Jeff Bartlett is a renowned ski photographer and around mountain macgyver man that never ceases to amaze us with his imagery. Recently he went and chased the elusive eastern powder. We begged for him to dish the inside scoop on what the Chic-Chocs really hold and he spilled the beans.
With “snowmageddon” forecasted for the Gaspe Peninsula, predicting nearly 100 cm in just 48 hours, I was stoked to leave the Canadian Rockies to fly across the country and ski the east for the first time since childhood. Flight cancellations and road closures be damned, I wasn’t going to be denied the awaiting powder turns in Quebec’s Chic-Chocs.
I flew from Calgary, Alberta, to Montreal, Quebec, where my two-hour layover became a 12-hour scramble north. When my flight into the regional Mont-Joli airport was canceled – presumably because they couldn’t keep the runways plowed – I didn’t wait around for a rescheduled flight. Instead, I jumped on an express bus to Quebec City, met DPS Skis ambassador Pierre Carbonneau and continued driving north. We timed it perfectly, following the St Lawrence River north just as the storm abated and roads reopened.
We might have missed an entire night’s sleep, but we arrived into Saint-Anne-Des-Monts in time to catch the snowcat to the Auberge du Montagne des Chic-Chocs.
When I think of a remote ski touring lodge, especially when it’s fully catered and includes ski guides for $300 per night, I imagine a backcountry hut with bunkhouses and home cooked meals. I guess it’s just my west-coast bias, as it’s a different world here in the Chic-Chocs.
The Auberge de Montagne des Chic-Chocs is best compared to the luxury heli or cat skiing operations found out west. It is off-grid, but if it weren’t for the lack of Wi-Fi and cell service, it wouldn’t show. Along with private guest rooms, there is an in-house massage therapist and an outdoor hot tub. Gourmet meals are served up family-style, letting guest connect even if they’re not in the same ski groups.
The location is surreal. It sits surrounded by the mountains and ski runs sit patiently out the front door.
SKIING THE CHIC-CHOCS
Let me be clear: the 100 cm that fell leading up to my arrival makes it difficult to remain unbiased. Epic powder days are always memorable but skiing the Chic-Chocs still exceeded every expectation I had. The terrain was limited to treeline and below, but it didn’t matter. The lodge’s guides weren’t just familiar with the terrain, they helped shape it. During the summer, they haul chainsaws into the backcountry to carve out new tree runs across their tenure. The result? Phenomenal tree skiing.
During our first afternoon on snow, which began less than an hour after our arrival, we skied several runs on the slopes surrounding the lodge. On day two, we were keen for a bigger day and decided to yo-yo laps on the distant Frere du Mont Nicol-Albert. The day began with a 6-km snow-cat shuttle to the base of the mountain. From there, we set a skin track that we’d use for the rest of the day and dropped into our first true descent of the trip. With a humble 350m per lap, they weren’t long; however, the snow was bottomless, and the run choices felt endless.
For day three, we planned for a longer traverse to Mt Coleman. Reaching 950 m, it’s one of the tallest mountains in the area and we’d been staring at it since our arrival. The next storm hit earlier than expected and chased us from the mountain before we reached its summit. We still skied multiple laps on its southeast shoulder as snow began to fall. The runs were steep and open. By the time we returned to the lodge, we had four different ski descents, while ascended more than 1000 m over 10 km – happiness. The storm continued overnight, burying our tracks and refreshing the terrain for the next group, scheduled to take our place at the lodge.
To put the Auberge du Montagne des Chic-Chocs ski experience into a west-coast perspective is easy.
The Chic-Chocs annual snowfall lands at 700 cm, which is equal to the Alberta Rockies, but the majority falls throughout a shortened, 4-month winter season. Even our biggest ski day, on Mt Coleman, felt similar to the iconic Surprise Pass ski traverse near Lake Louise, Alberta. Both include ascending 1000 m and multiple ski descents, over roughly 12 km. Sure the scenery and terrain are vastly different; however, the ski quality didn’t vary much. In place of wide-open alpine terrain out west, we each skied separate gladded chutes that really let us open the throttle.
After just three days in the Chic-Chocs, I can safely say, it’s worth the journey. Go ski the east. It’s deeper than you think.
Words and photos by none other than the talented Jeff Bartlett while on assignment for Quebec Maritime.