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Skiiers find a warm, quaint Canadian welcome in Québec’s Charlevoix region

Skiing at the Massif de Charlevoix in Quebec, Canada Skiing at Le Massif de Charlevoix in Quebec, Canada. | Photo courtesy Le Massif de Charlevoix

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.

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Old-fashioned winter fun

Sledding on the 4.7-mile piste de luge in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada

Sledding on the 4.7-mile piste de luge in Charlevoix. | Photo courtesy Le Massif de Charlevoix

As much as we loved schussing down Le Massif’s scenic runs, the mountain had another adventure in store, one that put us on snow in a new, old-fashioned way.

“Lean left to go right and lean right to go left,” said our guide, rocking from side to side on the wooden sled to demonstrate. Behind him, a phalanx of miniature toboggans with colorful, woven seats and curved runners waited in a neat line. Choosing our sleds, we climbed into an enormous cabin-cat and chugged upward through the backcountry to the resort’s rodeling trailhead atop Mont Liguori.

Popular in the Alps, rodeling, a.k.a. sledding, involves zooming down groomed trails on a surprisingly aerodynamic little sleigh. Le Massif’s piste de luge winds for 4.7-miles through a pristine, snow-filled setting that offers the only experience of its kind in North America. Along the way, riders can generate speeds of up to 30 mph.

Though our guide’s instructions seemed simple enough, getting the hang of leaning into the outside of the turns felt counterintuitive, and we took turns tumbling into the deep, snowy embankments lining the trail. Once we got into a groove, exhilaration took over, and I laughed as we sailed down the trail beneath a bluebird sky, faster and faster, digging our heels into the snow to slow our progress when the surrounding forest became a blur.

Thermal pools and spa at the Auberge La Grande Maison in Charlevoix. Quebec, Canada

The thermal pools and spa at the Auberge La Grande Maison in Charlevoix are a soothing way to end a day of winter sports. | Photo courtesy Auberge La Grande Maison.

That evening, the five of us soaked our tired selves in La Grande Maison’s bubbling thermal pools.  Afterward, snug and dry, Nola fell right to sleep, far too spent by the day’s adventures to be troubled by a replica of Da Vinci’s enigmatic masterpiece.

You may also like: Outdoor adventures at Canada’s Banff National Park

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Where to ski

Ranging from easy greens to steep double blacks, 52 trails wind throughout the 406 acres of skiable terrain at Le Massif de Charlevoix, 16 miles south of BSP. Don’t miss the resort’s downhill sledding run. 418-536-2774;

Just outside of La Malbaie, Le Mont Grand-Fonds offers 20 trails and a mellow, retro atmosphere. One lift and two T-bars serve some surprisingly challenging terrain that has abundant natural snow. 877-665-0095;

Take a break from downhill sliding at Quebec City Les Sources Joyeuses, where 32 miles of snowy crosscountry and snowshoeing paths meander through a woodland setting. The resort also has a tubing hill and a skating rink. 418-665-4858;

Where to eat

Fuel a day on the slopes with café au lait and fluffy crepes in the sunny dining room at Auberge La Grande Maison. Après ski, relax in the B&B’s thermal spa with a craft brew from nearby MicroBrasserie Charlevoix or visit BSP’s nearby artsy hub. 800-361-5575;

Where to stay

Plush duvets and chic, farmhouse decor characterize Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel and Spa, which offers a variety of accommodations, from family rooms with bunk beds to lofts with freestanding soaking tubs. 844-240-4700;

In La Malbaie (29 miles northeast of BSP), the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu has 405 bluff-top rooms and a full Nordic spa. 866-540-4464;

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