As Montreal becomes entombed in snow and the cold creeps deeper into our bones, many McGill students thoughtlessly write off the Quebec winter as devoid of life. While the cold may hinder our motivation to venture out, it can also unearth many fantastic winter activities, for which Quebec is renowned internationally. So before you curl up under your covers for another season of One Tree Hill on a Saturday afternoon, consider the wide assortment of winter activities around you! From discovering all that Mont Royal offers to heading out further into the surrounding area, push yourself to escape the McGill bubble and discover the winter wonderland that is Quebec.
Mont Royal and Parc Jean-Drapeau play host to the majority of winter activities within the city, dispelling the myth that such destinations can only be accessed by car. In reality, some of the best lie right at the doorstep of the McGill campus and many are accessible with public transportation.
Chris Conery, a U3 Management student and avid snowboarder, emphasized how accessible winter activities can be here in Montreal.
“We are so lucky to go to a school in a city whose winter has so much to offer,” Conery said. “It is amazing how many exciting events are downtown throughout the winter.” Parc Jean-Drapeau is only a short Metro ride on the yellow line (Stop: Jean-Drapeau; single fare: $3). Access to both parks is free of charge, with activities such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing costing a few bucks more. Mont Royal activities will stay open until late April. However, attractions at Parc Jean-Drapeau are only open for the duration of Fête des Neiges (Snow Festival), on the four weekends starting Jan. 18.
Winter sports in the city
With the plummeting temperatures comes ice, and the Canadian pastime of skating could not find a better home than Montreal. There are plenty of places around the downtown core to practice your skills. For beginners, Lac-Aux-Castors (Beaver Lake) on Mont Royal is the best, offering the cleanest ice surface, affordable skate rentals ($9/2hrs), and beautiful views of the city. For more advanced skaters or those looking to learn how to play hockey, Parc Jeanne-Mance and the McConnell Arena offer great shinny (pick-up hockey) games.
Humbly accepting its role as the butt of many jokes, curling has carved itself out a unique niche in the sports world. Canada has back-to-back Olympic gold medals for curling, and more and more people are trying out this curious sport often dubbed “Chess on Ice.” The game is competitive, tactical, and above all, much harder than it appears. Stewart Museum on St Helen’s Island (near Parc Jean-Drapeau) rents out curling ice rinks for $20, which can each hold a group of eight to ten people.
Mont Royal also offers unparalleled accessibility for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing, both of which are great ways to get exercise while enjoying the great outdoors. Mont Royal has 22 kilometres of groomed cross-country skiing trails. Skis and snowshoes can be rented from the McGill Recreation desk in the Sports Complex for $10/day. Alternatively, Parc Jean-Drapeau has several kilometres of trails and offers rentals for $19/2hrs.
Another popular winter activity is snow tubing, which involves riding a large inflated rubber inner-tube down a slope either solo or with friends. Mont Royal features Montreal’s best-known and most accessible park, where it costs $9 to participate. For the intrepid tuber, Parc Jean-Drapeau and Mont Avila feature more precarious slopes.
For those looking for an even more exotic adventure Fête des Neiges offers hour-long dog-sled tours around the island for $12. Aside from the experience of harnessing the power of 10 sled-dogs, the tour will also allow you to meet and spend time with the majestic dogs at their kennel before and after the ride.
Those interested in terrain-park skiing and snowboarding can seek out Parc Jean-Drapeau, which has recently installed a new cable-pulley system (télétraction) to sharpen your skills on rails, jumps, and boxes. Though not cheap, it’s a great alternative to night-skiing and will help you quickly prefect skills to later show off at the mountain.
Destinations Outside of Montreal
Those willing to move further outside Montreal are rewarded with a rich and diverse set of winter activities. Though feared by many for its brutal and biting cold, Eastern Canada is also internationally renowned for fantastic skiing and snowboarding. As residents of Montreal, we are uniquely situated near various mountains that span out to the north, south, and west. Great skiing is not only reserved for those with cars; there are many forms of public transportation from Montreal’s core to the surrounding mountains.
The popular mountain Bromont is less than 45 minutes from Montreal’s core and is large given its proximity, boasting 102 runs serviced by nine lifts. A mountain for all skill levels, it plays host to great learning facilities for skiers and snowboarders alike as well as a large terrain park and glade skiing for more advanced riders. Bromont is also one of the few hills to offer night-skiing, which runs until 10 p.m. Runs are lit with floodslights and lift tickets are cheap, making night skiing a great evening activity following work or class. The mountain is serviced by the Students’ Society of McGill University’s Ski and Snowboard Club (SSMUSki), but can also be accessed with public transport from Transdev Limocar (limocar.ca), which drops you off in the Bromont village and offers student discounts (approximately $20 one way).
