Quebec City is the hottest place for cold weather sports

Category Staying active, Lifestyle in Quebec City Date 05/03/2020

Written byTaylor Ireland

There’s the old saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. I’d like to suggest another sure thing: The first cross-country ski trails to open in eastern North America each season will be in Quebec City.

That’s a bold guarantee from the folks who operate the Montmorency Forest, Laval University’s research and teaching centre, about 45 minutes north of the city centre. Thanks to their clever technique of storing tons of man-made snow under a layer of wood chips over the warm-weather months, ski trails can be made exceptionally early in the season. This year was particularly early, with the Forest’s 2 km “Boreal Glide” trail open on Oct. 25. 

Some 57 km of cross-country trails of all types are available to the public for a reasonable fee in the 400 square km forest. The Forest also serves as a training centre for the university’s ski team.

The Montmorency Forest is an exceptional destination with all kinds of fun outdoor activities that would distinguish it anywhere else on the planet. But it is a relatively little-known facility in a place that is an incredible paradise for any type of winter sport or activity you can imagine. 

Quebec City has few rivals in the world for a collection of winter sport attractions so accessible, varied and affordable. While many places may be great for one sport or another, where else can you enjoy virtually all winter sports while taking in the sights and delights of such a historic, beautiful and exciting city?

For example, in cross-country skiing alone, Quebec City offers literally dozens of options, ranging from the many trails managed by the city itself, to the multitude of world-class runs at Mont Sainte Anne, about a half-hour east of downtown. If you want to stay within the city limits, there are scenic and well-tended trails on the Plains of Abraham and at the Sainte Foy outdoor centre, as just two handy examples, both of which are free.

If you’re into downhill skiing or snowboarding, the choices available nearby are almost overwhelming in both number and quality. Mont Sainte Anne, as mentioned above, is the majestic queen of all ski resorts in eastern North America, one of the biggest, busiest and most popular resorts anywhere. Boasting some of the best snow conditions on 71 trails on three sides of the mountain, Mont Sainte Anne also has the added magical bonus of the highest vertical drop for night skiing in Canada. 

A little further to the east is Le Massif de Charlevoix, which, even if it didn’t have dream ski conditions, certainly has the most spectacularly scenic views of the Saint Lawrence River and beyond. And with the highest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies at 2,625 feet, cruising down the slopes it seems like you’re plunging straight towards the river.

Owned and developed by one of the founders of Le Cirque du Soleil, Le Massif has become a popular destination not only for skiing and boarding, but for a full range of other activities from luge and toboggan runs to snowshoeing to dog-sled rides and helicopter excursions.

Two other ski hills are located a brief drive north of the city. Both Stoneham and Le Relais, one of Canada’s oldest clubs, have a wide choice of runs and both offer night skiing. A bit further to the south are Le Massif du Sud and Mont Orignal – home to Olympic skier Marie-Michele Gagnon. 

If you prefer blades to boards and ice to snow, Quebec City is the place for you. The skating oval on the Plains of Abraham is a popular spot. Made with an impressive grid of refrigerating tubing, the rink attracts skaters of all ages and abilities. A large chalet offers a comfortable place to lace up the blades and grab a hot beverage and snack before heading out to the loop. If you don’t have skates you can rent them for cheap but otherwise, it’s free.

That’s also true for another popular rink located in Place D’Youville, the square just outside the walls of the old city. It’s a magical place where skaters can glide along gracefully – or not – to piped-in music. The rink usually opens at the end of October, depending on weather conditions.

Once the cold weather settles in, the city offers a multitude of natural ice rinks located all over the city. With schedules to accommodate both recreational skating and hockey games – “shinny” as its known – the rinks are busy places for people to get fresh air and exercise. There are also nearby rinks through the woods and on the Saint Charles River, depending on weather conditions. 

Next year, the city will inaugurate a new ice complex that will boost its capacity for skating sports. The $68 million facility will have a world-class skating oval for all sorts of speed-skating training and competition year-round. Two new ice surfaces for hockey and figure-skating are also included in the centre, named for Quebec City’s Olympic champion speed-skater Gaetan Boucher.  

If you prefer to watch hockey rather than play it, it’s hard to beat the breathtaking speed and energy of major junior hockey, which showcases many future big league stars in the making. Quebec is blessed with both an exciting team – Les Remparts, coached by goalie legend Patrick Roy – and a spectacular arena – the Videotron Centre – which make the experience unforgettable. And tickets are the best sports bargain in town.

There is also a whirlwind of great hockey action at the high school and college level. One example is the women’s hockey program at Cegep Limoilou which always has a top-ranked team in the league.

We could go on and on about the seemingly limitless winter attractions in Quebec City, but we’ll leave you with a few more superlatives we can’t ignore:

  • Village Vacances Valcartier – Billed as North America’s largest winter playground in North America, the park north of Quebec City features 35 slides, skate paths, tube and raft slides. And if you want some fun in a warmer environment, there’s the year-round tropical Bora water park with water slides and an indoor surf wave. There are also full-service hotels on site.
  • Pentathlon des Neiges – This event for all ages and skill categories has become one of the biggest winter outdoor sports events anywhere. More than 5,000 competitors, from school children to experts, take part in this event in late February combining cycling, running, cross-country skiing, skating and snow-shoeing. The huge 10-day-long event takes place on the Plains of Abraham.
  • Dufferin Terrace toboggan slide:  A popular attraction since 1884, the thrilling toboggan run on the panoramic promenade in front of the Chateau Frontenac is a must for visitors and residents alike. There’s also a skating rink on site and a kiosk to get a hot chocolate and tasty snack.

That’s just the “tip of the iceberg” in listing the winter sport wonders of Quebec City.