog, Québec
There’s no better way to ease those sore ski muscles and warm up than a trip to a Nordic bath. Spa Nordic Station is an Après-ski dream; multiple hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and more all set in a wooded area outside the city of Magog. You easily lull yourself into a rotation of hot areas, cold dips, and resting in one of the relaxation room by a crackling fire. Massages are also available, but we found we had plenty to explore visiting the different rooms and pools. Don’t miss the sauna down by the river’s edge — that was our favorite spot by far!
Fondissimo | Magog, Québec
A ski weekend doesn’t seem complete without fondue so we headed to Fondissimo set in an old warehouse just outside downtown Magog. We indulged in the fondue for two which allowed us to dive into creamy cheese fondue with cornichons, bread and vegetables, as well as a chocolate dessert fondue. A delicious and filling way to warm up!
Where to Stay
Au Manoir de la Rue Merry | Magog, Québec
We chose Au Manoir de la Rue Merry for the great location in downtown Magog and the promise of an amazing breakfast, and were not disappointed on either front. The large house is a short walk from the main street, and offers ample parking, a cozy living room for guests to share, free wifi and comfortable guest rooms. The breakfast was fantastic and included bread with local cheese and homemade jams, a yogurt parfait, and a French toast with the most amazing tropical fruits — such a nice treat in the middle of winter.
Our Québec ski getaway felt like a much further trip than just two hours from home, but it makes for an easy weekend trip from our base in Vermont. If traveling from the U.S. don’t forget to pack the appropriate documents to cross the Canadian border, and it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your French as well!