Mont Ste Marie - January 18, 2023
It is mid-week, and wanting to enjoy the slopes with lots of vertical drop but without the lift lines, the choice was clear, a visit to Mont Ste Marie was in order.
After checking the trail status online the night before, I woke up early and planned to be out the door at 7:45am. As luck would have it, I ended up leaving a bit later than planned but arrived at the mountain at 9:30am, just 30 minutes past opening. The expansive parking lot was fairly empty, enabling me to park very close to the chalet. A brief time later, my ski boots were on my feet and my skis and poles were in my hands. I headed over to get my lift ticket and proceeded to the Vanier Express detachable quad. As it would be for my first run, and how it would be for every one that followed, I was skiing onto the chairlift, with not even the slightest line to slow me down.
Along the ride up to the summit, the ski trails appeared to be in impeccable condition, and they were. 12 runs were open, which made for 6 different ways down the mountain. They included Yodel, Serenade and Bellevue, followed by Caroline Calvé or Exhibition at the bottom of Vanier mountain. For Cheval Blanc, the legendary Outaouais/Dustin Cook race trail was available, in addition to Frank Pouliotte/Radar to return from Cheval back to Vanier.
I feel silly admitting that I did Frank Pouliotte quite a few times, it turns out that it is quite enjoyable due to its length and winding narrow slope, which affords views of the approaching Vanier mountain along the descent.
While the traverse from Vanier to Cheval base is generally flat, I was happy to see that the little Tram/Tractor/Train was operating, shuttling people to Cheval Blanc. It is a fun way to change things up between runs, and as you take off your skis and place them in the holders on the side of the tram, it also has that Gondola feel to it as well. It really is the Big Mountain close to home, but without the high price and the accompanying long lift lines.
What about conditions? They were great. A nicely groomed surface on all the trails, with no ice. Yodel, Tornade Haut and Exhibition were left ungroomed. Dustin Cook had a harder race feel to the surface.
Exploring the rest of the mountain, the recent snowmaking efforts are quite noticeable, especially on Cheval Blanc. Several snow groomers were hard at work, preparing to open Betsy, the classic double diamond of Mont Ste Marie, as well as the remaining trails on this area of the mountain.
Overall, it was a great day on the slopes. The conditions were fantastic, and the ability to do lap after lap by skiing directly onto the lift after every run was amazing. It goes without saying that you definitely spend more time on the trails at Mont Ste Marie than you do elsewhere in the Ottawa/Gatineau region. The high-speed lifts are key to this, as well as the sheer length of the trails. Most take a good 3 minutes, even at speed to reach the bottom. Frank Pouliotte, the longest trail, took on average 3.5 minutes from top to bottom, casually taking it at speed. The lift ride back up is about 6 minutes. This compares to the average run time elsewhere of 1-1.5 minutes. Again the value and time you spend on the slopes at Mont Ste Marie really can't be understated, and truly sets it apart.
With lots of new real estate developments popping up around the base areas, and the prospect of a full hotel and smaller boutique hotel coming soon, the mountain is in a period of true transformation. It is quite exciting to see.
New this year is CoolBox (https://reservationcoolbox.ca/destinations/mont-ste-marie/), located at the base of Vanier mountain on the Exhibition trail. These are small lodging units, that are fully featured (bathroom with shower, full kitchen, living room and bedroom). A great option for a short weekend stay at Mont Ste Marie.
To recap, great conditions, easy lapping, beautiful views, long trails, and great price.... equals as perfect of a day on the slopes as you can get. The only negative was a cloudy sky, that only decided to clear up at the very end of my visit, which only made me put in a few more runs under the sun.
Here are some more pictures from this visit.
Betsy getting ready to thrill!