Le Relais

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)

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)

Le Relais quad and T-Bar (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)

Click for full-size Le Relais trail map

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)

Night falls upon Le Relais (photo: FTO/Marc Guido)

Le Relais base lodge (photo 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,
at best.

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.

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