Mont Tremblant is only an hour and a half from Montreal, yet it offers some of the best skiing in the entire Northeast. It is not uncommon to find French nationals and American tourists venturing to Tremblant to discover their fantastic hills, beautiful views, and vibrant village. The Tremblant village is a staggering network of everything one could desire, from hot tubs to coffee bars, high-end shopping to microbreweries. With more than 650 acres of skiable terrain serviced by fourteen lifts, Tremblant is the crown jewel of Quebec skiing and is internationally acclaimed. New skiers will love the diversity of terrain available to hone their newfound skills, while more advanced riders will stay ever enthralled with the glade skiing, diving black diamonds, and gigantic terrain park. The mountain is serviced by SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club as well as by public buses. The Gallant Bus company services the route from Station Centrale (1717 Rue Berri), leaving at 7:30 a.m., and making stops at Mont Blanc, Mont Sainte-Sauveur, and finally at Tremblant Village at around 10:15 a.m.
If you’ve brought your passport with you to school, a gem lies just beyond the Vermont border for all of your winter sport needs. Jay Peak, renowned for skiing with its 1,200 metre mountain, also hosts a variety of other winter sports, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. For those looking for something a little different, Jay Peak features a massive new indoor water park with several slides, hot tubs, a lazy river, and an artificial wave pool.
Other Festivals and Attractions
If your skills have been honed at Jeanne-Mance enough for the big leagues, put your team to the test and sign up for the Montreal Pond Hockey Festival on Feb. 8 and 9. Located in the picturesque town of Old Lachine, Quebec (only a 10 minute drive from Montreal), the tournament draws over 50 teams from across the province. So whether you’re there for the glory, the “Best Bucket” competition, or the free Moosehead, there’s something beautifully Canadian about hockey that can be cherished by all.
The Barbegazi Winter Action Sports Festival is also a great option for those looking for an adrenaline-infused weekend of lumberjack, snowskate, and freestyle snowmobiling competition. Set on the backdrop of Olympic Stadium and running on Feb. 15 and 16, it’s a glimpse into the world of extreme sports for those willing to take the plunge.
For the bravest souls, the Montreal Ice Canoe Challenge is a canoe race over ice, snow, and water in the Old Port of Montreal. On Saturday, Feb. 22, competitors in groups of five will run and paddle their 25-foot canoes across the arctic waters of the St. Lawrence. This challenge is part of the “circuit québécois de canot à glace,” an intense ice canoe racing competition, and is a perennial hit amongst fans looks for thrills, spills, and revelling in others’ misery.
Getting Involved On Campus
There are a variety of resources at your disposal to help facilitate your introduction to the Quebec winter wonderland.
SSMUSki runs weekly trips on weekends to mountains throughout Northeast Canada. With your $100 membership comes free coach transportation to and from hills, reduced lift ticket fees (30-50 per cent off), as well as use of their tuning equipment.
As Sebastian Groenhuijsen, Co-President of SSMUSki points out, “SSMUSki caters to any and all skiers and snowboarders, doesn’t matter if you shred every week, or only once a year. We provide super cheap lift tickets and transportation and let you decide what you want to do at the mountain.”
For those looking to push themselves further outside their comfort zone, McGill Outdoors Club (MOC) facilitates a variety of winter trips, including snowshoeing, winter camping, ice-climbing, ski touring, ice-fishing, ice-breaker canoeing and many more. MOC runs trips on an ongoing basis and is accessible to all with a $20 membership.
Finally, the McGill International Students Network (MISN) offers overnight ski trips specifically for international students to mountains around Quebec.
Lara Bailey, Treasurer of MOC, explains why life is better in the great outdoors.
“Being in the snow, fresh air, and sun clears out the cobwebs in your brain and gets your blood pumping.” Bailey says. “A day of wading through snow sharpens the mind for a week of academic assault […it is] better battling mother nature instead of the books.”
We are constantly overwhelmed by information; tweets, texts, messages, notifications, emails, phone calls, articles, readings, essays, and group projects alike. Sometimes the best thing to do for yourself is to step away, breathe deep, and enjoy the simpler things in life.
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Full disclosure: Benjamin Pidduck is the Co-President of SSMU Ski and Snowboard Club