Eastern Townships offers plenty of wintry options
While Mont Tremblant north of Montréal garners celebrity glitter in its European-style alpine village, locals in the Eastern Townships are happy to shush down a cluster of less-known and less crowded mountains. Beginning an hour’s drive southeast of Montréal, spend a day on the slopes, then head to a nearby Scandinavian spa and a gourmet après-ski scene that plays out in historic New England-type towns along a popular “Route des Vins” local wine route. Here’s a trio of Township slopes and spas:
1. Family-owned Mont Sutton has scooped awards for its forest glades with winding trails from easy to extreme: they plant 1,000 trees annually to keep it woodsy. One of the snowiest resorts in Québec, it’s all about powder – much of it ungroomed – through diverse terrain that is blissfully au naturel. The ski school is one of the province’s best, and the on-mountain bar is legendary for its lively atmosphere and live local bands. Afterwards, head to Balnea, a luxury Scandinavian spa in the forest where, between saunas and cold plunges, you can bliss-out meditating on tropical fish in a giant aquarium or nibbling and sipping in a chic spa bistro.
2. Owl’s Head rises abruptly from farmland alongside Lake Memphremagog like a sugar cone. It’s a perfect family mountain with plenty of easy runs for kids and reasonable rates – Tuesdays and Wednesdays are $20 – but with a grown-up 360-degree panorama at the summit and amazing views all the way down. Nearby, tucked into the woods, is recently renovated Spa Bolton with a real Finnish sauna complete with waterlogged spruce branches to whip yourself cool. Then dip into the base of the waterfalls on the ice-fringed Missisquoi River before relaxing in a yurt heated by the crackling fire of a wood-stove.
3. The big boy of the Townships, Mont Orford, is Québec’s fourth-tallest peak, its 61 downhill trails and glades and a snow park stretching across three mountains. It’s also the centrepiece of a provincial park that features an excellent cross-country ski area with 50 km (31 miles) of track-set trails. For après ski relaxation, have a massage then commune with nature by soaking in a hot pool with a steaming waterfall amid the snowy forest landscape of the Nordic Station Spa in the lakeside village of Magog. Too hot? Plunge through a hole in the ice into the Castle Brook River.