October 9, 2012
- Ode to the Skiing Family
- Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort
- Family Skiing at Mammoth Mountain
- Vail, Colorado Celebrates 50 Years!
- Family Skiing at Okemo in Ludlow, Vermont
- Dress for Success...On the Slopes!
- Skiing in the Eastern Townships
- Skiing on a Budget
- On Our Radar: Telluride
- Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge
Three Fab Finds just over the border
The conundrum for February vacation week: find a place that was drivable from Maine, offers great skiing, and a new adventure for the family. Suddenly it dawned on us that Canada’s Eastern Townships were less than an hour further, and our next adventure was born. “We’re heading to Canada to ski!” posted twelve year old Calli on her Facebook page with jubilation. We set off with Calli, her ten-year-old sister Kim Han, my husband Lincoln and me, better known as “Mama” on a good day and “Sargent Grumpy Pants,” on a tough day.
There’s nothing like the exhilaration of a new adventure. As we set out, everyone was all smiles. Our first stop was Sherbrooke, Quebec where we were lucky enough to enjoy a guided tour of the Musée Nature Sciences, Sherbrook. Our guide, Valerie, showed us through the temporary exhibit featuring creatures of the deep and we learned all about the sea monsters and mermaids found in Magog’s Lake Memphremagog. Our next stop was the exhibit called Cycle of the Seasons, featuring many creatures of the wild that inhabit Canada’s forests. This large exhibit was separated into seasons and featured everything from fox to fowl in their native habitat. The highlight of the museum was the show, Terra Mutantès, a multi-sensory interactive show chronicling millions of years of Sherbrooke’ s evolutionary tale. Detailing the evolution of Sherbrooke, the surround-sound show was a cross between theater and planetarium, with everything from realistic snow and rain features in-between. While the show is not included in the museum admission price , it’s definitely worth the extra expense. “That was so cool,” exclaimed Calli as we left. Not one to be normally impressed by museums, I knew we were off to a good start!
Our next stop was Manoir des Sables, which served as our home base throughout our stay in the Eastern Townships. The hotel is one of the Hotels Villagia collection in Quebec and certainly among the finest hotels in which our active family has stayed. We stayed in one of the hotel’s Executive Suites featuring a living room, king bedroom, large bath and kitchenette, giving our family of four plenty of room to spread out. The views of Mont Orford and Owl’s Head were spectacular. From certain points in the hotel you can see as far as Jay Peak on a clear day. We immediately set out to explore the hotel and Kim Han, our intrepid adventurer, soon had the pool tables, ping pong tables and indoor pool scoped out. It didn’t take long to realize the unpacking could wait.
After a great night’s sleep we awoke to a light snow falling. After this low-snow winter the two or three inches that fell overnight gave us reason to celebrate. We enjoyed a fabulous buffet breakfast or what we like to call a “skier’s breakfast” at the hotel, filled with eggs, bacon, pastries, yogurts and cereals, fresh fruit and good strong coffee, then we were off to Mont Orford, just under 10 minutes from the hotel. When we got there, we spied the “hybrid” chair (a combination of gondola and chairlift known to some as a chondola) and took this lift to the top. We opted for a long cruiser from the top called 4KM. Next we moved to the gentler slopes of Mont Giroux, the smallest of the three mountains at the resort.
Jumping on Quad Giroux Nord, we were soon enveloped by driving snow and clouds. “Wow! We’re skiing in the clouds,” exclaimed Kim Han. While the new powder was light and welcome, the sensation was like skiing in a white out. It meant we had to feel our way down the mountain through the closest to champagne powder we’ve seen all year. We got to the bottom, wiped off the goggles and gave high fives all around for a great run in the townships.
Throughout the day the weather continually improved until the sun came out. We traveled together as a family trying the cruisers on Mont Giroux first then the black diamonds on Mont Orford, the granddaddy of the three mountain. Suddenly, our steeps-seeker, Calli, spied the triple back diamonds off Magnum on Mont Giroux and it was “sayonara” as she dropped into Lacroix . Lincoln followed Calli while Kim Han and I continued down Magnum, a wide, steep and groomed black diamond offering just the right challenge for my timeworn knees.
When we reunited at the bottom, Calli and Lincoln were all smiles. “It was really steep,” exclaimed Calli. “I loved it!”. “When I looked at it I knew I’d be going really fast, and I did!” she finished. Lincoln nodded in agreement with a similar smile. They’d found their mojo in the steeps while I found mine on the groomers.
We finished our day at Mont Alfred-Desrochers on a long powder-packed run called Descente with plenty of moguls for the kids. When we got to the bottom, Calli declared that was the perfect way to end the day. We all agreed it was one of the best days of skiing this winter. Best of all, we had two more mountains to check out!
The next morning we met Mireille Simard, Mont Sutton’s Director of Communications, our smiling welcoming committee for a day of guided skiing throughout Mont Sutton’s trails.
A quick view of the mountain top chalet helped me to understand what everyone meant when they referred to the authenticity of Mont Sutton. A throwback to lower tech times, the warming hut featured a huge wood burning fireplace and a cafeteria with affordable prices we don’t often see at mountain top restaurants in the U.S. Mont Sutton was named among the top 50 ski resorts in the world by the London Independent newspaper due to its friendly atmosphere, the authenticity of the mountain and surely those renowned glades. In fact, Mont Sutton is renowned throughout Canada for the variety of glades trails, attracting glade-hounds from coast to coast.
