I had larger plans for skiing this week, but the heavy rain over much of Quebec this past weekend brought an end to this idea. I still wanted to ski, though, so I went to the ski hill that's "trop près pour s'en passer": Ski Saint-Bruno. Indeed close by, this ski hill is a great option if you live in Montreal and want to ski somewhere close and convenient. Making the day even better, the sky was blue and the sun was out in full force. Out of my 19 outings to date this season, today was only the third or fourth day with sun, so it was greatly appreciated.
Another benefit of the clear skies, along with Ski Saint-Bruno's location among fields, are the views. Downtown Montreal was so visible that I was able to identify specific buildings, and on the South Side I was able to see all the way to the United States and the Adirondack mountains! Along with blue skies in January came the predictably lower temperature. It actually wasn't very cold, but there was a brisk wind which made it feel closer to -20. Dressed and equipped properly though, it wasn't an issue at all, and the mountain's small size created some shelter. Remember, compared to last season, today was positively tropical!
Montreal visible in the distance.
The 4, and the base of the mountain.
This past Sunday in Montreal, it rained torrentially for much of the afternoon and evening, and then the temperature dropped over from +5 to -10 in a matter of hours. That being said, I didn't wake up this morning expecting amazing conditions just 3 days after this episode. As always with Ski Saint-Bruno, though, the conditions were excellent given the circumstances, and markedly better than what you might find elsewhere. Also, about 5 cm of snow fell last night, and this certainly helped to soften things up a bit. Overall, the surface was firm, with a bit of loose snow and some frozen granular mixed in. Fortunately there were no large ice sheets, even in the afternoon, which I found amazing. A few of the trails have undergone snowmaking since Monday, and these were the most enjoyable to ski since the surface was less hard and granular. The only exception to these conditions was trail 15: it operates on natural snow only, so it was noticeably more icy and there were sections where dirt and rocks were coming up through the grooming.
An example of the marginal conditions on the 15.
It was surprisingly busy at Saint-Bruno today, especially with no school groups present. There was never any lines or overcrowding, but there was enough people to open the second quad chairlift around 11:00. It was busy enough to often share chairs with people, which was nice since I was skiing alone today. I was able to meet some interesting people, and a portion of their core clientele. I met a woman who works at home and lives 15 minutes away, so she purchases the 5 days/7 nights pass for 165$ and enjoys coming for a few hours in the afternoon to split up the day. This season pass is a VERY competitive offer, and definitely draws a fair amount of people.
I also had the honour of skiing a few runs with an older gentleman who averages 60-65 outings a year despite being... 89 years old! He had some interesting stories to tell about skiing and life, and lamented how he can no longer match his age and number of outings per season. I can only wish to be so healthy and active when I'm his age.
In terms of terrain, 10 out of 15 trails were open today. My favourite trails today were the 14 and 7, which offered a nice slope and consistent snow that made skiing easy. Despite being a shorter trail, the 14 had great conditions, with a softer base and some loose snow on top.
Trail 7 was great for it's consistent snow and slope. Also it seemed this trail was quieter than the rest.
Trail 14 probably had the best conditions out of all the runs.
I also enjoyed skiing trail 15 for its pitch and narrowness, despite it's more marginal coverage. I probably did 20 runs on the South Side alternating between 14 and 15, and particularly enjoyed this side for its direct sun exposure and feeling of retreat.
The 15. I enjoyed this trail despite the coverage and a bit more ice compared to the other runs.
At Ski Saint-Bruno, you won't find powder fields, triple-diamond thrillers, or anything that warrants an overnight visit. What you will find, however, is the perfect playground that always has good conditions, an amazing learning environment, and enough to keep most skiers entertained for a few hours, all while being so close to the city. The mountain should be 100% open starting tomorrow, and possible snow on Friday and Saturday should improve conditions further.
The 6a was open, despite only 15-20 cm of coverage, and was great to ski as long as you were careful.
