When it comes to finding ways to enjoy winter, Quebec is the ultimate “Great White North” destination. Canada’s largest province by area, it’s also home to the country’s second largest city, Montreal. From the maritime region, to the Eastern townships, to Northern Quebec with its extensive lakes, rivers, and forests, the province’s geography is as intriguing as its predominantly French culture.
Come for the chance to experience a flavor of Europe in North America, and stay for the winter fun. Here’s a winter guide to help with your planning.
Downhill or cross-country, you’ll find lots of opportunities to ski around the province of Quebec. The main regions for downhill include the Laurentian Mountains, Eastern Townships, and Quebec City-Charlevoix.
Mont Tremblant Ski Resort, pictured above, is located about 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Montreal, a city that has been called Canada’s cultural capital. Its multinational cultural heritage continues to grow as it welcomes newcomers from around the globe. If you’re flying into Quebec, you’ll likely arrive in Montreal, as it has the largest airport.
When can you ski in Quebec?
The ski season usually opens in Quebec in early to mid-December and runs until mid-April, although it can vary in mild years. Night skiing is popular, particularly in Mont Saint-Sauveur. If you want the biggest challenges, Le Massif de Charlevoix (near Quebec City) has the highest vertical drop in Eastern Canada.
While I’m not a skier, I did give the sport a try at Ski Bromont, near Montreal. Sadly, I have to confess I never made if off the bunny hill!
Valcartier Winter Playground
On the prairies, we typically toboggan down snowbanks instead of skiing down hills. In Quebec, they go one better, and have a whole winter park dedicated to providing outdoor winter activities for everyone to enjoy. In fact, Valcartier is the largest winter park in North America, situated right outside Quebec City.
As you might expect with Canada’s reputation for being all about the hockey, ice skating is popular at Valcartier. The one km long skateway will let you develop your skills gliding in time to music, day or night. You don’t even have to worry about owning skates — you can rent them for the day.
What’s an inner tube slide?
While there are a number of activities at Valcartier, my favorite was the Inner Tube Slides. Here, rather than on a toboggan, you slide down the hill on inflated inner tubes from tires. Unlike my childhood days on a toboggan, getting back to the top of the hill after your slide is automated. Now that’s great use of technology. And with 35 different slides in various formations, there’s one to suit every age group.
Looking for a thrill? Try the Everest slide, the highest accelerating slide in North America at 33.5 meters high!
Quebec is the perfect place for a dog sledding adventure. The winter of my adventure, Quebec had over 400 inches of snow, providing plenty for the sleds! There were lots of trees around Duchesney, so even though it was a chilly afternoon when we went out, we were protected from the wind as we sped through the bush on the trails.
At Aventure Inukshuk, dogsledders have their choice of riding in the basket or standing on the back of the basket on the runners and mushing the team themselves. Since we had a large group, some of us paired up and took turns between riding and driving. I started off in the basket, then gave my partner, Bill, a chance to sit back and relax on the way back.
How do you drive a dog sled?
Driving the dogs is actually a misnomer, since there’s nothing to drive with but your voice–luckily, I have a loud one! There aren’t any reins like I’d grown up using with a team of horses, although the word commands are the same ones I’d learned way back on the farm for the horses pulling the hayrack with feed for the cattle.
The main commands are: “Whoa” (stop–the most important one to learn!), “easy” (slow down), “gee” (head right), “haw” (turn left). I didn’t find it necessary to tell the dogs when to go, as the minute the brake (a small device on the sleigh basket that tips down into the packed snow) eases off they’re gone!
But, should you ever need to know, “Hike,” is the command to get going and “hike, hike,” for a little more speed.
The province of Quebec has over 33,000 km of groomed snowmobile trails. Whether you’re looking for wide open vistas or evergreen forests or mountains, there’s a perfect destination for you.
My snowmobile trip to Quebec was about as perfect as a trip gets from beginning to end. It included trails, a race event, and the J-Armand Bombardier Museum and factory tour. While we were in Quebec for 10 days, we spent five days in the Gaspesie region with my laptop packed onto the back of my snowmobile (so I could teach at night!) and snowmobiled a thousand miles alongside the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the Appalachian Mountains.
