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Vallée Bleue - December 23, 2014


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Vallée Bleue: It's not much of a valley, and there certainly was no blue today, but there were many other things that made my day great. Eager to beat the upcoming inclement weather, I headed to this small family-run ski hill located in the center of picturesque Val David, in the Laurentians.  At a modest 365 vertical feet, it may be small, but this hill, nestled in the middle of a coniferous forest, has a cachet like none other in the region. From the road only a few hundred feet away, only one lift and a few runs are visible, but hiding beyond the parking lot is a surprisingly vast ski center, with 3 lifts and 19 distinct runs.


Not much to see from the road.
Vallée Bleue has the incredibly rare ability to seamlessly blend modern technology with the feeling of skiing in the 1960s, when  the ski area was developed by John Lingat. Immediately upon arrival, one cannot help but notice that the atmosphere here is totally different. The owners sipping tea by the fireplace in the chalet, the friendly employees, the cute little cabins situated around the hill, and the feeling of being totally isolated and at peace with one's surroundings have all but been lost at many developed and commercial ski centers, and all of these appreciated aspects recall a bygone, simpler era.


The main chalet, which looks like it came out of a storybook.


A small cabin which houses the defunct surface lift. It adds a sense of history to the place.
On the other hand, fortunately, the infrastructure of the hill doesn't bring back certain memories of skiing in the past, such as clunky T-bars and poor coverage. Vallée Bleue features 3 modern lifts, including 2 chairlifts and a magic carpet (one of the first in Quebec at the turn of the last century!), competitive snowmaking and grooming, and a chalet featuring all the facilities one would expect. In other words, not much missing compared to larger destinations.


The hill has modern equipment, including snowmaking and groomers.


The quad chairlift.
The setting of Vallée Bleue, totally unique in the Laurentian mountains, contributes greatly to the cachet of the place. Each run was carved through the middle of a thick evergreen forest, and as a result, every trail is completely isolated and invisible to the others. All are relatively narrow compared to many modern ski slopes, and the trees help block the hot rays of the sun from melting the snow in the spring. In the winter, they help absorb the wind, making skiing pleasant on even the coldest of days.


View from the triple chairlift onto the Panorama. The hill has a racing team which was practicing here today. Unfortunately, the top part of the Chamois with the little cliff appears to be permanently closed.
Today, the cold was not an issue at all: Ranging from -3 upon my arrival at 8:45 to -1 upon my departure at 1:30, the temperature was very comfortable, despite the air being quite damp. Light snow in the morning turned to a slight mist and fog around lunchtime, putting a damper on an otherwise nice day.  With all 3 lifts operational and 10 out of 19 runs open, there was plenty to enjoy. Despite none of the runs being very long, they are all fantastically suited for both beginners and more advanced skiers alike, and offer the option of slow or fast skiing. I particularly enjoyed the Panorama, an advanced trail which offered a soft surface perfect for carving, as well as the Black Foot, a beginner trail which was perfect for slow cruising and perfecting technique.  These two trails, as well as all the others of course, offer the spectacular scenery and charm that is Vallée Bleue's calling card.

The Panorama: the top, the middle, and the bottom

The lower (and now the only) part of the Chamois


The Expert


The Apollo


Riding up the quad chairlift: The trees on both sides make you feel isolated and sheltered, which can be calming. Below is the Sous-Chaise.


The Black Foot, the hill's signature beginner trail.
Vallée Bleue gears themselves towards families, and given the large number of children on the slopes today, I would consider them successful in this mission. From the gentle runs, the animated cartoons around the hill, and the caring staff, everything is perfectly suited for developing young skiers and their parents. Vallée Bleue happens to be the first place where I practiced downhill skiing, so today was also a way to take a step back in time and relive my early childhood.


The learning area, complete with a magic carpet. This is the exact place where it all started for me. 
My only reservation today was that many of the more interesting trails were closed, and according to a regular, were skiable. This included some of my favorites, including the Robin Hood, which neighbours a local farm and where it is possible to see horses through the fence, and the Route 42. The Glacier, which is bordered by a large cliff and frozen waterfall, was also closed. I ventured onto the Twist, and despite having no snowmaking, it seems that with a pass of the groomer it could easily be open,  and have just a few plants sticking through.


The Twist, with more than sufficient coverage to be open.


The Lapin.


The Sous-Chaise, which houses a small snow park, will probably be the next trail to open.


