Growing up as an East Coast skier I longed for the days I could finally test myself on big mountain terrain. I dreamed of alpine bowls, steep trees, and deep pow. With a limited budget for a plane ticket out West, I thought I would have forgot these daydreams until my bank account grew. Little did I know that on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River is a mountain range with terrain equal to any range out West. These were the Chic-Chocs Mountains, located in the central region of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec.
My first time to the Chic-Chocs was during spring break of my junior year of college. When others had planned trips to warmer climates in search of scantily clad coeds, a couple of my friends invited me on a ski trip to these mountains.
A group of us piled into a couple old Subaru Outback, chock full of gear and tired humans for the ten-hour drive to the Parc national de la Gaspésie, which protects must of the range. What followed was a mind-opening week for this young band of skiers and snowboarders. The terrain and raw natural beauty coupled with an unfamiliar language made us feel that we were much further away than the province of Quebec.
It turned into a defining trip for all us. The next year we returned and explored deeper in mountains, somehow topping our first experience. Since then most of my friends from those trips have moved to mountain towns across the West, but the Chic-Chocs will forever be one of our most sacred ranges. Here is what you need to know before you head up.
To get to Gaspésie from Montréal or Québec City, take Highway 20 and/or Route 132. Route 132 starts at the American border with New York State (New York State Route 37) and runs along the St. Lawrence River all the way to Gaspésie, where it circles the peninsula and is known as the Gaspésie Tour.
The drive is beautiful, snaking along the frozen St. Lawrence River and if you're coming from the States I recommend lunch and a quick walk around Old Québec City as an inspiring way to start your trip.
Where to Stay
Gîte du Mont-Albert, Sépaq photo.
The hotel close to the action is the Gîte du Mont-Albert , which offers a wide variety of lodging options from hotel rooms to cabins that can hold up to eight people. Most cabins have a bathroom, fireplace or woodstove, a living room with sofa, a telephone, towels and sheets. Fifteen of the cabins, all located near Gîte du Mont-Albert, have a fully equipped kitchen. If this is not your thing the hotel has over 60 rooms to choose from.
I highly recommended staying in a cabin with a kitchen if possible. The rates are affordable and you can cut costs on the trip by cooking your own meals. A highlight for our crew was trying to make our own poutine, inspired by the local cuisine, during our last night. The Gîte has a full restaurant and bar, so I did splurge one night for dinner and more elaborate drinks after we consumed more than our fair share of Molson.
What makes the Gîte du Mont-Albert convenient is it’s a short drive to both the ski trailheads and the Discovery Center, which offers daily avalanche reports and terrain beta.
Where to Ski
What makes the Chic-Chocs such a unique mountain range is they have flat tops, but steep sides, which makes them unique from other East Coast mountains. This means you can access steep terrain and longer runs, couple this with over eight to ten meters of snow annually and you have a recipe for excellent ski touring.
Every day your starting point will be the Discovery and Visitor Center in the Park. Here you can purchase passes to access the terrain, then decide which area you will spend the day. All of these are accessible from Route 299 and the trailheads are only 8 to 12 km from the Center. The guidebook is in French and is also available for purchase, but even with a basic knowledge of the language
You can explore all of the following terrain and more on your own or go through a local guiding company. I recommend Ski Chic-Chocs , which offer everything from cat-skiing, avalanche education, and guided tours.
Mur des patrouilleurs & Grande Cuve
Easily the highlight of the trip was the skiing off of Mur des patroulilleurs and the Grande Cuve which are both located off of Mt. Albert. The large bowls and steep lines have rivaled what I have seen out in Jackson Hole, and if you can time the conditions right this will go down as an all-time favorite.
To access park at Ruisseau-Isabelle then skin to Serpentine Refuge, five kilometers away. This usually takes an hour and a half depending on physical fitness level. This Refuge is a beautiful place for a water and bar break. From here there are two areas to explore, the Grande Cuve and Mur des patrouilleurs. The Wall is a steep technical face with both couloirs and cliffs.
To access the Grande Cuve pass the Serpentine Refuge and follow the creek for the next four km. Once you arrive at the bass you can scope different terrain choices from there. All of this is active avalanche terrain so proper knowledge and equipment paramount. Mur des patrouilleurs & Grande Cuve is a full day with over 20 km of skiing and hiking so plan accordingly.
This is a classic area with 40-degree pitches and endless tree skiing. The approach from the parking lot is a longer slog and takes about two hours to reach the base. From here it’s a one-hour hike to the summit. Once you are done with your first descent there is a skin track that reconnects you to the shoulder. Now you can do one-hour hot laps on this terrain. The trees protect the snow and they’re a plenty of cliffs for the more sendy skiers.
Mont Hog's Back (Réserve faunique des Chic-Chocs)
Hog’s Back is a classic mountain in the Chic-Chocs because of the easy to access terrain and its close proximity to the road and Discovery Center. The mountain is a large convex roll. The East Side tends to be slightly steeper and holds more snow. Depending on where you drop in you can access terrain such as the Grand and North Couloir. Skinning from the trailhead takes little over an hour so it I recommend for a good first day of the trip ski.