Last week when it was 50 degrees and spitting rain, the Dogy Down Films crew packed up our gear, kissed the kids goodnight, and piled into a Honda Pilot to begin the 10-hour overnight drive to the Chic-Choc Mountains in Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula. Each one of us was secretly wondering what we were getting ourselves into; it was also raining in the Chic-Chocs that night and none of us had ever laid eyes on those mountains before. Plus, we only had about a day and a half to fit in some backcountry turns (if we could find them) before we were due back for dad duty.
52 hours (and 1100 miles) later, we were all scheming how to go back after easily one of the most enjoyable backcountry adventures we’ve experienced. If you have ever even remotely considered making the trek north to ski the Chic-Chocs, our advice to you is Go There Now! As we prepare to hit the middle of February in Vermont with the most meager snowpack in memory, the Chic-Chocs have solid coverage and unlimited terrain to explore.
Day one (Thursday) saw us roll right out of the car and into a 6-mile approach each way through the alpine bowls of Mont Albert in the heart of Gaspesie National Park. Our guide from Expe Adventures had a tricky job of navigating us to a safe zone on a day where the avalanche ratings were considerable everywhere above treeline from the overnight rain.
Despite the challenging conditions, the tour was incredible…traversing through a series of drainages and valleys ringed with bowl after bowl of enticing terrain.
As you can see from the pictures, it’s unlike anything else in the east: it had more of an arctic feel to it because the treeline is so much lower that far north. The peaks are similar in height to the Green Mountains, but because of that lower treeline the alpine dominates. So much potential!
Final destination for the day was Le Grande Cuvee, a more mellow bowl on the backside of Mont Albert. Like any good mountain range, this one made you feel very very small in the middle of so much wilderness.
Onto our second and final day (Friday), we went sans guide and chose a much shorter approach to a popular zone just south of the park boundaries, Mont Lyall. Whereas the first day’s tour was through a mostly treeless alpine area, day two saw us skinning through western-style pine glades on its steep slopes, and (even better) a day with low avalanche danger.
Within a few hours we topped out on the summit to some great views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chic-Chocs have literally every kind of terrain you would want to ski. Big alpine bowls, steeps, cliffs, chutes and couloirs, glades and gullys, etc.
This particular peak had almost all of those features spread across a compact, horseshoe-shaped ridgeline. We chose to take on a steep chute of trees so perfectly spaced they seemed man-made. That was only one of the many lines to choose from, with others resembling Mt. Washington’s Gulf of Slides. So much accessible terrain in such a small area!
These were the best turns of the trip…the steepness of the slope allowed us to break through the persistent rain crust and get our skis into the dense powder below. While rain crust is never ideal, this trip was all about perspective: with almost nothing to ski at home, we thoroughly enjoyed the chance to make some real backcountry turns on some big lines.
When planning your trip, start with the Avalanche Quebec website to get a handle on conditions, avalanche danger and weather.
Expe Adventures offers guiding services both inside and outside the park for reasonable rates.
There are a variety of options to crash in the area. We chose to stay at the centrally located Gite du Mont-Albert which has hotel rooms as well as outlying cabins.
And lastly, when you arrive stop by the visitor’s center next door to the Gite. It offers daily conditions reports, maps and guidebooks which are all helpful despite only being in french (pictures help!).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jon Miller is the co-founder of Dogy Down Films, a group of dads who chase backcountry powder inbetween chasing kids and work deadlines. Based in Burlington, they are working on a follow-up film to their debut effort The Way Up which chronicled the 2014-15 season in the New England backcountry. Check them out at www.dogydownfilms.com and follow them on Instagram at www.instagram.com/dogydownfilms.