The hill's flagship trail, the Vallée-Bleue.
One benefit of a small hill is the ability to maintain the slopes perfectly, since there is not a large area to cover. This is certainly the case at Vallée Bleue. All surfaces were very soft despite the lack of natural snow this season, and there was no ice whatsoever, which is something many ski hills can only wish for. In terms of people, it was not very busy. Upon my arrival, there were only a few other cars in the parking lot, and throughout the day, there was absolutely no wait at either of the chairlifts. I left very satisfied with my day of skiing, totally charmed by the scenery, calm and inviting atmosphere, and unique cachet offered nowhere else.


Top of the triple chairlift.


Near the top of the triple chairlift.


The Saint-John.
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    • By Jake
      Yesterday, I could have played a round of golf, or gone for a bike ride. It was 16 degrees outside, the hottest Christmas Eve ever on record. I spent part of my day walking around Tremblant resort, in shoes and a shirt, all of my jackets abandoned at home. I admit, it felt comfortable and liberating, and with the sun shining and everyone out on the terraces, it felt more like April than December.  When it's dark outside at 4:30 though, reality hits and you remember that it's Christmas time, and we're in the midst of one of the most difficult holiday seasons for skiing, ever.
      This morning I woke up hoping for some sort of miracle, but alas, it was not meant to be. Still, I decided to go skiing to see what conditions were like after this warm week, and to get some fresh air.  For a subdued and relaxed ski outing, there's no better choice than Vallée Bleue: the place where evergreens rule, pretentions stay behind outside the gates, and tickets are available by the hour. Without all the snow, the magic and spirit of Vallee Bleue doesn't feel the same, but it was still much better than the four walls of the indoors.  Approaching the main chalet, you feel like you're entering an old log cabin in the middle of the woods.

      I got a late start today due to it being Christmas Day, but it was better than most other people, who seemed to have had no start at all.  Indeed, it was extremely quiet today at Vallee Bleue. Apart from Karen the owner, a few employees, and a lone patroller, there was no more than 20 people at the hill at any given time, and I frequently felt like I had the whole place to myself.

      Most people took the day off today. The bell took off too. 
      Snow conditions obviously weren't that good, but by no fault of the hill. This year just hasn't been conducive to snowmaking and nice conditions. The groomer obviously passed yesterday afternoon before it cooled down and the winds slowed, so this morning the trails were very hard and a bit icy, and littered with various debris from the surrounding trees. As the day progressed though and the temperature rose, the snow softened a bit, which made everything a lot more enjoyable to ski. It was quite nice, actually, despite feeling more like mid-April than December. Unfortunately, the warm temperatures have taken a toll on the base, and there was more than one stick marking off grass, dirt, and holes sticking through the snow.

      On the chairlift, there was no signs that it is indeed winter.
      On the main hill, only two trails were available, both from the quad chairlift. The first option was the Vallée Bleue top-to-bottom, and the second was the lower part of the Black Foot, accessible by taking the top of the Vallée Bleue and then the Passage. The magic carpet and the École trail was supposedly available as well, but when I looked there, the lift wasn't running and there were no skiers. I think it may have been an "on-demand" service only today, given the low volume of customers.

      Vallée Bleue

      Black Foot
      At least the price was right: at 20$ for an entire day for an adult, taxes included, it's not a bad deal. If you're not into skiing for an extended period of time, they have 1 or 2 hour tickets, with a corresponding low price.

      No lift line today.
      I have great admiration for Vallée Bleue. Despite the very warm temperatures and their older, limited snowmaking system, they have been open this entire week, and have been operating since the beginning of December. This is in contrast to many other big-name ski hills, that have either been closed this week, or have yet to open for the season. It looks like this weekend, we will finally see some cold temperatures that will hang around for a while, and maybe a good amount of natural snow on Tuesday. My thoughts are with the ski hills like Vallée Bleue that rely on the holiday season for a large part of their business, and also to all fans of winter sports who have been waiting for so long. Let's go, winter!

      Merry Christmas to all!
      The Day's Statistics
      Trails: 3 out of 20 (Vallée Bleue, Black Foot, École)
      Lifts: 2 out of 3 (Quad chairlift and magic carpet).
      Weather:  ranging from 0 to +4, cloudy with some sunny periods.
      Snow: Hard and icy at first, becoming a bit soft as the day progressed.
      Crowds: None at all, maximum of 20 people at the hill all day.

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