XC Ski, Car-Free (part 2)
To recap the post from a few weeks ago (in French), not only are there some great places in Montreal where you can ski without having to drive, but with a bit of research and planning, it’s easy to get out of town to places with better conditions and longer trails. In particular, one can easily take the STL 48 bus from metro Cartier to go to the Bois Duvernay, or the Galland bus to go to Val-David and its excellent Parc Régional.
Since then I’ve had the chance to take a Randonnée Adventure outing to the Parc National du Mont-Tremblant, a destination that really is totally inaccessible by public transportation, and which is well worth the trip. The club is super friendly and very bilingual, as you might imagine since all the departure locations for their trips are in Westmount and NDG. These pickup points are, however, very well chosen to correspond to the three metro lines: Atwater for the Green line, Snowdon for the Blue line, and Namur for the Orange line. It was much faster for me to take the metro all the way to Namur than to get on the bus earlier.
The next weekend, I used the Galland ticket to Sainte-Adèle that I had lying around and tried out the network of cross-country and backcountry ski trails maintained by Plein-Air Sainte-Adèle. It needs to be said: Sainte-Adèle’s ski network is free, and you get what you pay for. Actually, you get quite a bit more than you pay for, because the 20 or so kilometres of groomed trails were very well cleared and marked and impeccably trackset. I chipped in $10 on their website and would recommend others do the same.
The problem with Sainte-Adèle is that you probably brought your skis in a bag as well as a backpack full of food and extra clothes, and there’s no friendly chalet d’acceuil to park this stuff at (or, for that matter, to hang out by the fire at while you eat). This isn’t always a problem, because the trail network starts at and was originally built and run by the Hôtel Le Chantecler, an easy 16-minute walk from the Galland bus stop. While the hotel has lost most of its former glory as a ski-in-ski-out destination for the rich and powerful, it still has the facilities, like a locker room, which the concierge seemed perfectly willing to let me use… except…
As part of the whole “faded glory” thing, the hotel actually isn’t open all the time, and when I arrived on a Sunday, they informed me that they were closing down the hotel for the week at around noon. Oh well. It’s still a good place to stop in to pick up a free trail map and use the bathroom before heading out. Just hide your stuff in some bushes, like I did (I will not say where).
The main attraction of Sainte-Adèle is its enormous network of “historic” ungroomed backcountry trails which, in theory, allows you to ski all the way to Sainte-Agathe (on the west side of the 15) or … well … Sainte-Agathe (on the east side of the 15), but also to Morin-Heights, Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard, Val-Morin, Val-David, Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson, and so on. This network is unfortunately cut in half by the 15, with the only link (the Adéloise-Est and Whizzard-Nord) marked using a dashed line as “not recommended” on the map. This is likely because the bridge crossing the Rivière du Nord may or may not currently exist, but there are probably a bunch of “No Trespassing” signs thrown in for good measure.
The network is also only tenuously connected to Morin-Heights. The former Loup-Garou Nordique trail that linked the CCC and Western is now cut by, you guessed it, “No Trespassing” signs. If Martine Ouellet can get the “right to roam” in her proposed constitution of an independent Québec, then all I can say is: sign me up. Thankfully there’s a short and usually snow-covered stretch of road linking these trails that works almost as well.
This leaves the Rapide Blanc as the only official link between the two networks. It is unfortunate that the backcountry trails are considered on the map to be uniformly difficult, because while some, like the Maple Leaf and the Fleur-de-Lys, are well-graded and quite pleasant on touring skis, and others, like the Western and the Munson, are a bit “olé-olé” but fundamentally doable, certain trails are basically impossible in fast snow conditions without specialized equipment (or perhaps using nylon climbing skins to go both up and downhill). The Rapide Blanc is one of those trails.
So, in the end, I had a miserable day of skiing. I skied the Loup-Garou (groomed – but watch out for the first descent which stops abruptly at a road crossing, because you will end up in the middle of that road, probably face-down in the gravel), the CCC, then down the road to the Western, to the (urgh) Rapide Blanc, then the Fleur-de-Lys, which took me back to the groomed network on the Adéloise-Ouest, which I skied all the way back to the hotel. The snow was somehow fast, soft, and heavy at the same time. I’m not a great descender to begin with but I ended up just stair-stepping up and down all the hills, which is less than fun on 200mm old-style backcountry touring skis (whose metal edges were uniquely useless in these conditions). This meant that the whole thing took quite a lot longer than I expected and I was very worried about getting back before dark.
Nonetheless, the bus is fairly well timed, since it passes at 6:10PM (officially, but probably a bit later) and you probably don’t want to be skiing after 5PM or so anyway (in the end, I finished in the twilight at 5:20PM). This gave me time to pack up my stuff and eat a poutine at the Friterie across the street from the bus stop.
I’m not sure I would go back. From a logistic standpoint it isn’t awful. The bus leaves you pretty close to the trails, at least the ones on the west side of the 15. You have all day to ski and, if the conditions are good, a lot of very nice trails to ski on. But you have to be absolutely self-sufficient, as there is no place to get food or water, no warming hut (there’s a hut but it has no “warming” and is apparently kind of dismal), no patrols and possibly no other skiers on the trails (I didn’t see a single person on skis all day). The smart thing to do would be to go the other direction on the Western and ski into the village centre of Morin-Heights, have lunch, then head back to Sainte-Adèle the same way. I swore, somewhere on the CCC, that I would never go backcountry touring again…
…until the next time!