In Canada no one thinks twice about going out in below-freezing temperatures. That stoic ethos is a big part of why the province of Quebec remains my favorite destination for winter adventure. French fur traders, after all, were the first European extreme sportsmen in North America. During this four-day visit to the Laurentian Mountains — about 90 minutes north of Montreal — I plan to ice skate, fat-tire bike ride, snowshoe and cross-country ski ... and then partake of après-ski refreshments beside a crackling fire.
Downhill skiers know of the region because of Mont-Tremblant, one of North America’s premier alpine resorts. Less well known is Parc national du Mont-Tremblant, a 583-square-mile winter paradise cut through by six major rivers and boasting more than 400 lakes. It's ideal for cross-country skiing. As a novice skier, I love its well-marked and -groomed trails, which are ranked by difficulty.
Of course, the Quebecois approach to winter recreation (and life!) is more about the rich experience than simple energy exertion, so as I ski, I take advantage of each warming hut along the 3.5-mile Le Poète Trail that departs from the La Diable Discovery Centre.
Next up is fat-tire biking, a recent trend in cycling that features bikes with bulbous wheels that allow pedaling over snow. Sounds easy, but when I first start out, something doesn’t feel quite right. As I ride through a birch forest, I find that riding a fatty takes more balance, and a lot more faith, than a regular bike ride, especially on the downhills. Still, slipping through the paper birch sentries and shadowing the Diable river is a ton of fun. With friends, I ride for about two hours before returning my two-wheeled steed to the shed and warming up beside an outdoor fire with a hot toddy.
I wonder what a 17th-century fur trader who used snowshoes as a means of transport (and survival) would think of the newly popular sport of recreational snowshoeing, which allows virtually anyone who can walk to get out in winter beauty. My guess, though I don’t know how to say it in French, is “What took you so long?” Parc national du Mont-Tremblant offers two glorious sections of well-maintained snowshoeing trails totaling 35 miles.
As a lifelong hockey player who’s much more comfortable on two blades than on my own feet, and as someone who chooses the woods over city streets every time, I was dizzy with excitement when I first heard about the area’s skating ribbons: meandering trails of smooth ice. I lace up and glide into the forest at Parc régional Bois de Belle-Rivière, a provincial park near Mont-Tremblant, and I have to suppress my desire to whoop the entire time. The Bois de Belle-Rivière gets even better in the evening; torches are lit along the way for night skaters!
With so much activity, you may need some downtime; I found mine at Scandinave Spa in Mont-Tremblant. There’s a campus of luscious hot pools, saunas and, yes, a napping room. Silence is encouraged, and with no wifi provided or cellphones allowed, you might feel transported back in time a few years — or a few centuries.
Rather Go West? Try Canada's Rocky Mountains
Everything is bigger in the Canadian Rockies, beginning with the glaciers in Banff National Park. Winter offers a wonderful, uncrowded opportunity to explore these crazy blue ice sheets on the Icefields Parkway, and don’t forget to gaze upon the gorgeous Lake Louise below Victoria Glacier. Perhaps rent some crampons and enter Johnson Canyon for an amazing walk or, if you’re so inclined, an ice climbing lesson. You might even consider a dogsled adventure, offered just outside the village of Lake Louise.