Mont Orford: A Rough-Cut Gem

Magog (QC), Canada – We sat around the table chuckling arrogantly at the Mont Orford trail map. 
Triple black diamonds are the overzealous creations of a marketing department
run amok, and we were certain that Orford’s were no exception.  We prepared
ourselves for a day of gentle corduroy cruising.  Boosting our spirits
was the steady, heavy snow falling from thick, gray skies.  Light and dry,
at least it would cover the corduroy.


Click on the image for a full-size trail map in a new browser window
(Click on the image
to open a full-size trail map in a new browser window)

Orford’s trail map is most impressive.  Eight lifts are spread across
three separate mountain peaks, covering four faces and accessing 52 trails. 
Mont Orford proper is the highest of the three, reaching 2800 feet (850m) and
facing east.  Mont Alfred-Desrochers is a natural snow enclave to climber’s
right, and features a bevy of blue and green cruisers with a southeasterly exposure. 
Finally, Mont Giroux lies to climber’s left of Mont Orford, and features skiing
and riding on both its easterly and northerly exposures.  The triple-black
objects of our consternation were situated both atop Mont Orford and between
the two exposures of Mont Giroux.

Orford is as French as nearby Owl’s Head is English.  A straight-line
one hour shot out the Eastern Townships Autoroute from Montréal and little
more than a mile from the exit ramp, Orford is populated with weekend skiers
from the city, and host village Magog is a Francophone pocket in the Townships. 
Almost no English was overheard as we booted up for the morning.  The impressive
multilevel base lodge is inviting and attractive, but one it lures you inside
its walls it does its best to confuse you as to how to get back out via the
same door through which you entered.  We marveled at how the base lodge
pub seems to be double the size of the available cafeteria seating.

The Mont Orford base lodge
The Mont Orford base

Charles Bilodeau, guide extraordinaire
Charles Bilodeau,
guide extraordinaire

"Whadda I do now?!" - Skier Dick Carlson on Dubreuil
“Whadda I do now?!”
– Skier Dick Carlson on Dubreuil

The Slalom Pub
Mont Orford’s Slalom

Charles shows us how it's done on Contour
Charles shows us how
it’s done on Contour

We met up with Charles Bilodeau, our guide for the day.  We uploaded on
the La Mi-Orford double chairlift before diving into Arcade, a gentle
glade sparsely populated with trees, and we whooped with glee at the available
untracked fluff.  This was going to be a good day
We were later to realize that this was Charles’ test of our abilities, and we
apparently passed before boarding Le Rapido triple chair to reach the

Visibility was tough in the flat light of intense snowfall.  Maxi
was rendered even more difficult by alternating areas of light, natural
fluff and heavy, fresh manmade cement.  Snowmaking is able to cover
85% of the trails at the resort.  One thing which immediately struck
us is how Mont Orford’s 1772 vertical feet (540m) are nearly all useful. 
Maxi seemed to go on and on, with little opportunity to relax. 
No wasted vertical here, and the mountain skis much larger than its statistics
would suggest.

Upon reaching the bottom, Charles’ query “Do you want some glades?”
met with a unanimous affirmative, so we headed to Le Quatour quad
chairlift to ascend Mont Giroux.

We recognized the reason for Charles’ ability test almost as soon as
we disembarked the chair, when we were met with a steep, open headwall
which dropped off skier’s right of the Magnum trail and into the
woods.  After this short pitch, we traversed along a narrow track
around the shoulder of the hillside and …

Voila!  Here laying before us stood Nirvana, or rather Boogie
– a steep, natural glade covered in barely tracked boot-top fluff.  Ledges,
boulders, and trees all remained to entertain the skilled and stupefy the uninitiated. 
Those of us who had arrogantly laughed at Orford’s trail map the night before
were now destined for a steady diet of crow.  That would have to wait for
the evening, however, as powder was on the menu for today.  Our opinions
regarding the triple-black diamond trail rating haven’t changed, but were were
now pointedly aware that Orford offered far more than tame cruising terrain.

A quick shot up Le Quad du village brought us back to the Mont
Giroux summit via its opposing face, and after the same “entrance exam”
headwall we stayed in the drainage to skier’s right of the traverse and
entered Labreque, a carbon copy of Boogie albeit with less
cover.  Mont Orford is located entirely within a provincial park,
and the ski area management is bound by extremely restrictive tree cutting
regulations.  Charles explained, however, that last year’s devastating
ice storm combined with a windstorm during the Summer of 1999 to down enough
timber naturally and allow them to clear out the deadfall to open a series
of glades on this face of Mont Giroux.

