Québec City is one of the most charming cities in North America. With over 400 years of history to absorb, there’s always something to excite and inspire. While many visitors choose to do their explorations during the sunny summer months, with the proximity of the city center to the great outdoors, more intrepid travelers opt to delve into the many outdoor adventure opportunities that exist throughout the year. Here’s a snapshot of three wintertime activities not to miss.
The 670 square km Jacques Cartier Park is one of 23 national parks within the Parcs Québec network. Located just 30 minutes outside of the city, this winter playground offers a plethora of snowy enjoyment. This year is the first time that visitors will be able to drive the Valley sector road into the park up to the entrance of the newly renovated Discovery and Visitors Center (DVC), as the road will be cleared of snow up to this point. Previously the only way to traverse that 10km distance was by snowshoes or skis. This now allows families and those less able to participate in many of the planned events.
The Center’s new design now includes a full service dining facility, as well as slides, Snowcat shuttle outings, snowshoe rentals, and a nearby skating rink. Special scheduled nighttime activities include ‘Les Loups Mountain under the Moonlight’ and ‘Tasty Delights, Snowshoes, and Mysteries’. The first tour provides participants with an opportunity to snowshoe up into the mountains to experience the bright star-filled Milky Way surrounded by the luminescent reflections of white powdery flakes. Snacks and warm beverages are provided. The second option begins with a tasty selection of local cheese, produce, and wines served at the DVC, before embarking on a circular snowshoe expedition suited to all skill levels. Both have limited space and must be booked in advance.
The Jacques Cartier River carves a valley through the mountainous plateau that rises upward to the sky on each bank. Up on the Laurentian Highlands is a boreal forest filled with yellow birch, sugar maples, and black spruce. The river often freezes over during the depths of winter, allowing skiers and trekkers an opportunity to follow the trails of the great French explorer above the surface. For those preferring to stay on land, there are several miles of marked trails that can be explored over the course of an afternoon, a full day, or a couple of days.
There are also a variety of overnight accommodation options now easily accessible by vehicle for the first time this coming winter season. The truly adventurous outdoor types can book themselves into fully equipped cabins, rustic shelters, and the uniquely designed round-shaped yurts. These dwellings were traditionally used by nomads living in Central Asia, and lend themselves to a luxurious camp-like experience, including wood stove, elevated beds, refrigeration, and cooking utensils. Each yurt accommodates up to four individuals, and guests just need to bring their own food and bedding supplies.
There are now 13 trails available for snowshoe and cross-country enthusiasts, totaling over 70km of terrain. For those seeking a more demanding challenge, there’s 55km of additional back country trails that can be done over a two-night, three-day trek. Make your way through the Voie du Bucheron to the first overnight at Le Balbuzard rustic cabin, then continue the next day along the new 10km long L’Incursion trail to the Cachee rustic cabin, before culminating with a trek up river along Riviere-a-l’Epaule. A transportation and luggage service is available so that the focus remains on enjoyment.
Others may be interested in a different type of adrenaline filled winter experience unique to Québec, and in fact the only area in North America where this is being offered according to the proprietor. Ice canyoning is a modified version of the regular canyoning that is offered during other seasons by Canyoning-Québec. To clarify, canyoning is often referred to as canyoneering in some parts of the US, and was originally developed by cavers in France. Canyoning-Québec has been operating summer and fall excursions since 2000, and started offering ice canyoning in 2005 – the first commercial operator to do so.
According to owner Marc Tremblay there were similar developments in Europe around the same time, but they were based around water, with ice canyoners sporting wet suits and dropping into the cold waters below. Jean-Larose Falls becomes continuously shaped and transformed by small trickles of running water that freezes in stages over the early winter weeks, leaving it decorated with magical stalactites. Therefore, this descent is totally above water, rappelling down the frozen waterfall of ice crystals and landing on snow covered ground.
While most visitors gather their skis and poles for downhill adventures at Mont Sainte-Anne, others lace up their crampons for a different sort of gravity-induced thrill. It’s a short 15 to 20 minute hike to reach Jean-Larose Falls, which provides the opportunity to do a couple of trial descents along the way. It’s basically a downward progression that uses some of the techniques of rappelling and ice climbing. As you take your first step back into the void, secured by a rope tied to a harness, the distinct, crisp sounds of shifting frozen water beneath evoke a sense of unsettling awe.
Thrilling and adventurous, yet reassuringly safe and secure, you’ll immediately want to do it again. The most grueling stretch is the climb back up 400-plus snow-covered stairs, which proves more difficult than the descent down. Being suspended 40 metres above ground supported by a couple of ropes and a harness may not be for everyone, but for a few precarious, exhilarating moments in the icy world it is well worth it.