Sticking to the groomed trails (which still offered plenty of powder skiing), Mireille and I explored the family side of the mountain (sans family). The beginner glades were more my speed, offering plenty of trees – some with butterflies, bear and bird statures smiling down from the trees. While created for the younger set, I was happy to be out on the snow on a beautiful powder day making my way through a gentler glade. When we joined the rest of the family they had stories to tell of skiing the newly opened glades. “It was a total challenge,” said Calli who thrives on the thrill of the steep.
Lunch at Mont Sutton is a rare treat; akin to the gourmet food we hear about at Deer Valley. Salads are hand tossed, soups are handmade and of course the fries and burgers are still there for the kids. We were delighted to be treated to healthy options here, after recently converting to a whole food plant based diet.
We said goodbye to Mireille, our glamorous guide, at Chocolaterie Belge, billing itself as a museum of chocolate (Musée Du Chocolat) in the Village of Sutton, after choosing a handmade work of chocolate art for each of us.
Our last day of skiing was saved for Owl’s Head, just 15 minutes from the Vermont border, this mountain sports breathtaking views of Lake Memphremagog, plenty of terrain for every skiing level, and a race program that attracts teams from throughout the region. The only mountain in the Eastern Townships offering on-mountain, ski-in/ski-out access, we could immediately see this was another perfect family ski mountain. We started our day skiing on the bordercross trail, used for F.I.S. Bordercross races, telecross competition and just plain banked fun. There was plenty of powder for those seeking it and beautifully groomed trails for those with older knees.
Everywhere we skied we were treated to commanding views of Lake Memphremagog. At times it almost feels as if you’ll ski over the ridge into the lake. Trail names like Lake View, Panorama and Lilly’s Leap offered clues that fabulous views were in store; the kind that make it difficult to focus on the skiing.
Owl’s Head maintains a season-long race course with its own lift. The mountain is ideal for teams seeking training grounds. An on-mountain “auberge” or dorm-styled rooms offering private baths and three meals a day means teams can come to Owl’s Head and train in style. The mountain encourages teams from Canada and the U.S. to train here, going so far as to offer local competitors for friendly meet-style competition throughout the week when they’re available.
“Each day my expectations were exceeded,” said Lincoln at the end of the trip. “After the low-snow winter we’ve had, I expected icy conditions and colder days,” he admitted. “We were so lucky to get the snow we got and to ski on all the glades,” agreed Calli and Kim Han who while they wouldn’t admit to actually enjoying a trip with “Sergeant Grumpy Pants”, they did thank us at the end of the vacation for a great trip.
Ski & Stay
Manoir des Sables and its sister property Hotel Chéribourg just about one km away, are the ideal options for skiing families, and boy do they know how to delight kids! Start with the Cheri Club, a converted gymnasium at Hotel Chéribourg open to guests of both hotels, with inflatable bouncy houses, permanent play structures, Wii and X-Box Connect on large screen TVs, air hockey, kid-sized pool tables and a cinema for nightly movies with unlimited popcorn. It’s rare to find such facilities for kids at any hotel or resort. Then add the indoor pool, outdoor Nordic Baths (hot and cold tubs surrounded by stone), pool and ping pong tables, an ice skating rink, sledding hill and plenty of equipment available through the hotel, plus rooms that accommodate families comfortably, and you’ve got one kid-friendly hotel destination.
For adults, the Spa Villegia offers a fabulous Hammam hydrotherapy option including six stations from steam bath to salt water tubs, sensory showers, Nordic Baths and a fabulous Finnish sauna. Rarely do I allow myself to completely relax, but by the final station here, I was pure jelly. The spa features 40 treatment rooms including 14 massage rooms, and an impressive array of treatments.
The suites feature see-through wood burning fireplaces with easy-light logs and deep whirlpool tubs. Come without kids, and you’ve got all the romance you need, not to mention the world’s most comfortable king beds, and plenty of room to spread out. Each floor offers plenty of common areas for relaxing. The suites, located in the Chateau, the private-access suite-section, also offer gathering rooms for families or couples traveling together.
We enjoyed dinner in the dining room choosing the 3-course prix-fixe option. Portions were huge and each course was beautifully presented. The three course meal was $29 per person (not including tax).
Come summer, XC trails give way to an 18-hole championship golf course and a 9-hole par 3 course, plus tennis courts, private lake access and plenty of water craft and great biking and hiking terrain.
From the Kid’s Point of View
According to 12-year-old Calli: “My favorite part of the trip was the skiing. At all three of the mountains there were glades with a TON of snow, which we don’t get at home. The feeling here is really authentic, like real skiing. We don’t get the difficulty of trails at home like we got at Mont Sutton, Mont Orford or Owl’s Head. I loved the steep trails, glades and moguls and all the snow. I’d recommend this trip to kids my age…actually to everyone!
According to 10-year-old Kim Han: “My favorite part of the trip was skiing the glades and playing pool with my Dad. I actually beat him once! When I skied through the glades I felt happy because I was able to dodge the trees and ski the moguls pretty well. I think I am lucky to be able to go on these trips because there are lots of people who don’t have jobs and my Mom’s job is to write about what we do. That’s cool.”
Special thanks to Danie Bliéveau from Tourism Eastern Townships for help in organizing our trip and itinerary. With so much to do in the Eastern Townships, this story barely scratches the surface. Visit www.easterntownships.org or call 1-800-355-5755 for vacation planning information and your Official Tourist Guide to the Eastern Townships. Click here for more information on off-the-slope family activities including a winter zoo!
Marti Mayne and her family live on Cousins Island, ME and write Active Adventure stories for www.EasternSlopes.com, Examiner.com and WanderingEducators.com. Knowing that nothing beats the exhilaration of a new destination, the family is enriched by each journey. A consultant in the travel and B&B industry, Marti Mayne and family enjoy family-friendly adventure year round.
© 2013 Macaroni Kid, LLC