The end of 2019 was not good for Nordic skiing in Maine. Snowstorms were invariably followed by warm weather, rain, or mixed precipitation. Suffering from ski envy, a group of Maine seniors resolved to search for an alternative. Fortunately, a skiing paradise is located just a few hours north in Canada.
Eight of us decided on an attempt to replicate a skiing expedition we had shared two winters ago at Mont Sainte Anne Cross Country Ski Center in the Province of Quebec. Located in Sainte Ferreol-les-Neiges about thirty minutes east of Quebec City, the excursion would include the New Year’s holiday.
Our first obstacle was obtaining adequate lodging for four couples. My wife Nancy assumed the unenviable task; researching alternatives and negotiating with various rental businesses. After a protracted sometimes frustrating effort, she secured a condo reservation with four bedrooms in Saint Ferreol just a few miles from the ski area.
Snow was the remaining prerequisite. A returning alpine skier reported a scarcity of snowpack deflating expectations. Not mine. My many Quebec skiing experiences had all been positive and I was carefully studying the Weather Underground ten day forecast. Mont Sainte Anne had been receiving small quantities on a regular basis and much more was on the way. An ominous prospect was driving six hours in a snowstorm.
Intent on avoiding hazardous travel while taking advantage of fresh snow skiing, four of us left a day early spending a night across the border in Saint Georges, about two hours from our destination. Eluding perilous weather, we arrived in Saint Ferreol in time for several hours of outstanding skiing thanks to two inches of new accumulation.
Our condo was a gem. Roomy and convenient with an exceptional view of Mont Sainte Anne, Nancy had scored a coup. The remainder of Team Ski arrived for the first of several communal dinners. Enhancing our day, two Quebec friends Richard and Caroline joined us for the afternoon ski and the evening meal bringing a bottle of fine cognac as a gift.
The New Year’s Eve snowstorm arrived as forecast. We awoke to several inches of fresh powder with additional volume predicted throughout the day and into the night. Our gang of eight with a median age of 66 youthfully navigated through inclement conditions to the ski area.
The loquacious gate attendant announced that 140 kilometers of trail had been groomed for classic and skate skiing. After assembling at the convenient main lodge, deliberation on the agenda began. The options were phenomenal; numerous long expeditions and short excursions varying from easy to difficult. We divided into smaller groups depending upon preference.
Four of us decided on a 13 kilometer loop called La Harvey. Easy to moderate in difficulty, we climbed steadily for several kilometers in what could conservatively be called driving snow. Characteristic of stormy weather in winter, it had a unique captivating allure. Once high elevation was achieved, the trail provided extremely entertaining rolling hills before reaching the warming hut Refuge de Ruisseau Rouge. Foregoing shelter from the elements, an invigorating almost continuous descent to the main lodge was savored. Some daylight remaining, we divided into two groups for shorter trips before retiring.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve with eight weary old people in a warm condo is a less than rousing affair. Relaxing after a long day of skiing, we enjoyed dinner and sampled cognac while awaiting the big event, Mont Sainte Anne fireworks. Alas, the colorful display was obscured by a tall stand of poorly situated spruce trees. As far as I know, no one made it to the official New Year. I pronounced ten to be midnight for me.
Skiing on New Year’s Day was again superlative. The additional snow emboldened four of us to attempt a long black diamond expedition. The short story is there was an abundance of thrills and several spills. The author set a ridiculously absurd standard with a dramatic face plant at the bottom of the first precipitous pitch. Undaunted, copy cats followed.
Two more long-time Quebec friends joined us for dinner. Having shared scores of outdoor adventures with Pierre and Josee for almost 30 years, reminiscing about those escapades and planning new ones dominated a pleasurable evening of socializing. We had met when in our thirties and forties. It seems preposterous that most of us are now retired and those halcyon days are mere memories. But we’re still skiing after all those years!
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.