Stoneham (QC), Canada – “If you don’t slow down, you’re going to give me frostbite!”
Such was Rob’s concern as we speed down
perfectly groomed corduroy at Québec’s Stoneham Mountain Resort. It was the
American Thanksgiving weekend, and we had escaped the crowds by heading north
of the border. When you want to get away from the masses on a holiday weekend,
simply travel as we had done to where it isn’t a holiday. As the liftlines
grew out of control at other mountains a few hours to the south, here at Stoneham
we nearly had the mountain to ourselves – with plenty of elbowroom for zooming
down the groomers at warp speed.
Stoneham lies a scant 20 minutes
north of Québec City, the provincial capital – or the “National Capital” if
you believe the roadside signs erected by an overzealous government highway
department. Depending on your perspective, Stoneham is either a wonderfully
diverse and expansive suburban ski hill, or an underdeveloped destination
resort. It seems that Stoneham itself isn’t even sure which of the two it
prefers to be.
Stoneham and nearby Mont-Sainte-Anne
represent the only eastern holdings of the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies
(RCR) conglomerate. The latter is clearly among the ranks of destination
resorts, one of the most popular in eastern Canada. Stoneham, on the other
hand, is smaller and closer to Québec City and its suburban ski clientele.
With an extensive night skiing program, it would seem that Stoneham would
reign as a top neighborhood ski center.
RCR, however, has initiated efforts
to position Stoneham as a destination resort. It has constructed the base
area Hotel Stoneham and shopping promenade, although many of the storefronts
sat empty during our visit, despite the building’s completion several years
earlier. Condominiums now line the trails further up the hill, side by side
with elaborate, sylvan single-family homes. RCR also markets Stoneham to
destination traffic as part of the Carte Blanche, a multi-day lift ticket
good at Le Massif as well as the two eastern RCR resorts.
Such efforts have propelled Stoneham’s
visitor statistics to a half-million skier and snowboarder days annually when
Canada’s largest night skiing operation is included in the count. The spartan
destination infrastructure, however, bears testament to the fact that the
vast majority of those visitors do so for the day only. Destination business
at Stoneham presently hovers at a meager 15%. Most of these destination visitors
do so as a day trip from Sainte-Anne or from lodgings in Québec City. Stoneham,
it seems, will always be the kid sister living in the shadow of its bigger
A HORSESHOE OF FUN
No matter Stoneham’s identity,
though, it certainly has the size and diversity to make any destination or
day skier or snowboarder happy.
Stoneham’s terrain is laid out
around a great semi-circle of mountains that lie at the terminus of a dead-end
valley. More hills than mountains, really, Stoneham’s vertical drop tops
out at a meager 1,380 feet. What it lacks in vertical size, however, it makes
up for horizontally as the resort is spread around this horseshoe-shaped valley.
Trails spill down the faces of four separate summits.
Everything at Stoneham, from the
mountains to the trails, is named only by its number. Looking up, from left
to right, the first mountain is home to wide groomed runs that descend a northeastern
exposure directly to Stoneham’s massive base lodge. Most are lit for night
skiing and covered by snowmaking pipe.
This is also home to Stoneham’s
Superpipe, 1 km boardercross course, and a terrain park that this season includes
an old school bus painted in the colors of Kokanee beer and towed uphill behind
a snowcat to be buried in the snow as a new terrain feature. Snowboarders
comprise a significant percentage of Stoneham’s clientele, and the resort
has undertaken great effort to position Stoneham as a haven for single-plankers.
The terrain park is extensive, and Stoneham played host to the Snowboard World
Cup in December of 2002. The Kokanee Snow Jam, scheduled for March 7 to 9,
2003, is a national competition with more than C$10,000 in cash prizes, an
exhibition village at the resort’s base, and wild parties long into the night.
It is but only one of many snowboard and new-school ski events scheduled throughout
the season, using the terrain park as a centerpiece.
