Backcountry Skiing in Gaspésie, from Yesterday to Today
Home to over 25 peaks exceeding 1000 metres, including famous Mount Albert, the Chic-Chocs have been attracting backcountry skiing enthusiasts since the 1970s. Today, more and more people are coming to these mountains to enjoy ideal snow conditions and the longer winter season.
Backcountry skiing in the Chic-Chocs
The skiing potential of Mont Logan, in the Chic-Chocs, was first promoted in the 1960s by the owners of the CKBL radio station (Matane), who wanted to pay for their transmitter on this mountain. Following exploratory missions, plans were made in the mid-1960s to develop a ski resort with a capacity for 5000 skiers. Newspaper articles written at the time compared the skiing potential of this mountain to the legendary Rocky Mountains in Western Canada and even to Val-d’Isère, in the Alps! However, the project was eventually abandoned.
Nevertheless, stories about backcountry skiing adventures in the Chic-Chocs date back to the early 1960s and 1970s. At the time, most people visited these mountains in the spring to extend the season once downhill ski resorts had closed. At first, only a few diehard enthusiasts climbed Mont Albert in downhill ski boots, while carrying their skis and poles. Over the years, the number of skiers increased, with people coming from as far as the United States. They generally skied the Grande Cuve, the Mur des Patrouilleurs and the Cuve des Mélèzes on Mont Albert.
Later, at the initiative of local businessmen, Héli-Ski Gaspésie (1985-1990) began offering heliskiing in the Chic-Chocs. They took skiers to the top of Mont Logan, with the idea of developing backcountry skiing in this area. This mountain was seen as an exciting potential addition to Québec’s major downhill ski resorts due to its altitude, abundant snowfall from early October to mid-June and the fact that the long slopes would not require major development work.
Initially, there was little concern about the avalanche risks that are inherent to backcountry skiing. However, the establishment of the Haute-Gaspésie avalanche centre in the fall of 1999 helped to develop expertise in this field and raise public awareness. The only centre of its kind in Eastern Canada, it continues its activities today under the name of Avalanche Québec.
Backcountry skiing: Increasingly popular in Gaspésie
In recent years, backcountry skiing has become increasingly popular. Sometimes considered to encompass downhill skiing, telemarking, snowboarding and splitboarding, this sport is enjoyed on unpacked slopes requiring human power (snowshoes or skis with climbing skins) or mechanized means (snowcat, helicopter or snowmobile) to access.
In Murdochville, backcountry skiing became a new niche market in the early 2000s. While many believed that this area was destined to become a ghost town after the local copper mine was closed in 2002, Guillaume Molaison saw the full potential of the 7 metres of snow that fall on Murdochville every winter. Wishing to take advantage of this enormous potential for adventure tourism, he created the Chic Chac hostel in 2006. In addition to offering accommodations, Chic-Chac offers backcountry skiing on Mont York (accessible by snowcat or helicopter), Mont du Porphyre (accessible by snowshoes, climbing skins, snowmobile or snowcat) and Mont Lyall (accessible by snowshoes, climbing skins or helicopter). Guests can also ski at the Mont Miller ski resort (accessible by T-bar lift).
Backcountry skiing can also be enjoyed in other places in Gaspésie. In Parc national de la Gaspésie, the Mur des Patrouilleurs and the Grande Cuve on Mont Albert (expert level) are accessible by snowshoes or using climbing skins, as is Mont Logan (intermediate level). In the Réserve faunique des Chic-Chocs, the Champs de Mars (intermediate level) and Mines-Madeleine (expert level) are exceptional sites for self-guided backcountry skiing, as are Mont Hog’s Back and Mont Vallières-de-Saint-Réal (intermediate to advanced levels).
In Sainte-Irène, Parc régional de Val-d’Irène, which is renowned for its ski resort offering 100% natural snow, has developed the “white zone” (Zone Blanche), an area reserved for backcountry skiing (accessible by snowshoes or using climbing skins). In addition, several sites affiliated with the FQME (an organization that promotes rock climbing and backcountry skiing in the province of Québec) welcome backcountry skiers in Gaspésie. These include Mont Pesaq and Mont Maria, as well as Montagne Saint Pierre in La Rédemption. Some sites are only accessible by snowshoes or using climbing skins, while others are served by a company offering mechanized access.
Several local companies offer guide services to safely experience backcountry skiing in Gaspésie. This is the case with Chic Chac (mentioned above); Ski Chic-Chocs, an exclusive guiding partner in Parc national de la Gaspésie; and Cap Castor, a private ski area with 12 slopes in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. In addition, the women’s event White Lips offers an introduction to backcountry skiing or snowboarding in the Chic-Chocs.
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To be in the loop and find out more about backcountry skiing in Gaspésie, visit tourisme-gaspesie.com and plan your trip today! #gaspesie
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