A few years ago, one of the ski magazines ran a survey to find the best ski towns in North America. And one magazine that I was a contributor to accepted my idea and we wrote a feature on my favorite.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

This is significant here, because my favorite is within a five-hour drive of most of the Sun Journal’s circulation area. And a lot of our French-speaking readers will feel right at home, because my choice is Quebec City.

Now, there are ski towns where one can ski right down to the town and ride a lift from the town to the slopes. Quebec City is obviously not one of those, but it has major ski areas within a half hour. And the choice of hotels ranges from world-class to motels and small inns. Leading the way is the Chateau Frontenac, the towering structure that dominates the city skyline approaching from almost any direction.

Our approach after following Route 201 from Waterville through Jackman and the border is on Auto Route 73 south of the city. From 73 west of the city, we take Grand Allee, which enters the old city (the city celebrated its 400th birthday in 2008) through a gate in the wall and directly to the Frontenac.

Mont-Sainte-Anne is a half-hour drive from the city and has plenty of lodging at the base if you wish to stay slopeside. It’s a major ski resort, with skiing on three sides of the mountain and a wide variety of terrain.

A great way to ski Mont-Sainte-Anne is to take the gondola to the top and cruise down the gently pitched runs on the north side. However you choose to ski it, the mountain offers plenty of skiing with views of the St. Lawrence River from the front or south side.


Twenty minutes past Mont-Sainte-Anne is Le Massif, which is right on the river and has a trail homologated for women’s World Cup downhill. It used to require a 45-minute drive from Quebec City, but that all changed a few years ago when a new lodge was built at the top of the mountain and a new access road directly from the highway allowed skiers to cut the driving time in half or more. In addition, there is now a train that winds along the river to a station at the base.

And there is more skiing near the city. Stoneham offers 1,500 feet of vertical just 20 minutes north with a high-speed highway right to the base. And there is plenty of challenge at this mountain, which has hosted World Cup racing, and night skiing for those who don’t get enough during the day. On our last trip to the city, we had dinner at Stoneham but let the grandchildren do the night skiing.

This makes another point. Quebec City is famous for its food, with fine restaurants all over the city and excellent food at the ski areas. Richard Seguin, executive director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, told me he had 70 restaurants within walking distance of his office where he could take clients. And this is important. Driving into the city, you’ll see people walking everywhere. They are bundled up but, obviously, everyone has plenty of winter clothing.

To get the most out of any visit to Quebec City, be there during the first two weeks of February. This is Carnaval time. Just inside the gate is an ice palace, built of several thousand blocks of ice. Not far away on the plains of Abraham is a field of ice sculptures. Alongside the sculptures is a small mobile home, which actually houses a sauna. Every once in a while, those enjoying the heat will pour forth in bathing suits to roll in the snow, partaking of a Finnish tradition, something those of us who grew up among the Finns in the Norway/Paris area knew well. Our grandchildren didn’t really understand these adults frolicking in the snow with steam streaming off their bodies. It was a distraction from the ice sculptures we were there to see.

Carnaval is a special time in this place where winter is celebrated. It’s often referred to as the Mardi Gras of the North. Along Grand Allee, where the restaurants that feature outdoor dining in summer, all have bars sculpted from ice in front.

Now picture, if you will, a parade that takes more than an hour to pass drawing more than 100,000 spectators this far north at night in February. It’s led by Bon Homme Carnaval, the giant snowman whose symbol is everywhere in the city. All the shops have pins featuring his image and sell the hollow plastic canes with the screw cap that is his head. The canes are often filled with Caribou, a mixture of Port Wine fortified up to 24% alcohol. Be very careful if consuming this stuff. We have a cane, but it remained empty as it is today as a souvenir of our visit during Carnaval on the occasion of the 400th birthday of the city in 2008. Along with our Bon Homme Pin for that year.


Now you know why Quebec City is my favorite ski town. With three major ski areas nearby and shuttles from many of the hotels, it’s easy to get in plenty of skiing and still enjoy the other delights of historic city. Along with the exceptional dining, there are also some wonderful museums.

Being at a place where the river is a third of a mile wide, it also makes for an exciting canoe race. Picture these lightweight bateaus with four men manning oars and a helmsman steering crossing a river filled with floating ice. Quebec City is where the Atlantic tide combines with the current to break up the ice. The teams row as fast as they can in open water. When they reach an ice floe, they jump from the boats and drag them to more open water. They must cross the river, avoiding being swept downstream by the current, touch shore at Levis on the south side of the river and return to the Quebec City side.

It’s one more spectacle of Carnaval and one more reason Quebec City gets my vote as the best ski town. If your ski travels haven’t taken you there, maybe it’s time. Mont-Sainte-Anne, Stoneham and Massif are worth the trip.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at DaveiSkiGolf@aol.com.

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