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Ski Montcalm - March 5, 2015


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It might only have 466 vertical feet, but with 4 mountain sides and 5 chairlifts, Ski Montcalm is hardly your typical 466-foot ski hill. Today, for the first time,  I visited Ski Montcalm, situated in Rawdon, Quebec. Why hadn't I visited before? I don't know. Coming all the way from the West Island in Montreal, it was only an hour and 15 minutes away, or just 20 minutes longer than a trip to the Saint Sauveur region. For people living in the east end of the city or in Laval, it is much closer, making Ski Montcalm an appealing destination for little day trips or those with young children. 

So, what's up with the 4 mountain sides and 5 chairlifts deal? Nope, it's not a typo. In addition to these features, Ski Montcalm has a magic carpet, 24 trails including 2 snow parks and 2 glades,  snow tubing with a dedicated rope tow, snowshoeing, and a brand new renovated chalet with an extension for the 2014-2015 season. Wow! There certainly is no shortage of features.
 

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The base area

I arrived at 8:15, so I would have plenty of time to get ready before the official 8:45 opening.  I got ready in the new section of the chalet, which despite being very bright and airy, was seriously lacking in terms of decor or atmosphere. Concrete floors, no colours, no decorations - it honestly felt like the midst of a construction zone. They were still finishing this addition at the beginning of this season, so hopefully they are planning some finishing touches for this summer.
 

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The base area, with the newly renovated and expanded chalet

I went outside in time for the opening, and headed to the main quad chairlift, which was not running. Ten minutes later, it was still not running. Oh Oh! I took advantage of this quick breakdown to check out the Debut and its double chair, which make up the first of the 4 sides, and the only other lift accessible from the main chalet. The Debut is a perfect trail for beginners: a good length to get a rhythm going, and the perfect slope with some rolls to keep things interesting. There is even some slalom gates for more adventurous learners. Best of all, this trail is completely isolated from everything else on the mountain, meaning there is no advanced skiers whizzing through to go to or from more difficult terrain. This trail is serviced by its very own double chair, which has been adapted for beginners by being close to the ground, and running at a slow speed.  There is also a magic carpet at the bottom of the Debut, which happens to be THE shortest magic carpet I have ever seen. It couldn't have been more than 25 feet long!
 
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The Debut

After three runs on this trail, the quad chair opened, which allowed me to go to the top of the mountain and explore some of the other sides.  First I skied on the north side, serviced by 2 chairlifts, a double and a triple. This side offers the most variety, with the options ranging from beginner to advanced. Today, only the triple chairlift was running. I enjoyed many of the trails on this side, particularly the Sous-Bois XL, the Nancy Greene, and the Cachette. The Sous-Bois XL is, in fact, the wide open trail right under the chairlift, and its slope, width, and profiled terrain allow for perfect carving. The Nancy Greene, situated further along the north side,  feels very isolated from the rest of the hill, and was full of soft moguls that were neither too big nor too icy - exactly how moguls should be!  I also enjoyed the Cachette, which is one of the best glades I have skied in a long time. It is of a very good length, the trees were perfectly spaced, there was plenty of fresh powdery snow, and the coverage was perfect, with no bare spots whatsoever. Some of the other trails on this side include the Cantel and the Detour.
 
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The Sous-Bois XL: it's actually not a sous-bois at all!
 
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The Cachette
 
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The Cantel: I didn't really like this trail, which was almost flat, and required a long walk at the end to get back to the chairlift- definitely not ideal for beginners.
 
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The Detour

Later in the morning, I skied on the south side, which is serviced by another triple chairlift, and has 2 trails, named Olympic and Perfection. This side is more of a beginner-intermediate offering. Perfection, situated to the right of the lift when going up, is a beginner trail, and like many other trails at Ski Montcalm, is wide and provides a perfect opportunity for carving. The Olympic, to the left of the lift, is more of a wild "trail", and has profiled grooming on one side, and ungroomed terrain on its other.  I really enjoyed skiing this ungroomed terrain, since it had lots of loose snow that had not yet formed into large, unskiable bumps yet, and there was no ice whatsoever. This trail also has some large, natural jumps scattered throughout the trail,  which really appeals to kids. The south side also appealed to me for its full sun exposure.
 
