Quebec’s Celebration of Snow
When Americans think of premier outdoor winter vacations, our eyes often turn to the West, especially the Rockies. The slopes of Alta, Utah and Vail, Colorado are famous. But there’s a much closer—and often overlooked—option for those on the East Coast: the Canadian province of Quebec, which offers splendid and sparkling snows and is just an hour’s flight north by private jet from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport.
I began exploring the verdant Gaspé Peninsula, or Gaspésie, in the 1970s, fishing the magnificent gin-clear Atlantic salmon rivers cascading through the rugged Chic-Choc Mountains, the northern extent of the Appalachians. Later I learned of a wintry landscape transformed by snow, an enchanting northern forest of fragrant balsam and birch to be explored on cross-country skis and snowshoes. A crackling fire and superb meal conjured by the region’s French-inspired heritage await you at one of the many inns in the small towns along the coast.
The coming year marks both the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montréal and the 15th annual presentation of a snow festival called Crossing the Gaspé. Helen Francoeur, who runs the sponsoring nonprofit organization, Traversées de la Gaspésie (TDLG), says the weeklong event “combines merrymaking, skiing, snowshoeing, friendship, and personal challenge in seaside and mountain settings and brings together people of all ages, from all walks of life and from around the world.” She adds that since fall 2014, the TDLG has also organized an annual week of hiking on Gaspé Peninsula trails.
The 2017 edition of Crossing the Gaspé will have a special twist: the Great St. Lawrence Passage. Outdoor enthusiasts are invited to join a cruise along the north coast of the peninsula on Vacancier, a German-built 411-foot car/passenger ferry. The voyage will embark on January 21 from the city of Gaspé, where the estuary of the St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic. Vacancier will head west, stopping at Matane, Baie-Comeau, Pointe-au-Pic, and Quebec City before ending on January 29 in Montreal, where everyone will have an opportunity to ski and snowshoe through the classic old city in the company of new friends.
“This will be a rare opportunity to cruise the St. Lawrence in winter, ski or snowshoe in a different setting from one day to the next, return to the ship at the end of each day, and set sail for a new destination,” says Julie Payette, honorary chair of this year’s TDLG.
There will be 400 cruise participants, including 100 volunteers, journalists, and guests. Each day, skiers will be able to explore 12 to 24 miles (20 to 40 km) of groomed and marked cross-country trails. Those who opt for more rustic but guided snowshoeing trails will average six to nine miles (10 to 15 km) daily. In the evening, the ship will sail the St. Lawrence while passengers enjoy music, dance, storytelling, lectures, and regional gourmet fare.
Single-occupancy cabins on the Great St. Lawrence Passage are $3,175 while doubles are $2,650 per person. To book, call Helen Francoeur at (418) 368-9745 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When flying to Quebec, you can choose from several destination airports. Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International is 12 miles (20 km) from downtown Montréal. Info: (514) 394-7377, admtl.com. Quebec City Jean Lesage International is seven miles (11 km) west southwest of Quebec City. Info: (418) 640-3300, aeroportdequebec.com. Michel-Pouliot Gaspé is four miles (six km) west of Gaspé, at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The airport is non-towered, but has a dedicated radio frequency linked to the flight-service station in Mont-Joli.
The Great St. Lawrence Passage is far from your only opportunity to enjoy Quebec this winter. For recommendations about things to do and places to stay and eat as well as travel directions and maps and info about parks open to snow sports, contact Tourisme Gaspésie: (418) 775-2223, (800) 463-0323, tourisme-gaspesie.com.