Lac Beauport (QC), Canada – The
big eastern snow drought of December, 1998 weighed heavily on my mind as I packed
my ski gear. I prepared for my annual pilgrimage from Florida to visit
the in-laws in Québec City, and I fretted about what I would encounter
once I arrived. My concerns deepened as I spent the pre-Christmas days
in northern Vermont surrounded by sparse snowcover, warm temperatures and liquid
Le Relais, Quebec (photo courtesy Le Relais)
My fears evaporated, however, once I reached the Québec suburb of Charlesbourg.
This is where the snow was in the east this Christmas. A few inches fell
literally every day from my arrival on the 22nd until my departure on the 26th,
on top of at least a foot that had fallen before I arrived. We received
light to moderate snow all night on the 23rd, and on the afternoon of the 24th
I ventured up to Le Relais.
Le Relais is situated a scant ten miles north of Québec City, in the
village of Lac Beauport, a town with a rich skiing past as photos in the base
lodge dating back to 1939 demonstrated. Le Relais shares a ridge with
the recently-defunct Mont St.-Castin ski area, and another small ski hill abandoned
much earlier is visible on the northwest side of the village. The quad
and triple chairlifts from Mont St.-Castin have already been sold to Asessippi
Ski Hill and Winter Park, Canada’s newest ski area opening this season in Russell,
Manitoba. The hills are dotted with homes providing a natural environment within
which to live, yet offering easy commuter access to Québec. I had
hiked Le Relais during the fall several years ago with my dog, but to be honest,
it’s modest 735-foot (224 meter) vertical drop hadn’t been a strong magnetic
force pulling me back to to ski it.
Le Relais quad and T-Bar (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)
Click image to open a full-size Le Relais trail map in a new browser window
Night falls upon Le Relais (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)
Le Relais base lodge (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)
Today was different. I had been tied up during the morning with family
obligations so I just buzzed over to Le Relais, only 10 minutes away from the
outlaws, for a four-hour ticket. Le Relais seems to know its target market
well, and offers interval ticketing with periods as short as two hours.
The broad-shouldered ridge is accessed by a detachable quad chair, a fixed-grip
quad, two t-bars, and two other surface lifts. I pulled into a snow-covered
parking lot which seemed endless, and trudged through heavily-falling snow to
the ticket window. That four-hour ticket set me back $22 CDN ($14.19 USD
at the time of this writing), and I settled into a spacious and modern base
lodge to boot up.
My first lift ride was on an unusual setup, a Doppelmayr fixed-grip chair which
shared towers with a t-bar. The towers were shaped like a giant question-mark
to accommodate both the uphill and downhill runs of the quad, and a small spreader
out to the other side supported the surface lift cables. It was a most
bizarre looking arrangement. I quickly learned a lesson, however: that
t-bar moves at roughly twice the speed of the chair. At a mountain where
downhill runs are completed in as little as 30 seconds, this is a major consideration
when choosing which lift to ride.
Surfaces were light, fluffy chowder over a firm, man-made base. The snow
continued to fall at a moderate to (at times) heavy pace, until it trailed off
around 3:00 p.m. The place was nearly in full operation – “La fougerole”
(#13) and “La vertigineuse” (#14) were closed for heavy-duty snowmaking, and
Le Sous-Bois (a narrow glade not yet on the trail map, located between “Guy
A. Paquet” [#9] and “Jean-Claude Tremblay”[#11]) was also closed but from personal
experience it was eminently skiable. Perhaps a fatality of a local 19-year-old
earlier in the week on Le Sous-Bois was to blame for the latter’s closure.
It’s a pity that the planners chose to start Le Sous-Bois below the mountain’s
steeper upper section, as the run covers ground which is intermediate in pitch,
The snow conditions made me forget the diminutive size of the place, and I
had fun finding little places to make a few turns in loose snow. The people
around here seem to avoid the edges like the plague, and that suited me just
fine. Runs like “La banane” (#3A) and “La balade” (#2A) were pleasant,
relatively narrow romps through the quiet woods, while others such as “Laurent
Bernier” (#3) and “Docteur Pouliot” (#8) were built for high-speed GS turns.
I contemplated the day’s events over a plate of nachos and a couple of Ricker
Reds in front of the fireplace at the “T-Bar”, the lounge in Le Relais’ base
lodge. For such a small resort, the facilities are quite impressive. The
bar was rich and warm, evoking somewhat the feel of a small British pub. The
lodge sports two large cafeteria seating areas, one with huge cathedral ceilings.
The mountain has 100% snowmaking and night skiing coverage, and had to have
a higher light-to-area ratio than any other night skiing operation that I’ve
seen. Le Relais will never be a destination resort, and it knows it.
What it does, however, it does well: providing a quality ski experience a short
drive from a major metropolitan area. If you’re in Québec City
during the winter and have a few hours to kill, I can’t think of a better way
to do it.