Posted November 8th, 2008
If you’ve found yourself pulling money out of the markets and are looking for a good place to invest, drop what you’re doing and book a reservation for Thanksgiving at Mt. St. Anne in Quebec. Do it quickly before another investment bank fails and you lose another percentage point against the Canadian dollar. Once you’ve reserved, mark the calendar and get psyched, because unlike the bailout plan, the chance of a good return on this investment is high.
When I daydream about ski tracks during the summer months, it is always at Mt. St. Anne, usually on trail #31, a meandering little number with pines lining the way and big sweeping rollers that lift you up and down. Skiing this trail in the typically cold Canadian air feels right at Thanksgiving, and it’s this promise of setting the hardwax on Quebecois snow that gets me through the endless, earl-gray Vermont workouts that open November.
Mt. St. Anne isn’t a terrifically old ski area. It officially opened in 1943, though trails existed prior to the resort. What it lacks in tradition, it makes up for with culture and enthusiasm. Pierre Vézina, a former Canadian national team member, oversees the 200 kilometers of trails at Mt. St. Anne. Pierre is pleasant and hardworking; he has a team of groomers that keep every trail manicured to race-caliber perfection, and a greater collection of die-hard skiers that take up the work of skiing (I believe most of them are also named Pierre). It’s easy to see why the Pierres are here: Mt. St. Anne is an endless network of perfect corduroy and parallel tracks.
When I arrived in Mt. St. Anne with the Middlebury Ski team last November, we were particularly thrilled to find such great skiing, having narrowly averted a 2,000-mile trip to rollerski on Montana Park Roads. Annually, during Thanksgiving week, U.S. skiing descends on West Yellowstone, a pleasant, if crowded festival of skiing that consistently provides early snow. We had our tickets booked for West Yellowstone, but changed our plans in the eleventh hour when the promise of snow faded before our eyes on the West Yellowstone Festival Webcam. (It was a particularly depressing puddle that pushed me to give the trip out west the heave-ho.) In Mt. St. Anne, 10 kilometers were open and ready for skiing. Few teams were there. We headed for the border.
When we arrived, the first moments of skiing were like the summer’s first jump off the dock. It’s always thrilling to feel real skiing. We trained through the week with little of this thrill wearing off, though we did get chastised by the Pierres for our unfamiliarity with the loops at Mt. St. Anne. “WRONG WAY!!!” is more forceful in a French-Canadian accent. Thanksgiving is a marvelous time to revel in the simplicity of an athlete’s life: wake, eat, ski, eat, ski, sleep, repeat.
We broke the routine only once, with a trip to Quebec City for crepes, the disco, and old European architecture. Crepes on most days taste good. Crepes with the appetite brought on by an absurd amount of ski training, in a beautiful café during a week’s break from the typical trappings of work and school, taste heavenly. Once stuffed, we walked around the old town. It snowed on twinkling white Christmas lights. Back on the trails, Pierre regroomed.
At our week’s end, the fatigue of nearly 25 hours of ski training was taking its toll, technique became less snappy, motions became more languid. But the sun was out, the snow was soft, and no one was ready to quit. Snowball fights and games of tag on skis followed the last workout. Three members of the women’s team dragged chairs off the porch of the touring center and sat, contented.
There’s no guarantee that the snow will come on time this Thanksgiving at Mt. St. Anne. (Past performace does not guarantee future results—just ask Fannie & Freddy.) But if it doesn’t, focus on the bright side: you’ll be closer for the trip home than if you book a flight to Montana. If it does snow and you feel overwhelmed by the thrill of so much great skiing in one place, just try to keep some focus on the skier’s right-of-way. You don’t want to tick-off Pierre.