Every fall a group of gnarly diehards gathers in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal. Dressed in worn fleece and duck-taped gloves, they bring their own giant clippers and hatchets. After a full reconnaissance at the bottom, they load the chairlift, ride to the top and split off. Some go left, others right, and the third group goes straight down.

    The group ranges in age from 10 to 60, and for the rest of the day they will cut brush, branches, unwanted trees and anything else they deem to be too tall. These paths are too steep, narrow and rocky for mechanized vehicles, so everyone knows: The more they cut now, the less damage to their P-Tex next winter. Ah, it’s the autumn life of an Altaholic, Laurentian-style.

    As other ski resorts become bigger, louder, fancier, pricier, overpopulated, overgroomed and under-skiable (blame insurance brokers and crappy skiers for this one), hope is not lost. Amongst the patrol-controlled, overdeveloped zits that rule the Route 117 Laurentian corridor, Mont Alta is the last vestige of the ski-wherever-you-damn-well-please attitude. Alta is a mountain that believes skiing is about nature and the skier. The unwritten rule of the place? Go nuts. Adventure all you want, but take responsibility for it.

    There is no fake snow here, no grooming and no highway flattop. There are also no beautiful people, fake tans, or bad skiers. Off-limits at Alta is governed only by fear and inability. Jutting branches and rock cliffs are teaching tools, and come dump time, powder piggies line up for first tracks and snort to their heart’s content.

    Like days of yore, parents here don’t obsess about where their kids are. With only one double chair there’s no hiding, so if it seems like it’s taking too long for the offspring to make it down, just ask, someone will know. If your kid is not ripping, chances are he’s inside the concaved, leaking chalet playing. Forget something? Regardless of how long it takes to come back for it, that sweatshirt will still be hanging in the exact same spot.

     Perhaps the best feature of Mont Alta is its decision to accept Canadian Tire money on par. “Sure,” says Alta owner Oswald Lingat, “I hope everyone pays me with Canadian Tire money. I can make more off of it!” Or, if you’re really broke, you could probably offer to play liftie for an hour or two to earn your ticket.

    With all that being said, the area’s biggest charm lies in the Saturday Night Fever-era equipment and the Pretty in Pink clothes. Retro spirit lives here, baby: Rossignol ST Comps, Salomon rear-entry boots and purple florescent clothing. Every year, even the region’s elite racers, raised on technologically advanced sidecut and core materials, are required to spend a day training on their parents’ equipment.

    In this age of technology and mega-corporations, bigger and more sophisticated is losing its charm. Like kids who are starting to play jacks and skip rope again, the future may just lie in the past: local farmers’ markets, one-person pastry shops, and tiny family-fun ski hills. With simplicity becoming the most current trend, Mont Alta is poised to become the coolest ski area in the area. So, if you want to be the ultimate trendster, beat the rush and ski it now.

DNA

Vertical: 178 m

Terrain: 20% beginner, 20% intermediate, 60% advanced

Snowfall: Man-made

Lifts: One double

Adult day ticket: $25

Season: December to March

Info: mont-alta.com