This wonderful hidden site is located very close to the base of Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort, less than an hour away from downtown Québec City. No previous experience is required and all equipment and training techniques are provided, however the minimum age to participate is 14 years old.
Now for those that prefer to be a spectator rather than a participant in outdoor adventures, Red Bull Crashed Ice is where you should be. There’s something mystical that happens when a half-kilometer long ice slope is constructed in the middle of an urban center and individuals race downward in an attempt to capture a championship title. This is the premise behind the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition that has been taking place annually for the past ten years in Europe and North America.
The backdrop of the North American challenge is the Côte de la Montagne in Québec City, with the historic Chateau Frontenac as the starting point and the St. Lawrence River below as the finish line. There are 64 men and 16 women who begin the run and only one from each category ends up the champion. Each year over 100,000 spectators take in the action not only provided by the racers but by full-on joie de vivre in the streets as well. There’s a “Fan Zone” section where individuals can purchase a ticket to hang out at the finish line amongst 3,000 others in an enclosed licensed area with several large live-action screens, along with DJ’s and live entertainment.
The track runs 550 meters in length with a 60 meter vertical. The first hurdle off the starting line is a barrel jump, after which speeds of up to 60 km/hr are sometimes reached while navigating a barrage of tightly woven twists and turns while being cheered and jeered along the way. The majority of the racers are hockey players who look at this as an opportunity to break down barriers of the traditional flat ice surface, bending both genres and blades.
The momentum around this sport is certainly building, and some racers have become recognized names, such as six-time champion Jasper Felder from Sweden, along with Alberta’s Kevin Olson and Gabriel Andre. The race ends after dark and the revelry continues at one of the many after parties held at bars along the popular Rue Grande Allée.
So whether you’re a hardcore outdoor enthusiast or an armchair supporter, there’s plenty to keep you warm and happy over the winter months in the Québec City area. Bonne Hiver!
The area code for Quebec City is 418.
Jacques Cartier Park – 103 Chemin de la Vallée-de-la-Jacques-Cartier (418) 528-8787
The park can be accessed by vehicle along Route 175 from Québec City. You can also get to the park entrance via the Intercar bus line which runs between Québec City and Alma. For information, call 1-888-861-4592.
Open December 16, 2011 to March 18, 2012 on Saturdays and Sundays and during the Christmas holidays and March break. www.sepaq.com/pq/jac
Ice Canyoning – Open November to April depending on weather conditions. 2000, boul. Beau Pré Beaupré (418) 998-3859 – Drive about half an hour from Québec City on route 138, past the huge shrine at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and take route 360 for 4 km to the streetlights leading to Mont-Ste-Anne ski resort. www.canyoning-quebec.com
Red Bull Crashed Ice – Free to watch from the sidelines along the route throughout Québec City. March 16 and 17, 2012 www.redbull.com
Where to Sleep
Hotel Pur – located in a trendy lower part of the city, this uber contemporary property boasts the largest indoor swimming pool in Québec City. 395, rue de la Couronne (418) 647-2611 www.hotelpur.com
Chateau Frontenac – it’s been stated this is the most photographed hotel in the world. Many stop by for a meal or cocktail, but to stay overnight is truly a treat. 1, rue des Carrières (418) 692-3861 www.fairmont.com/frontenac
Hotel Le Germain (Dominion) – this boutique hotel chain recently expanded their presence beyond the Québec borders, but this signature property still retains their claim to fame. 126 rue Saint-Pierre (418) 692-2224 www.germaindominion.com
Ice Hotel – this unique accommodation option has given thrills and chills to thousands over the years, and this year it will be built much closer to the city core enabling visitors to take a shuttle to their overnight igloo-like experience. 9530, rue de la Faune (418) 623-2888 www.hoteldeglace-canada.com
Where to Eat & Drink
Table – located within the Pur Hotel, this restaurant is all about sharing, and all menu items have been created just for that purpose. 395, rue de la Couronne, Québec City, (418) 647.2458 www.tablequebec.com
Aviatic – Located in Vieux Québec with a great selection of wines, local specialities, and night specials. 450, De La Gare Du Palais (418) 522.3555 www.aviatic.ca
La Barberie – the focus here is on great tasting microbrews, but there’s a great selection of pub grub as well. 310, rue St. Roch, Québec City, (418) 522-4373 www.labarberie.com
What to See and Do
Dog Sledding – Chenil La Poursuite is the largest dog sledding operation in the area, with over 250 dogs waiting to get their exercise while you enjoy the ride. 1925A, chemin Lambert, Saint-Nicolas (418) 573-7777 www.chenillapoursuite.com
Snowboard Jamboree – Slopestyle will be introduced at the 2012 World Cup Stoneham during the Snowboard Jamboree from February 20 to 26, which will then become a new discipline at the 2014 Olympics. (418) 827-1122 www.snowjamboree.com