The whole province of Québec is magical in winter, and the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region—a swath of rugged mountains, boreal forests, and rivers and lakes north of Québec City—is no exception. And with an average of more than 20 weeks of snow every winter and the highest concentration of adventure outfitters in the province, winter is one of the best times of year to visit. Lac-Saint-Jean, a 27-mile-wide inland freshwater sea, and Saguenay Fjord, the southernmost fjord in North America, are two of its better-known unique natural features. But they’re just the start, and the region is home to everything from backcountry snowshoeing to hut-to-hut touring—all of it easily accessible from its modern and inviting cities. Here are some of our favorite outings in one of Québec’s best winter-adventure destinations.
Try Every Kind of Skiing at Mont-Édouard
Mont-Édouard has it all—a beautiful cross-country trail system, 1,500 vertical feet of lift-accessed resort skiing, and newly developed alpine touring areas. The mountain’s five-mile cross-country trail system, accessible right from the parking lot, has both classic and skate-skiing trails, so you can take your pick: blood-pumping skate-ski workout or mellower tour. Up at the base area, you’ll find resort skiing as it was meant to be: no lift lines, uncrowded runs, and access to some of the best corduroy on the East Coast. Advanced skiers, make sure you take a lap down double-black-diamond La Desjardins, Québec’s only certified super-G course.
If it’s untracked powder and more exercise you’re after, check out Mont-Édouard’s new alpine touring areas. “Our backcountry zones offer the best skiing at Mont-Édouard, because they’re on the highest slopes and get the most snow,” says local guide Louis Poirat. If you don’t have your own gear, rent some touring equipment from the mountain’s rental shop and sign up for one of the guided packages (starting at $89 per person) to explore the area’s 115 acres of backcountry terrain. For experienced backcountry skiers, unguided passes ($29) are available, too.
Ski Hut-to-Hut on Canada’s Version of the Haute Route
There’s nothing better than several days away from civilization with a group of good friends and nothing to do but ski, eat, make big toasty fires, and play board games. That’s the idea behind hut-to-hut skiing, and why Mont-Édouard maintains three rustic but well-appointed huts along its Haute Route. The cabins, which are open to the public as warming stations during the day, can be reserved for private overnight adventures and are strategically positioned for out-the-door touring. Each cabin sleeps four to six people and features a wood-burning fireplace, fresh water, an outhouse, and a cooking stove. Book all three on consecutive nights to complete the entire Mont-Édouard Haute Route.
Kayak Between Ice Floes in a Saguenay’s Namesake Fjord
The Rivière Saguenay is frozen from shore to shore for most of the winter. But when an icebreaking ship steams through Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay in mid-March, signaling the onset of spring, it opens up a new dimension of late-winter exploration: sea kayaking among the ice floes. Check with the park on the exact timing of the icebreaking mission, then plan your trip accordingly, as this truly unique experience, which is quality-safety certified by Aventure écotourisme, can be done for only a few weeks each year. Hire a guide from one of the area’s operators, OrganisAction or Fjord en Kayak, and set out to glide around, over, and through the shattered sheets of floating ice. As the sun begins to set and the temps begin to plummet, your guide will lead you quickly back to shore to escape another impending freeze. When the mission is over, a three-course meal at Chalets Sur le Fjord’s waterside Chez Montagner restaurant, located in the village of L’Anse-Saint-Jean, is the perfect way to cap off an incredible day while watching the sunset.
Catch a Unique Winter Sporting Event
Not surprisingly, with so much to do and so many enthusiast locals, the region is also home to some pretty cool events. In mid-February, there’s the annual fat-bike race across Lac-Saint-Jean, called the Traversée du Lac-Saint-Jean à Vélo, where upwards of 200 cyclists brave snowdrifts, whiteouts, and below-freezing temperatures to complete the 20-mile crossing. Over at Mont-Édouard, ski racers regularly compete on the mountain’s renowned super-G course, which drops nearly 1,300 vertical feet from top to bottom. In 2019, Mont-Édouard even hosted the National Alpine Championships, drawing 200 of Canada’s most elite skiers. Rounding out the region’s competitive spirit is Tchitogama30, a brand-new international dog-sledding race slated to take place February 7–9, 2020.
Among the snowiest places in the world, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean receives a ton of fresh powdery snow each winter and has a high concentration of Adventure Travel outfitters. The iconic ‘Valley of Phantoms’ and ice kayaking in the southernmost fjord in North America are things to add to your vacation bucket list.