Parlez-vous Anglais?

Quebec is a winter wonderland where outdoor sports flourish. Skiing, skating, mountaineering and other activities abound. However, a visit has challenges.

My French is not very good. Actually, that’s not true. It’s pathetic. As a defense, I’ve perfected one French phrase, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” When unaccompanied by French speaking escorts in Quebec, I just ask that magic question and keep asking until someone says, “A little bit.”

Fortunate to have several very good Quebec friends, for some inexplicable reason they’ve tolerated my linguistic inadequacies for nearly three decades. My self-absorbed rationalization is that I provide them a unique opportunity to practice English and unlike most Americans, many of them are bilingual.

Whitewater was the initial connection with my Quebec friends. In the early 1990s, I met several paddling the West Branch of the Penobscot. Unabashedly inviting myself to join them for some Quebec paddling the following summer, they graciously accepted. We’ve been friends ever since.

Since not all Quebecois are proficient in English, communicating has at times been a trial. One remarkable advantage has been my friend Pierre Larue. Having acquired outstanding English speaking skills as a young officer in the Merchant Marine, he often acts as translator. Early on, I invited several Quebec paddlers to join me on a whitewater trip to the Gauley River in West Virginia. A group from Montreal had already invited them. One of the paddlers responded in French and Pierre translated, “I’d rather go with someone I can’t understand than someone I don’t like.” I think he spoke for many of us.

Over the years, a fairly large number of Mainers have shared scores of outdoor adventures with our Quebec friends. We’ve paddled some of the most formidable whitewater rivers in Quebec and they’ve come to the United States to experience ours. Our mutual interests evolved to include sea kayaking. We’ve tripped in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, various locations in the Maritimes and along the coast of Maine. In winter, they’ve introduced us to several ski resorts in the snow rich Quebec City area and spectacular Chic Choc Mountains in the Gaspe.

It seems everyone in Quebec is a great skier. Certainly all of our Quebec friends are and they’ve generously shared their knowledge and skills. Pierre taught two of us how to Telemark ski and many of us were introduced to skate skiing there.

For many winters chowderheads with the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society have traveled to Quebec on on skiing and mountaineering excursions. They’ve been almost evenly divided between the Chic Chocs and skiing venues in the greater Quebec City area. This year, Suzanne Cole organized a trip to St-Ferreol-les-Neiges near Mont Sainte Anne about thirty minutes east of the city. A flock of seven predominantly retired chowderheads joined her for four days of outdoor escapades.

Skiing being the primary focus, five of us chose the Sentiers de Ski de Fond cross country ski trails on day one. Windy with temperatures in the teens, we completed a frosty trek climbing to the Refuge du Ruisseau Rouge followed by an exhilarating descent on trails rated easy. In my opinion, they would have been classified at least intermediate in Maine.

Intent on climbing to the summit of Mont Sainte Anne, I convinced three victims in the group to join me for an ascent. A system of trails called Sentier de Raquettes originating at the Mont Sainte Anne Nordic Center was recommended by a Quebec friend. Meeting at the information center, fees were paid and maps obtained. If you choose this hike, don’t trust the maps. The distances are incorrect and the trail representations don’t connect with reality. Ascending steeply on L’escarpee Trail for perhaps three miles, we experienced magnificent views of the icy Saint Lawrence River from the top. With the assistance of a very helpful ski resort employee, we found and descended the otherwise concealed La Liberiste Trail for about five miles to complete a loop hike.

After another day on the Ski de Fond Trails, our final one exemplified varied interests. Some chose birding, while others were back on the cross country ski trails. Friends Bruce Weik and Ken Gordon recruited me for a biathlon; my first fat tire mountain biking experience in the morning followed by an afternoon of skiing.

Ski de Fond provides rentals and a system of trails designed for fat tire bikes. Beginning before the groomer arrived, we broke trail in several inches of fresh snow. I found the climb to Refuge du Ruisseau Rouge to be physically and mentally demanding. In many respects, the sport seemed to duplicate cross country skiing. Will I invest the time and money to embrace the sport? Not yet.

C’était un moment merveilleux.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.