Le Massif Review

Many skiers have resorts such as Aspen, Whistler, Verbier, Kitzbühel and Portillo on their bucket list. However, after a recent trip to Le Massif de Charlevoix, I am convinced Massif should be, at a minimum on every East Coast skiers bucket list. In fact, the mountain is listed in Chris Santella’s book, “Fifty Places to Ski & Snowboard Before You Die”. Le Massif de Charlevoix, most commonly referred to as Le Massif (translation The Massive), is a Canadian ski resort located approximately one-hour east of Quebec City (7 hours from Boston and 9 hours from NYC via car), in the province of Quebec.

There are a number of reasons why Le Massif should be on your bucket list, they are incredible views, varied and diverse terrain and rodeling.

Looking out over the St. Lawrence River from Le Massif, QC

Looking out over the St. Lawrence River from Le Massif, QC

The first and main reason this resort should be on your bucket list is the base of the mountain is located less than a tenth of a mile from the banks of the 25-mile wide St. Lawrence River. When you arrive at the mountain, you will notice you are located at the summit, it is an upside down mountain with the parking lots and lodge on top. This distinctive, but not unique arrangement (i.e., Blue Knob), delivers amazing vistas while skiing or relaxing in the bar during après ski. In fact, where one of their signature runs, La Petite-Riviere intersects with La Gagnon, it resembles an infinity pool, meaning you can’t see the trail you will ski down just the river right in front of you. This provides an illusion that if you took too much air or don’t stop in time at the bottom you will be taking a polar bear plunge in the iceberg filled seaway. I am not a skilled enough author to describe the view from the mountain, all I do is provide a list of adjectives that come to mind when reflecting on the views, such as: picturesque, captivating, unspoiled, pretty, panoramic, glorious, uninterrupted, picture postcard, eye catching, gorgeous, lovely and stunning – you get the idea.

There are very few gondola rides as scenic as the one at LeMassif, QC

There are very few gondola rides as scenic as the one at LeMassif, QC

In addition to the exquisite views, the mountain has the highest vertical East of the Canadian Rockies at 2526 ft. which similar to other large east coast resorts such as Stowe, Sugarbush and Sugarloaf. However, Massif skis much longer due to the winding (not traversing, akin to Killington) nature of the trails. In fact, Massif has two of the longest expert trails in the Eastern North America they are the FIS downhill track and triple black diamond rated La Charlevoix which measures 6863 ft. (1.29 miles) and La 42 which measures 5627 ft. (1.06 miles). The mountain, also has every type of terrain available for every level of skier. The trails range from gentle green pistes and glades for the beginners in your group, to steep moguled trails and one of only five triple black diamonds in Eastern North America (the other triple black diamonds are located at Smuggler’s Notch, VT and Mont Sutton, QC).

You will also notice the Québécois’ take a relaxed approach to trail grooming; what I mean is the resorts don’t groom every single slope into a piece of overrated corduroy. In fact, when I visited Massif this month, I was fortunate to ski in 6” of powder and never saw a groomer or the corduroy generated from a Snow Cat. The Canadians also permit many intermediate and expert runs to become fully engulfed in “les bosses”, the French term for moguls – no split grooming, just wall to wall moguls something that many eastern US resorts have forgotten about and maybe a reason why Quebec has churned out so many mogul “bosses”, such as Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, Jean-Luc Brassard, Alexandre Bilodeau and Mikaël Kingsbury – all Olympic medalists in moguls!

Trees, bump and powder skiing all at the same time be experienced at LeMassif, QC

Trees, bump and powder skiing all at the same time be experienced at LeMassif, QC

As previously noted the trail La Charlevoix is a triple black diamond – yes, such a thing exists. The trail was created, in 2001, as an FIS standard downhill track, by the great Swiss downhiller and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Bernhard Russi, to help support Quebec’s bid for the Olympic Games. However, the course was deemed unsuitable to host a men’s downhill, thus hurting the chance of Quebec receiving an Olympic bid. The trail is imposing to look at, because in an effort to increase the vertical drop of the trial, the Canadian government funded the building of a “cap” on the top of the trail which is essentially a huge pile of dirt that with a couple flights of wooden stairs going up the side, to access the very top. The cap, with its stairs, resembles the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza. However, despite the fact that it was deemed unsuitable for a men’s downhill, the trail remains a training ground for the Canadian Olympic Alpine team. La Charlevoix, as you would expect on a trail that was made to host downhill races is a wide open thruway void of trees and boulders which takes away from it overall difficulty. It is also very wide which can allow for skiers to take long arcing turns to control their speed. However, the trail is the longest double/triple black diamond in Eastern North America, it measures 6800 ft. If skied top to bottom without stopping your quads will be bathing in lactic acid. The entire trail is rarely open to the public and the top half was closed the day I was at Massif, but it does give you a whole new appreciation for what Lindsey Vonn does every weekend. The trail is a sight to behold for the sheer length of it and it will give you a very good idea what Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal are capable of bombing.

Another reason to make the trek north to Le Massif is to go rodeling, which is a German word for tobogganing. Lake Placid offers the toboggan chute which it tons of fun, but Le Massif has taken sledding to a new level. For $39.95 CDN ($29.56 US at the time of this writing) you get to ride a European type sled down the side of Mont Liguori for 7.5k (a little more than 4 miles!). During the ride there are some high speed turns and straightaways and some areas where you will need to walk with the sled to get to the next area where you can let gravity take over. The entire rodeling trip takes 2hours, including a midway stop in a chalet for hot chocolate. For safety purposes they do provide an introductory lesson on how to steer the sled and you must wear your ski helmet. Keep in mind this rodeling trip takes place in front of the mighty St. Lawrence River, so not only is it fun, it is extremely scenic.

Pulling some G's around a turn on the rodeling track at LeMassif, QC

Pulling some G's around a turn on the rodeling track at LeMassif, QC

One of the drawbacks to Le Massif is there is no nightlife or on hill lodging, so you may choose to stay in Quebec City. However, this will allow you to fully experience all that Le Massif can offer. You will have the option to ride the Charlevoix tourist train. This light rail train offers passengers 87 miles of breathtaking St. Lawrence River scenery between the cities of Quebec City and La Malbaie. Staying in Quebec City will also offer you more hotel and nightlife opportunities while giving US visitors a distinctly European flair to their visit.

Polar Express on the way to LeMassif

Polar Express on the way to LeMassif

Pros:

  • Scenery
  • Diversity of terrain (moguls, trees, groomers, powder)
  • Legit downhill track
  • Modern atmosphere
  • European flair
  • Rodeling
  • RFID lift tickets
  • US to Canadian Exchange Rate
  • Worth the trip

Cons

  • No slopeside lodging
  • Lacks a village (e.g., Mont Tremblant, Mont Ste. Anne)
  • Remote, close to nothing