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The Olympic: the profiled grooming is on the left side, and the right side is left in its natural state.
 
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The Perfection, and the triple chairlift
 
During lunch, I marvelled at the quality of the cafeteria, which serves mostly homemade food, made completely from scratch. The homemade donut I had was one of the best donuts I have ever eaten, and they even sell them in boxes by the half-dozen or dozen to take home.  In the afternoon, I skied mainly on the main side of the mountain. This side is home to Ski Montcalm's most difficult terrain, including the Pitch and the Mur, which both offer very steep pitches, one ungroomed with moguls and one groomed. The main trail on this side, the Grande Allee, is an intermediate trail and winds its way down the mountain, offering a few alternative routes along the way, such as the Tout-Croche and the Bonbon.  The Tout-Croche is a steeper pitch which allows you to avoid the congestion on a narrower part of the main trail, and also to gain access to one of the snow parks. Meanwhile, the Bonbon offers an easier alternative to the steeper section at the bottom.
 
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The "pitch" of the Pitch, which is ungroomed.
 

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The Mur, which is the groomed neighbour to the Pitch
 

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The Grande Allee, which is the main trail on the principal side of the mountain
 
The weather was very nice today, although a bit colder than I had hoped. It was -8 in the afternoon when I left just before 3:00, and a light wind created a bit of a wind chill, but thankfully the skies were blue throughout the day.  Conditions were great in the morning, with soft, groomed surfaces. In the afternoon, a few ice patches appeared on the busier trails, particularly on those where they make snow, but nothing worrisome. A bit of caution, and everything was still pleasant to ski. Since it is the Quebec school break, the mountain was quite crowded, and the parking lot was almost full around lunchtime. With the 4 different mountain sides and 4 out of the 5 chairlifts running, however, there was rarely any lift lines or crowding on the trails, which I see as a huge advantage! The longest I waited at the lift today was about 2 minutes, and only a handful of times.
 

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The average wait I had today: With 4 chairlifts and 4 sides operational, the crowd was dispersed over a large area.

Overall, Ski Montcalm is most suited for families and those learning the winter sport. All of their lifts are very user-friendly and close to the ground for kids, there are many beginner to intermediate trails which have a perfect slope for practicing, and the hill has many little touches which appeals to families, such as the stools in front of the sinks in the bathroom. The option of going to the tubing hill at the end of the ski day is certainly great for little kids. Ski Montcalm also feels a bit different than many other hills I've been to in Quebec, which is good for someone looking for a little bit of a change. After such an enjoyable day at Ski Montcalm, I don't know why I waited so long to come try it out. I had no excuses, since it is so close to home, and I will definitely be returning sometime in the future!

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Pros:
- A family hill with lots of attention paid towards kids and great options for beginners.
- For a family hill, there are some steeper slopes and more interesting terrain to keep parents happy too.
- Easy access from Route 125.
- 4 different mountain sides helps spread out the crowds, and many chairlifts reduce waiting times.
- Many trails, including the entire south side,are natural snow only, which makes for great skiing surfaces.
- Owners are Polish, so there are lots of interesting touches, such as the Polish barbecue that is happening next Saturday, the 14th. 

Cons:
- When the double chairlift on the north side is closed (always closed except on weekends), there is a long walk from some of the trails to get back to the triple chairlift. It would make sense to run this chairlift instead of the triple chairlift, since it is more central. 
- All of the lifts are very old and European, which seems like it might be a problem, since the quad chairlift broke down briefly this morning.
- The easiest trail down the main side is an intermediate, which is problematic for beginners returning from one of the other two sides. 
- Access from the city is not the easiest (Highway 13/15 to Highway 440, to Highway 25, to Route 125).
- None of the chairs have foot rests, so my legs were more tired at the end of the day. 
- The snowmaking system seems very antiquated and limited, which means that if it doesn't snow early in the season, the trail offerings will be totally limited to only those with snowmaking. 

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