Next up is Mountain 2, serviced
by a high-speed detachable chairlift equipped with bubbles to shelter riders
from the cold of a Québec night. While the upper half of this mountain is
somewhat flat, the lower half features trails like the 9B and 9C, some of
Stoneham’s steeper terrain. The 19, dropping off the summit toward the third
Stoneham peak, is a long, tight glade overflowing with Mother Nature’s character.
Who needs a terrain park with glades like this?
The third and tallest Stoneham
summit is up next as one’s gaze continues to travel from left to right. With
the exception of a single intermediate cruiser, the terrain here is all black,
both in the designation of the trail difficulty, and also in the fact that
none of it is illuminated for night skiing. This is Stoneham’s expert enclave,
from the steep bumps of the 47 on stage directly underneath the chairlift,
to the extraordinarily steep trees of the gladed 48. Ski-in/ski-out condos
lie here right along the 41 trail.
Stoneham’s fourth and final mountain
has now come full circle, such that its primary exposure is southwest, bathing
its single intermediate slope in warm afternoon sun. While only one lift
and one trail reaching halfway up the mountain exist here now, it has long
been a part of Stoneham’s master plan to bring lift and trail service to the
top of this mountain, thereby increasing the resort’s overall vertical drop.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR 2002-2003
Stoneham has maintained the local
ski hill tradition of providing an extensive learning program. Some 150 instructors
wait to introduce new skiers and snowboarders to the sport, and this season
installed a new 197-foot long magic carpet lift to make it even easier for
never-evers to ascend the hill. Stoneham has even thoughtfully cordoned off
the learning area to keep advanced skiers speeding down from above outside
of the mountain’s easiest terrain.
This season, Stoneham has added
a HEAD Tyrolia Snowsports Academy to its educational mix, the second in Canada
after Mont-Sainte-Anne’s. The Academy offers “ski with the pro” sessions
with level III and IV instructors along with the latest shaped ski technology
to allow attendees to get the feel for truly carving their turns. Different
packages range from a half-day to five days in length, and each focuses on
a specific aspect of advanced skiing to help students break out of that intermediate
Also new this season is a C $250,000
improvement to Stoneham’s snowmaking system. Pre-cooling the water through
a new pumping system has allowed the resort to increase its snowmaking capacity
on mountains 2 and 4 by 20%.
SKI & STAY OPTIONS
Should you choose to stay at Stoneham,
either plan to cook in your condo or eat at one of only three available full-service
restaurants. In the base lodge, Le Feu Follet offers French cuisine and its
extensive 4 Foyers bar includes a menu of light meals and appetizers, and
the nearby St. Edmond Pub offers an extensive beer selection and pool tables
for your entertainment in addition to salads, sandwiches and the Québecois
tradition of smoked meat, akin to corned beef.
The Hotel Stoneham features 60
rooms and studios within a two-minute walk of the lift queues. Alongside
the slopes of Mountain 3, 70 condominium units for up to 8 guests, such as
that in which my wife and I stayed during this visit, are available for vacation
rental. We found our studio unit to be clean and comfortable, albeit utilitarian.
Packages are offered by the resort, including a Carte Blanche Family Package
featuring a three-area lift ticket good at Stoneham, Mont-Sainte-Anne and
Le Massif and a night’s lodging for a family of 2 adults and 2 children ranging
from C $295 per night for a hotel room, to C $412 per night for a two-bedroom
condo (US $192 and US $268, respectively, based on currency exchange rates
at the time of this writing).
Alternatively, you could choose
to base your operations from nearby Québec City, filled with the old-world
charm of its cobblestone streets and fieldstone buildings within the only
remaining walled city in North America. Virtually every manner of accommodation
is available here, ranging from luxury high-rise hotels like the Hilton and
the Loew’s Concorde, to the regal majesty of the ubiquitous Château Frontenac
and the budget hotels and motels in suburbs such as Ste.-Foy. Dining in Québec
City is an experience not to be missed, and you’ll find the sidewalks bustling
even on the coldest winter night.
So while Stoneham may not quite
understand what it wants to be, you’ll find that it will fill every ski and
snowboard need. Combined with Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif, it’s part of
a winter vacation waiting to be discovered.