Skiers from the U.S. who are looking for a distinctive vacation experience at a good value will find it in the Eastern Townships of southern Quebec. I visited this region twice: Once in early December, before significant snowfall covered the ski trails, and again in late February, a more popular time to ski here. I found it delightful, with abundant outdoor activities, beautiful views, delicious meals and excellent skiing.
“One of the great parts about the Eastern Townships is that we have a unique, New England charm right here in Quebec,” says Danie Beliveau, media relations advisor of the Eastern Townships Tourism.
Packing for a late-winter trip to Magog proved to be difficult. Expecting, sub-zero temperatures and a brisk wind, I was confused by a weather forecast of 40-degrees with rain in the forecast. Nonetheless, I packed my bags with warm clothes and began the three-hour drive from Maine.
According to Luc St-Jacques, owner of A Tout Venant bed-and-breakfast in Magog, the short drive makes this region very accessible to American skiers.
“Our easy-to-reach location via highways 87, 89 and 91 makes our region very accessible for Americans,” says St-Jacques.
I needed only one form of identification -- my Maine driver’s license -- to cross the border by automobile, although passports are required for air travel to and from Canada. The border patrol personnel were very congenial and asked me only the typical questions: “Where are you from? Where are you going? How long will you stay?” After waiting about five minutes while my information was processed, I was let across and told to drive carefully.
“Traveling back and forth through the U.S.-Canadian border is an easy procedure as long as you are prepared,” says fellow Mainer Timothy Ladd. “My family makes an annual fishing trip into the country each summer and we’ve never had any problems.”
One of the more amusing aspects of traveling by car through Canada is the road signage. Americans should note that the speed limits are displayed in kilometers (km) instead of miles per hour (mph), and make sure to keep your eyes on the conversions on your car’s speedometer. Travelers should also watch for the signs featuring deer with antlers (American signs feature the deer without their antlers), warning of deer crossing the road. Fortunately for non-French-speaking Americans like me, most signs, menus and even trail maps are bilingual. I was also relieved to find that most Eastern Townships’ residents speak English.
Magog: B&B’s Galore
For both visits, I stayed in the town of Magog, at Au Saut du Lit bed-and-breakfast, owned by Patrick and Christine. With incredibly affordable prices, a B&B is a good choice for an overnight trip to the Eastern Townships, and there are many to choose from in Magog, along with spa resorts and hotels. Au Saut du Lit provides a modest house with a warm, cozy atmosphere and a delicious, hardy breakfast featuring local fruits and cheeses. The quiche and organic omelets were elegantly presented and provided more than enough fuel I needed for a day on the slopes.
“The hosts of our B&B’s will always make breakfast a daily event,” says St. Jacques. “You will definitely be treated as one of their guests.”
Skiing Owls Head
I skied at Owl’s Head in Mansonville, about a 20 –minute drive from Magog and only 10 miles north of the U.S. border in Vermont. This 2480-foot mountain offers some of the beautiful views from a ski area in North America. Overlooking Lake Memphremagog, many trails offer a clear vista of the snow-covered lake and mountainous countryside.
“The views here are just spectacular,” says Bob Williams, a college professor from Staten Island, New York.
With 44 trails and over 100 acres of skiable terrain, plus a new “Super-Bois” glade covering 15-20 acres, Owl’s Head provides options for skiers and riders of every level. Considering the lengthy downpour of rain the mountain endured the day before my visit, the groomers did a fantastic job to ensure the best conditions possible. The snow was immaculate all day.
“We have a variety of trails and terrain for all abilities,” says Ken Rourke-Frew, marketing manager at Owl’s Head. “And of course the views, views and then some more views.”
While I carved tracks I kept an eye out for “Memphry,” the lake’s legendary monster. But Memphry did not burst through the ice in a raucous uproar.
Along with excellent skiing, Owl’s Head offers reasonable prices, especially for Americans after the exchange rate. Full-day prices start out at $27 Canadian Dollars for juniors (ages 6-13), $32 for students (ages 14-17) and $39 for adults (18+). Tuesday and Wednesday bring some of the cheapest rates around at $15 for skiers and riders of all ages. The mountain definitely lives up to its motto of “Ski More. Pay Less.”
According to St. Jacques, the sluggish economy has not hurt tourism in the Eastern Townships.
“Things are stable right now,” he says. “A number of Americans have come to take advantage of the exchange rate so as long as the level of quality stays up, we should be able to survive the storm just fine.”
My vacations in the Eastern Townships made me regret that I did not realize earlier that there is such great skiing and hospitality so close to my hometown. I am already planning my next skiing trip to the region.
For excellent skiing, dining and lodging all in one area and at a great value, American travelers should look north, to Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
Adam DeSanctis is an intern with the Eastern Ski Writers Association and a senior journalism major at the University of Maine in Orono. Writing this article was one of his assignments as an intern. During his research for the story, Adam was a guest of the Eastern Townships B&B Associatio