Trail 4, while going up the chairlift.
The Day's Statistics
Trails: 10 out of 15 (1,2,3, 9, and 12 were closed for snowmaking, maintenance, or just inaccessible).
Lifts: 3-4 out of 8 (Chairlifts B and D, magic carpet 2, chairlift C opened at 11:00).
Weather: Sunny and -10, felt like -19 with the wind.
Snow: Firm base with a surface with varying amounts of soft loose snow to frozen granular. A bit windswept in places.
Crowds: No lines or crowding, but enough to sometimes share chairs and open an additional lift. Seemingly busy for a Wednesday.
This fall has been kind to neither skiers, snowboarders, nor hill operators alike. Apart from a very early surprise from Mont Saint Sauveur way back in October, a lack of cold nights, persistent rain and warm temperatures have kept snow guns at rest a lot longer than we all would have wished. Nevertheless, winter must finally come, and it is now, at the end of November, that ski hills across Quebec are slowly opening their lifts for the season. Finally! To take advantage of this, I took a trip to Ski Saint-Bruno, which opened for the season yesterday. For their opening day, the price was only 1.00$ (or whatever you would like to pay), with all income going to a local charity. A great initiative, both for the beneficiaries, and also by increasing accessibility to skiing.
My last visit to Ski Saint-Bruno was last winter, on January 13. At first, everything about my visit today appeared different to last year's, but as I got going, everything turned out to be almost the same. How's that possible? It's the magic of Ski Saint-Bruno, that is, fantastic snow conditions and grooming regardless of the temperature, time of year, or precipitation. Despite it being the second day of the season and having had tons of rain a few days ago, the surface was soft and smooth, allowing one to ski fast and carve without worry of slippage. Ice that is normally present at the beginning of the season was nearly absent, as were the classic golf balls that are usually an unfortunate reality of early-season skiing. Obviously the surface wasn't 100% perfect, but for Day 2 of operations, it far surpassed my expectations. Another thing that mirrored my last visit was the size and quality of their ski school - many group lessons were taking place, as well as training for future instructors in order to ensure top quality for their programs later this winter.
In terms of different, obviously terrain was reduced. There were 4 trails open out of 15, which basically equalled 2 different ways of going down - either #5 leading to #4 on the north side, and #13 on the south side. The magic carpet and #10 rounded out the offerings. Normally the south side doesn't open until later, so it was nice to see some additional terrain available right from the get-go. The opening of the south side allowed me to see some of the changes made there, notably and widened base area, a widened trail #15, and a new sous-bois for experts. There are rumours that this side will be significantly expanded with a new chairlift and more trails, so this probably isn't the end of the changes. Also noted was a small snow park on #4 to accommodate those such inclined.
Volume at the hill was as expected for a Sunday morning in late November - enough people to give the hill some life, but no waiting whatsoever at the chairlift, and plenty of space to move around on the trails. Visibility was a bit of a disappointment though. The fog and flurries, combined with the mist from all the snow canons operating, made it difficult to see at times and iced up my goggles (Do they make heated goggle lenses yet? Add it to my Christmas list).
Speaking of snowmaking, it was progressing very well on #6, #12, and #14, meaning these trails should be open within the next week or so, at the most. The terrain at Ski Saint-Bruno has been so well manicured that very little snow is needed to open the trail - no rocks, streams, or tall plants means a thin layer of snow is enough. This allows them to be 100% open (apart from glades) by the holiday season, which is a huge advantage to their clientele during this period. As long as the temperatures stay low, though - Let's hope!
The Day's Statistics
Trails: 4 out of 15 (#4, 5, 10, 13).
Lifts: 3 out of 8 (Magic Carpet 2, Chairlifts B and D).
Weather: -2 with cloud cover and light flurries, some fog.
Snow: Groomed snow with soft granular on surface.
Crowds: Very little, mostly group lessons and instructor training. No lift line.