I would have missed our final trip down this region of the mountain
has I not been with Charles.  The entrance to Dubreuil is nearly
hidden amongst the trees to skier’s left of the top of Boogie
After a short, narrow shot, the glade plunges down the mountainside between
narrow openings in rock ledge.  Sporting the best cover of any of
the glades skied thus far, Dubreuil was a tree skier’s delight. 
Mad River Glen regulars amongst us could not help but compare it to Paradise
at the venerable Vermont mountain.

Plagued by frequent goggle frosting, we took the opportunity to retire
to the Slalom Pub in the Orford base lodge for lunch.  A mere $6.95
CDN bought me a soft flour tortilla filled with spiced chicken with corn
tortilla chips and a spicy salsa, and we washed it down with Rickers Red
before heading back out to Les chaises du ciel, Mont Orford’s base-to-summit
double chair which literally translated, means “the chairs to the sky.”

Back at the summit we found Contour, another of Orford’s triple-black
diamond runs, but this time it was an open trail.  One of the mountain’s
earliest pistes, it dates back to the 1940’s when skiers ascended Mont Orford
sans lifts.  Contour is at times narrow, at other times broad, but
always speckled with ledges, rocks, double fall lines and other natural challenges. 
Who needs a terrain park, when nature provides such bounty?  (For those
looking for a manmade terrain park, however, Orford is happy to oblige.) 
Contour covers most of Mont Orford’s vertical, and as such it never seems
to quit.  We could not help ourselves from remarking at the wonders of
Orford all day.

Passe de l’ours parallels Contour, and is similar in nature to
the Mont Giroux glades – only longer!  Charles skillfully upped the ante
a little further with each run, such that absolutely nothing all day was anticlimactic.

We wrapped things up on Petit Canyon, a short but open shot in the same
mold as Contour.  This dumped us onto the unnamed trail #1, a gentle
4 km top-to-bottom cruise.  Partway down we detoured onto Escapade,
an intermediate glade which cuts a significant corner off of trail #1. 
This brings us to an important point: you needn’t be Jean-Luc Brossard to enjoy
Mont Orford’s offerings.  The aforementioned Mont Alfred-Desrochers provides
an entire mountain of gently undulating cruising through the northern hardwoods,
and all three mountains have delightful novice and intermediate top-to-bottom

The nearby village of Magog on the shores of Lac Memphremagog has a year-round
population of over 20,000 which swells to a much greater number during the Summer
tourist season. Accordingly, the town provides many resort amenities to make
a vacation complete.  Rue Principale is a gastronomic delight thanks
to eateries such a Le Colibri, La Grosse Pomme and Resto Bar
.  Non-skiers or those desiring an off day can enjoy strolling
the boutiques which line rue Principale during the day.  Although
Mont Orford lacks truly ski-in/ski-out accommodations, a cluster of condominiums
is located a short walk from the Mont Giroux lifts, and numerous hotels and
motels populate the village of Magog and the road connecting it to the ski resort.

Mont Orford participates in the Ski East marketing relationship with nearby
Bromont, Owl’s Head and Mont Sutton. Multi-day tickets of 4 consecutive days
or more offer full interchangability with the other resorts, and the “4X4” is
a coupon book redeemable for one day ticket at each of the resorts, good for
any day of the season. The “4X4” may be purchased at any of the resorts or at
a Sports Experts store in Québec for $84.44 CDN plus tax for adults and
students, $66 CDN plus tax for children ages 6 to 13.  Jay Peak, Vermont
is also a short 45-minute drive across the border for those seeking additional
diversity.  Americans enjoy easy Interstate/Autoroute access from major
northeastern population centers nearly right to Mont Orford’s door, via I-93
and/or I-91, the latter becoming the Autoroute 55 in Québec and leading
practically to Orford’s lifts.  The present strength of the American dollar
relative to Canadian currency makes any Québecois ski vacation a real
bargain in comparison to Stateside packages.

Mont Orford is operated under a long-term lease on government land within Parc
du Mont-Orford.  The bank assumed operation of the ski area after the previous
owner encountered financial difficulty, but sale of the operation to an unnamed
purchaser is pending.  Accordingly, Charles was unable to comment regarding
development plans for the ski area, but let’s hope that the new owner understands
the unique character of Mont-Orford and leaves its gems uncut.

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