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Gaspe Peninsula - Chic Choc Skiing:

The Toronto Section heads to Quebec

By Ray Rutitus and Stefan Kloppenborg

It's hard to believe avalanche advisories and avalanche safety gear are necessary in eastern Canada. I thought it was folklore that there was a secret mountain range a day's drive from Toronto that had "full-on" backcountry skiing. The Chic Choc Mountains in the heart of the Gaspe Peninsula rise up to 1200 meters above the south shore of the St Lawrence River. The Internet proved that this place was real and not mythical and before I knew it I had booked the guides and a wood stove heated cabin for the Toronto Section ski trip.

Stefan Kloppenborg and Eric Cranfield demonstrated driving endurance and managed the drive from Toronto to Cap Chat in 14 hours. In the meantime Dave Myles, Julia Burkart and myself picked up the rented AT gear in Montreal and Quebec City. During the drive I familiarized myself with the "Randonee Alpine" guide book written in French. The colour pictures of the ski route descents were in "English" and that was sufficient.

On our first day of skiing, the weather was perfect with temps of -10C and few clouds. Having never been to this area and recognizing the variable experience of the group, we decided to hire a guide. Our guide, Alex Robert from Ski ChicChocs, led us up a moderately steep mountain "Hogsback" with 500 m elevation gain from the parking lot. The dense, nearly sea level air eased the strain on our lowland lungs.

From left – Julia Burkart, Ray Rutitis, David Myles, Stefan Kloppenborg and Eric Cranfield – Photo by Alex Robert

Fresh Powder in the Chic Chocs

The first run was down "Champ Secret", a beautiful alpine slope with 20 cm of fresh snow. I was the first to ski after the guide. I made one painful turn before confirming my fear that the ankle that I had sprained while ice climbing the previous month was, in fact, not yet healed. I sideslipped the beautiful slope to the parking lot while the other trip members whooped and hollered while making wide turns in the beautiful snow.

Eric enjoying the skiing on Hog’s Back Mountain – Photo by Julia Burhart

The group made many laps on different runs and finally joined me waiting patiently in the car.

Headed up Hog’s Back Mountain – Photo by Ray Rutitis

Cozy Cabin in the Woods

Our accommodation was in a cabin heated by a wood stove which we shared with 3 Quebecois. Our attempts at speaking French hurt their ears and they quickly switched to English. The cabin had electricity which we used for recharging cell phones and laptops. Stefan's electric kettle boiled water for breakfast and coffee. The flush toilets and hot showers in the adjacent building were a welcome surprise. The early morning runs to the washroom could be easily done in PJ's. Every night we alternated with one of our group cooking a yummy dinner for everyone. The menu ranged from Indian Aloo Gobi to Kentucky Chick pea curry.

Julia warming up – Photo by Ray Rutitis

Everyday we explored different mountains (I just drove to town to buy more baguettes and beer and practiced "merci" and "au revoir"). For the second and subsequent days, we were guided by "Chip", who was the only guide at Ski ChicChocs who didn't speak French. A snowcat took us to the Mines de Madelaine area far into the mountains on two days. The skiing there was wilder especially because of high winds and -25C temperatures. Our guide Chip was very good at finding light and fluffy conditions even when the winds were scouring most of the slopes.

Stefan and the Cat – Photo by Ray Rutitis

David with his water skis – Photo by Julia Burkart

Eric in Mines-Madeleine – Photo by Julie Burkart

The More the Merrier

The group happened to be joined by a photographer named Taylor Michael Burk for one day. The 15 cm of snow overnight and additional nine during the day, coupled with the moderate winds produced a reactive storm slab that kept us off large and steep terrain, but we managed to make some fantastic turns on some lower angled slopes.

David and Chip competing in the snowiest beard contest – Photo by Julia Burkart

Another day Stefan and Julia skied to the Mount Albert "Grand Cuvee" while Dave and Eric skied closer to home enjoying the "Freshie" in the glades on Champ de Mars.

Chip and Stefan on the trail to Mont Albert – Photo by Julie Burkart

It was a long day for Stefan and Julia: it was a 24 kilometer round trip but the very gentle start to the trail leading from the parking lot meant a lot of poleing on the way back out. We were glad we made conservative terrain decisions on the previous storm day when we saw a recent avalanche crown that was 50-150 cm deep and about 200 m wide.

Mont Albert – La Grande Cuvee avalanche – Photo by Julie Burkart

We celebrated the last night in the town Ste Anne de Monts at Pub Chez Bass. We were probably the only "Anglais" in the restaurant. To blend in we ordered the best poutine I have ever eaten!

We are all already planning another trip to the Chic Chocs!

Ray Rutitis and Stefan Kloppenborg