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Laurentians Trip
by Bill Stine
Jan 12 - Jan 18, 2013

What do you do when it rains on the first day of your ski trip? Why, head to the horse races, of course! Yes, it did rain on our first day. And, no, they weren't exactly the kind of horse races you might expect.

Twenty-one intrepid skiers found their way to Val-David and the four units we rented at Chalets Chanteclair. None of us wanted to believe the forecasted rain would really happen, but we delayed making plans until Sunday morning when ski conditions could be accurately assessed. Parc Dufresne had already declared they'd be closed. And on Sunday morning Parc des Campeurs was busy putting up barriers on the trails. It was their staff who recommended we might want to check out the racing scene.

There's a park in downtown Sainte Agathe that fronts on Lac des Sables. Sunday, it turned out, was the finals for the annual horse-drawn sleigh racing on that ice-covered lake. There were classes for one-horse and two-horse teams. The course was a tight slalom-style affair and the races were against the clock. The horses are shod against slipping with specially studded shoes. Water was puddled on the ice and was splashed up by the sleighs. The footing for observers could be wet and dicey. But the racing was great! Followed by some downtown shopping and capped off by a coffee-house treat, it was a pretty nice way to spend a non-skiing day.

Racing Sleighs at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts
Racing Sleighs at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts

Everything was refrozen by Monday but the ski trails were still closed. It was now too icy and there had not been time to groom. A few people opted to ski on the linear trail, the P'tit Train du Nord, even though it was theoretically closed. More of us opted for an afternoon of snowshoeing. Parc Dufresne rents gear and has a very nice system of trails, some of which are pretty challenging. At least two groups were up for the challenge and we had a great time!

Tuesday marked my third day of early-morning surveying of local ski conditions. Parc des Campeurs said they'd be about half open and that's where we opted to ski. It was open, to be sure, but the crew was mostly concerned with clearing fallen trees and patching holes in the trails that the heavy rain had opened up. Not much actual grooming had been completed. The skiing was ok, sort of, in the morning. Conditions and grooming were considerably improved when we revisited some of the trails in the afternoon and those of us who stuck it out had a pretty good time. But it was certainly disappointing compared to our usual wonderful experience in this ski center that is the favorite of many participants.

Snowshoeing Down Steep Hill at Parc Dufresne
Snowshoeing Down Steep Hill at Parc Dufresne

By Wednesday, we reasoned, the spectacular trails of La Diable Sector of Parc national du Mont-Tremblant would be well groomed. So off we headed, following our pre-programmed GPS units. And when we arrived an hour later … they were CLOSED FOR SKIING … Ugh … who'da thunk! Unfathomable, to us, they'd opted not to groom the trails until there was additional snowfall even though there appeared to be plenty of snow cover?? Lesson learned but it was a hard one.

What to do? A couple of people stayed there, rented snow shoes and had a good time in the park. A few others had chosen the wrong waypoint and ended up at the ski center also known as Domaine Saint-Bernard. This is a "community ecotourist park" and is blessed with both an extensive trail system and Pisten Bully grooming equipment. And they were groomed! Folks who returned to Domaine Saint-Bernard had a very good ski day. A few of us returned to Val-David and skied the limited number of recently groomed trails at Parc Dufresne and actually had a pretty good day.

Thursday marked our final day for skiing. The choice was unanimous; it was for Domaine Saint-Bernard! We all headed there and had a great day. Yeah, it was zero degrees (Fahrenheit, not Celsius) but no one seemed to mind. It was nice to end our skiing experience on a high note!

Posing in Grove on Trees at Domaine St Bernard in Mont-Tremblant
Posing in Grove on Trees at Domaine St Bernard in Mont-Tremblant

I won't detail the meals prepared by our volunteer cooks but each chalet served a fully cooked meal one of the nights. They did a great job and our thanks go out to all of them. Oh, and I certainly don't want to slight our clean-up crews. The spirit of cooperation and volunteerism among our members really makes this trip a pleasure to lead!

Laurentians ... next year ... again? You bet!