While I’m not really a mountain person, the Appalachians aren’t generally as steep as the Rockies in Alberta, which is what we’re more familiar with on the prairies. Rather, they’re more like giant hills! So, I only ran into a few spots where I was nervously looking over the edge of a narrow trail.
And then, the view was worth it.
Spend the Night at the Ice Hotel or Sleep in an Igloo
Quebec is home to North America’s only ice hotel, which is located just outside Quebec City. Nearby Auberge Le P’tit Bonheur also has igloos you can try for the night. If you’ve ever thought seriously about winter camping, these are two easy ways to find out if you’ll enjoy it!
When does the Ice Hotel open in Quebec?
The Ice Hotel, or Hôtel de Glace, opens annually in early January. While the beautiful ice sculptured beds are a long way from a trapper’s igloo, the temperature inside is similar at just below freezing. Your room can be basic or state-of-art with incredible ice sculptures and a fireplace, depending on what you want to pay. And the igloos, of course, are more modestly priced still.
However, you don’t have to spend the night to visit the Ice Hotel. Instead, you can make a day trip and enjoy a tour, sip a cocktail in the Ice Bar, even get married in the Chapel if you’d like.
My adventure was amazing–workers had to wake me up in the morning and ask me to leave as it was time to open to the public!
Quebec Carnival – Carnaval de Québec
Quebec Carnival is the largest winter carnival in the world. Like many Canadians, Quebecers celebrate winter–in fact, the first large winter carnival in Quebec City took place back in 1894! It wasn’t until 1954, however, that the annual tradition got underway and Bonhomme, the official ambassador of Carnival, was born.
What’s the Bonhomme?
Bonhomme, a giant snowman, is the official ambassador for Carnival. Luckily, he’s always had a palace at the event, although originally it was built of snow, rather than ice.
Quebec City – Plains of Abraham
Carnival festivities take place on the Plains of Abraham, one of Canada’s most important historical parks. In the 18th century the French and English battled for the right to rule, with the deciding battle happening on September 13, 1759. The British, led by General Wolfe, crossed the St. Lawrence River above Quebec, and defeated the French, led by General Montcalm on these Plains, establishing the course of history.
If you love winter or just want to experience a taste of it, Quebec City’s Winter Carnival is a must-do for your bucket list! I’ve been twice and enjoyed both trips immensely.
While teams from around the world arrive in Quebec City for the International Snow Sculpture event during Carnival, the sculptures stick around until the snow melts! So, you can enjoy these amazing pieces of artwork from February through to April most years.
Quebec Cuisine & Food Tours
When you’re finished enjoying all that the great outdoors has to offer, you’re in for a treat. With food, Quebec truly does provide you with a flavor of Europe, along with many uniquely Quebec dishes.
In fact, fine dining is one of the things that continues to pull me back to explore the province. I do, however, have a list of must-have foods on every trip! My favorites: Brome Lake Duck (a type of Pekin duck raised and sold throughout the province), sugar pie (imagine pecan pie without the nuts), and crepes with maple syrup.
On my last trip, I took an amazing Quebec City Food Tour with Judith, who taught me a lot about Quebec history as well as Quebec City cuisine. While we always think of the city’s heritage as being French, a number of other cultures have contributed to its cuisine and traditions. There is, for example, an Irish area just outside of Old Town on rue Saint-Jean. The Irish arrived in the 1870s, fleeing both the English Church and Ireland’s potato famine.
And speaking of potatoes, if you’re wondering about that Quebec original food, poutine (french fries with cheese curds covered in gravy), we tasted it at the 24-hour Snack Bar Saint-Jean. Yum! It was easy to see why the Snack Bar was a popular stop on a bar hopping night, even though it didn’t serve any beer!
The fresh cut fries (skin still on), were deep fried to perfection. Not too crisp and not mushy. I tried the curd cheese between my fingers — it really did squeak. And best of all for the vegan friends I was with, the gravy was made with vegetable juices, rather than a meat broth.
So, if you want to experience all that winter in the great white north has to offer, plan your Quebec holiday today! Check out Tourism Quebec to get started.
More Things to Do in Quebec
About the Photo
The photo in the header above was taken in rural Québec, Canada, by Linda Aksomitis.