The Mona Lisa smiled down at us from the wall above the bed, and our 10-year-old’s eyes grew wide. “You have to cover her up or I won’t be able to sleep,” she said.
My husband, Jon, and I, along with our three daughters, Stella, Bianca, and Nola, had just arrived at the quirky Auberge La Grande Maison, a bright red Victorian inn and spa in Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec. We’d come to the Charlevoix region to play in the snow with the girls during their school break, venturing past our traditional New England ski haunts to explore wintry Canadian woods on skis and sleds.
Eccentric decor aside, winter sports enthusiasts looking for a mountain experience that differs from the prefab homogeneity of today’s popular megaresorts will find untrammeled Charlevoix an enchanting alternative. Everything here radiates a warm, French-Canadian charm, from cozy brasseries tucked into quaint towns to the forested cross-country trails at Les Sources Joyeuses and the powder-filled slopes at the refreshingly old-school ski resort, Le Mont Grand-Fonds.
Charlevoix owes its terrain to a rogue meteor that careened into the Earth 400 million years ago. The 60,000-mph impact formed the 33-mile-wide Charlevoix crater, and, like the splash that results from a stone hitting the water, mountains popped up around it. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1988, the region hosts some of the Northeast’s most magical winter adventures.
Ours began at Le Massif de Charlevoix, where almost all of the mountain’s 52 trails offer spectacular views of the ice floe–studded St. Lawrence River, creating the vertiginous, yet intoxicating, sensation of skiing into the water. The upside-down resort—skiers park up top at the summit lodge and ski down to catch the gondola at the base—boasts a 2,526-foot vertical drop (the highest east of the Rockies) and an average annual snowfall of 212 inches.
We spent the day cruising terrain served by the Grand Massif Express gondola; long, buttery, blue-square trails with lots of spots for Jon, Stella, and Bianca to duck into the trees while Nola and I traversed the slopes more slowly. Our favorite, La Petite-Rivière, resembled a chute dropping us into the St. Lawrence River for a polar plunge.