Part 1 - Laurentides
Here I am, Canada, Quebec, Montreal. 1 676 km east of Banff. My mission to get deeper in my French speaking touring community is going pretty well. I have to admit; I am truly surprised by the amount of people who are now gearing up to ditch the chairlifts. Touring is the new “big thing” here.
On top of my touring destinations’ list is the Laurentides, which is a bit north of Montreal. It took me a while to start my little skinning journey this season for one simple reason: no snow. El Nino is not my friend. El Nino doesn’t have any skier friends close to Montreal. Screw you Hell Nino! December 29th was our first snowstorm. It was late, but great: 25 cm of fresh, natural, deep, white, snow. This means two things. First, our season started way too late. Second, our season started with a bang!
My first destination was Mont Avila, where I learned how to ski 16 years ago. That place is now the Mecca for park riders. I remember being a little kid and hearing about plans of building a massive snowpark in my favorite run, from top to bottom. I was pissed! A couple years later my best friend Pierre brought me into it and I fell in love with freestyle. I bought XL clothes, sagged my pants, and shredded the park (well, I tried my best!) every weekend of my high school years. This time though, it is with a GoreTex jacket, handcrafted powder skis and a pair of skins that I rediscovered that place.
My sister Marie and I drove from Montreal to Saint-Sauveur on Dec 29th. My parents own a condo there that they rent every season, but unfortunately they weren’t able to rent it that month. So we stayed there and started skinning the very next morning to take advantage of that deep snow. The mountain was still closed due to Hell Nino and the staff working on the snowguns didn’t seem to care about us skinning up, which allowed us to enjoy our best East Coast pow ever! Avila isn’t steep so we lapped a few different pitches and then finished our pow day with a massive smoked meat poutine at La Belle Province! What a day.
There are two other options to consider, other than closed ski resorts, if you want to tour in the Laurentides. The first one is using trekking/snowshoeing trails to go up a mountain and then ski down. Mother Nature didn’t give us the base we need to fully enjoy that option without buying loads of P-Tex to fill undesired core shots. I can’t tell you how it is because I haven’t tried it yet. I’ve heard about some secret stashes that offer good terrain, but many other people told me that it's all about tight turns, which I’m not a fan of.
The second option consists in using the skinning and snowshoeing trails around the ski resorts to go up and then ski down using the same trails as the regular skier do. I tried it a couple of times. It doesn’t give you the excitement of skiing somewhere “wild”, but it still gives you a reason to skip leg day at the gym! You also skip lineups at the bottom of the chairlift, get away from the crowds for a decent amount of time and it allows you to feel proud about the mountain you climbed yourself, which is a feeling that never gets old. Mont Tremblant, Mont Garceau, Mont Avalanche and many other resorts offer those trails.
I enjoyed the Laurentides for touring. It forced me to enjoy the same sport I already love for different reasons. When I was living out west, I used to skin up analyzing the mountains surrounding me trying to gauge avalanche danger while looking for the best lines to ski down. The reward would be unforgettable turns with my friends. Here I simply skin up in the trees thinking about random stuff, not wearing any avalanche gear. The reward doesn’t come after, skinning up worry free becomes the reward.
I noticed that many places sell touring bindings, but no skins. I guess it shows evidence of skiers’ motivation to get into the sport, yet shops’ reluctance to adjust their inventory since this whole “earn your turns” vibe is kind of new here. From what I saw so far, the best place to stop an ask questions for skiers and snowboarders who are curious to learn more about touring is La Cordée, in Montréal. Many other shops are, themselves, learning at the same pace as the costumers are, which is less than ideal. Split boarders, you might also want to check out Alternative Skate and Snow’s website and give them a call if you don’t live near Rimouski, Qc.
I am really happy to see the amount of events advertised on Facebook which offer the opportunity to get a taste of this variation of regular skiing. It is an expensive sport and trying it on top-notch gear without having to buy it is great. It gave me the opportunity to put my girlfriend on skins and spend a day sharing my passion with her. Thanks Groski Fest for that!
Now, on a more serious note… Although I am very excited to see where the sport is going, I also feel the need to share my thoughts about some lack of avalanche education upon us. Surprisingly, I think that proximity, as a factor, is the problem. Since we are not surrounded by avalanche terrain, we feel safe and we don't take enough time to learn about avalanche safety. Which is fine… Until we go on a trip and step into avalanche terrain, which is what most of us are looking forward to. That problem comes with the way the sport is being promoted here. We don’t talk about touring in the Laurentides as “touring in the Laurentides”. We talk about it as the first step to learn how to access the legendary powder-filled mountains of Bristish Columbia or Gaspésie. Yet, too often we do so without even mentionning the avalanche danger as an aspect to keep in mind. It makes us think that it's the same thing, but it ain't.
I am looking forward to an event introducing skiers/snowboarders to touring/splitboarding where people will be allowed to play hide and seek with beacons and where Avaluators will be handed out. I am truly hoping to see movies like “The Fine Line”, or books like “Snow Sense” on the shelves next to any books about the Chic Chocs or about Tuckerman’s Ravine. I think any staff member in a ski shop selling touring equipment should ask the clients where they want to go with that, ask them if they would be interested to see their avalanche safety equipment. Maybe shops could offer discounts for Avalanche Skills Training 1 class with any purchase of touring equipment exceeding 300$? It seems like touring is gaining popularity much faster than people's will to learn more about avalanches. I think we should do our best to promote one as much as the other.
Despite my safety concerns, I think touring has a bright future in the Laurentides. People here always seem stoked to put their skins on! The terrain is safer than pretty much anywhere else and many shops are willing to support customers in this new avenue. It is, for skiers and snowboarders, the best way to enjoy their passion with a new and more dynamic approach. I personally had a lot of fun! If ski resorts keep clearing out some skinning trails to get to the top, I wouldn’t be surprise to see more and more people using them every season.
On my destination’s list:
- Laurentides: √
- Next Stop: Chic Chocs!
Author : Vincent Hamel