Quebec’s Eastern Townships, just across the border from Vermont and New Hampshire, have all the qualities for a family ski vacation: a choice of four different ski mountains within a short distance, budget-friendly prices (at a favorable exchange rate), dependable snow conditions and the added excitement of international travel.
This Canadian getaway is less than a four-hour drive from Boston, an hour more from New Haven, nearly all on Interstate highways. French is Quebec’s official language, but the Eastern Townships are largely English speaking and people at hotels, restaurants and ski areas are bilingual. The French accents and signs will add an air of the exotic to your kids’ experience here.
Each of the region’s four ski mountains is different, with its own personality and appeal. Although none will beat New Hampshire or Vermont’s elevations, the terrain offers tremendous variety even without the verticals. The expert skiers in your family won’t be disappointed. Canadian blue trails are more challenging than New England’s and the blacks can be downright terrifying. These mountains are the northern edges of the Appalachian range and they provide an exciting variety of experiences within about a half hour of one another. You can easily ski them all from a central base.
The slopes of Bromont spread across three mountains, spilling over seven different mountain faces with a total of 155 trails and glades. Each of the seven areas has a nice mix of skill levels. One feature families with young skiers really appreciate is green and blue trails from the top of each peak don’t turn into blue or black part way down the mountain. But if you’re up for black challenges, head for several trails in the middle of Versant du Village.
From the top of Mont Brome are beautiful views of Lake Brome and the surrounding countryside. The charms of these mountains don’t end at 4 p.m. — Bromont offers the largest lighted skiing terrain in North America.
Surrounded by the forested lands of a National Park, Mont Orford’s slopes are not bordered by acres of condos. Instead the emphasis is on providing the best skiing possible on exciting terrain. The major peak, Mont Orford, is about 2,800 feet tall and its face provides an exciting rank of formidable black and double-black diamonds. To the left of the base station, Mont Giroux has slopes on two faces, one predominantly black and the other a nice mix of blue and green. Those who love skiing natural snow should ask if the trails on Mont Alfred-Desrochers are open. The area has been maintained as a natural area and depends upon nature for its snow.
At Owl’s Head Ski Resort you’ll have the feeling of skiing as it was in the 1960s, except, of course, for the up-to-date snow making and grooming equipment that keeps the conditions tops. The vertical here is a respectable 1,410 feet, but only to the base lodge. If you do back-country, you can ski all the way down to Lake Memphremagog. From the top it is a two-nation view with the long international lake at your feet. The overall experience here is outstanding, with lots of beautiful green trails for beginners and intermediates, gorgeous blues and challenging blacks.
The closest of these four great ski mountains to the U.S. border is Mont Sutton, and from its summit you can see the trails of Jay Peak in Vermont. Close to the lodge there is a Zone Famille for family and beginner skiing, but elsewhere this place is filled with black challenges. Tree skiing is a big part of the experience here and even adventuresome beginners and intermediates can try skiing among trees. This is one of the rare places where less expert skiers can get a safe taste of glade skiing.
Where to Stay
All four areas have excellent learning programs, and you’ll find lift prices lower than comparable mountains in New England. The atmosphere is family friendly, and you’ll find lots of choices for lodging. Perhaps the best deal is at Owl’s Head, where their Don’t Tell Fred package includes a night at the Auberge, full breakfast, a full-day lift ticket and a three-course dinner in the excellent restaurant, for about $80 a night per person. Rooms in the Auberge are not fancy — picture a dorm room with bunk beds for kids in the family-sized rooms. But they are comfortable, the food is excellent and you literally ski out the door and onto the lift.
More spacious and upscale, with well-equipped kitchens, are the suites at Estrimont Suites and Spa, only a few miles from Mont Orford. Suites are beautifully decorated and most have views of the mountain. Facing Bromont — and with a shuttle to take guests to the base lodge — is the upscale Hotel Chateau-Bromont, with split-level suites perfect for families. Its restaurants include a bistro and a trattoria with a wood-fired pizza oven that’s a favorite for families.