Vermont’s lift-service skiers and riders—I’m talking to you, alpine downhillers, telemarkers, and snowboarders—are no strangers to skiing in Quebec. And if I had to guess, I’d wager that at least one of your Quebec skiing experiences (and perhaps your first Quebec skiing experience) probably took place at Mont Tremblant, which has basically become the unofficial “Americans’ introduction to skiing in eastern Canada.”
(I say this speaking from a distinct position of personal experience. Before I ventured into the Chic-Choc Mountains of Quebec’s Gaspesie; before I poked my head—and my ski tips—around all sorts of inviting corners of the province; I first experienced Mont Tremblant during a long Martin Luther King holiday weekend many years ago.)
But literally just across Vermont’s northern border, much closer to home than the relatively distant Tremblant, lie four Quebec ski areas worth making the border crossing for. They’re all located in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, a kind of Canadian North Country nether region southeast of the Laurentian Mountains, south of the St. Lawrence Seaway, north of the United States (obviously), and smack in the middle of some surprisingly charming ski country.
They’re a short drive away, and yet, thanks to Quebec’s French-speaking residents and distinctive culture, they feel exotic, even European (at least to a skier like me, for whom the novelty of it all hasn’t yet worn off). So skip the trans-Atlantic flight and chart a course for this quartet of ski areas just across the border.
A scant 20 miles from Jay Peak by car, if Jay is getting snow, Owl’s Head just might be, too. The ski area—which boasts nearly 1,800 feet of vertical—rises up dramatically from the western shore of Lake Memphremagog. Unlike some mountains that merely claim to have something for everyone, Owl’s Head has terrain genuinely distributed evenly between beginner, intermediate and expert runs. If the trees are your thing, don’t miss the new “Super-Bois” glade, double black terrain cut alongside Owl’s Head’s main quad chairlift. Full day adult lift tickets are just $42 Canadian per person, making Owl’s Head the best bargain of the bunch.
Billed as “trois montagnes”—three mountains—the Mont Orford ski area includes Mont Giroux, Mont Alfred-DesRochers, and its namesake, Mont Orford, the 4th highest peak in Quebec’s Appalachian Mountains outside of the Gaspesie. In terms of skiable acres, it’s twice the size of Owl’s Head (245 acres compared to OH’s 120), with an additional 100 feet of vertical (more than 1,900), and 25 more years of history (Orford was founded 70 years ago, while Owl’s Head opened in 1965). Located off the northern end of Lake Memphremagog in the heart of Parc National du Mont-Orford, a flagship of Quebec’s provincial park system, Mont Orford features an extensive glade system. The nearby village of Magog provides the bulk of the restaurants, lodging and nightlife, and a free trolley that runs between the mountain and the town making getting back and forth a breeze (and an appealing option if you want to leave your car behind once you get there). Full day adult lift tickets are $47 Canadian per person.
Dating to 1960, Mont Sutton just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its terrain is geared a bit more toward the beginner/intermediate skier or boarder, though Sutton also has plenty of expert terrain (not to mention the fact that 40 percent of the mountain is glades). With a summit elevation of 3,175 feet, Mont Sutton is the highest peak of the Eastern Townships, and the second-highest peak of Quebec’s Appalachians outside of the Gaspesie. Thanks to its elevation and its location straight north across the border from Jay State Forest, recent winters have seen Sutton top 200 annual inches of natural snowfall (making it the snowiest of the group). Full day adult lift tickets are $60 Canadian per person; the price is steep by Eastern Township standards, but still a bargain compared to many Vermont ski areas.
Three peaks—Mont Brome, Mont Spruce, and Pic du Chevreuil—make up the bulk of the Mont Bromont ski area. Admittedly, it’s a mellow mountain geared toward the mellow skier. Hard charging skiers and riders should look to the other mountains in this list to truly satisfy a craving for the steeps. And with approximately 1,300 feet of vertical, Bromont is also the baby of the bunch. But what the mountain lacks in steeps and vertical it more than makes up for in access. Mont Bromont claims the largest area of lit skiable terrain in North America, which translates to 75 night skiing trails and glades. Full day adult lift tickets are $49 Canadian per person.