By Colin J Davis
Photos: Colin J Davis, Adam Silverstein, Nick Edwards
A crew of 8 balls-to-the-walls ski bums from the St. Lawrence Outing Club decided to say "fuck the beach" this spring break, and instead we headed for the hills. Specifically, the hills of the far northern reaches of the Appalachians known as the Chic Choc mountains in Quebec, which is near Canada. I heard legends of these hills in Meat Head films and from the occasional far-out old timer, but other than those few film clips and stories, these mountains were nothing but a fantasy.
The first Saturday of spring break our group rendezvoused at Jay Peak, VT for a warm up day of skiing and to spend the night before the long drive north. On Sunday we packed into two cars, a Subaru Outback and a Ford Fiesta, and set forth on the 9 hour drive through the overwhelmingly uninteresting farmland east and north of Queeb City, surviving on St. Hubert's poutine and enthusiastically flavored potato chips. The dull, flat landscape had me wondering if we were driving in the right direction, or if Bitchin' Betty, our autonomous navigator, was simply screwing with us.
Lo and behold we arrived at the Sea Shack Hostel in St Ann Du Monts right on schedule. This funky little commune is primarily a sea kayaking haven, located directly on the shores of the St. Lawrence Gulf, but when the sea ice rolls in and the kayaking is no good, the skiers come out to play. We were assigned one of the 12 or so cabins spread across the hill looking over the water and introduced to the main area with kitchen, Jacuzzi, and most notably the bar. We were the only Americans in the place, and among the only real English speakers, so I suppose we stood out a bit.
The kitchen of the Sea Shack
Our own personal Shack
We got an early start the next day to go get some turns in and see what the Chocs are really all about. A 45 minute drive brought us into the mountains, and boy, what a sight. Wide open snow fields on mountains larger than any I've seen on the east, with rocky chutes and burly lines ascending above all sides of the road. We made a short stop at the visitor's center to buy a map and check out the avalanche reports, which were all moderately deadly. We decided Hogsback Mountain would make a quality first hike as it is relatively short with a long, steep run.
Hogsback as seen from the road
The skin up took a bit over an hour, mostly on well packed forest trails but breaching the timberline for the last third or so, where we traversed open snow fields. When we reached the ridge near the end of the hike we were rewarded with the first view down the runs we would be skiing, and all of a sudden I got pretty nervous. 45 degrees steep and scattered with boulders and alpine growth, the slope looked way gnarlier than anything I've skied before, at least on the east coast, but the open fresh snow in between would certainly make the fear of death worthwhile. A snow pit was dug, skins stripped, and helmets donned before the first of us started dropping into one of the chutes.
Max, Adam, and Ian on the Hogsback skintrack
I skied pretty conservatively that first run since I really felt out of my element and the terrain was truly frightening. The snow was deep and our chute was nice and wide so I just focused on getting as many turns as I could. Max, a fervent sophomore with a penchant for risking his life, was a little too excited and took 3 turns in the distance most of us were taking 7-10, before losing both skis and tomahawking right towards a pile of jagged boulders. Lucky for all of us he missed. The chute carried down into an alpine slide, and eventually some woods which became progressively more skied out, but the terrain was still top notch so seeing tracks didn't really bother us. We skinned out and went back up for a second lap.
That's me living the dream on the south face of Hogsback
That night we got some cheap pitchers from the bar and went to bed early and satisfied, the first day was already the best backcountry experience I've ever had.
On day 2 we sent it up Lyall's Mountain, which required a 1 hour flat skin in and a 1 hour skin up, which was obnoxiously steep, especially above tree line. We were greeted at the top by several more wide open chutes, as well as a comfortable looking 15 foot outcrop begging to be hucked, which 2 of our crew tried out and determined that the landing was hard and windblown. I was recovering an injury at the time so cliff hucks were not on my radar, and I found another ridge with more promising snow. I was rewarded with a really long run of unobstructed deep powder shredding. It feels so freaking good to ski really fast down really steep runs in really deep powder. Really freaking good.
Second lap we hiked to just shy of the summit before cutting off the skin track to ski some avalanche clearings through open forest. The snow was deeper in that area and the run was a blast, rollers and pillows, wide open untouched snow, and sparse trees made for the run of a lifetime. Everyone in the group said it was the best run of their lives. It was day 2 of 4 and the trip was already worth it.
Adam feeling the shred
Back at the Sea Shack, we learned a new French word: "le festive," which translates to "get shitfaced with young Canadian girls." We met our ambassador, Philip, when he bravely challenged us to a game of international Beer Pong on an extra length table. I won the match for team USA by enouncing my final shot "celui-ci est pour vous, Joalene!" to the most beautiful of his female counterparts. The rest of the night was a blur of Molson and whatever sticky sweet beverage Joalene kept feeding me.
We grumbled out of bed early the next morning to find that two of our team pissed the bed and two feet of fresh lay outside. With the cars packed up we set out for Lyall again to explore more of the trees we had fallen in love with the day before. As the first ones to the mountain that day the skin track was treacherously filled in and deplorably steep. Pounding snowfall coated our bodies as we marched laboriously to the top of the mountain.
After confirming that avalanches were likely enough not going to kill us, I dropped in to what looked like a decently steep chute. As soon as I sank into my first turn, I became aware that the depth of the snow far exceeded anything I ever experienced before. It was pornographically deep, it billowed into my thighs and chest, blasting above my shoulders like a raging river of cotton. I leaned back into the bottom of a hard carve and everything disappeared and terror overtook me. I blasted out into the world like a baby being fired from the womb, the terror which consumed me in the moment of darkness rapidly converting into uncontrollable elation, and I began whooping and hollering like a madman escaping his asylum. Everything I could see was soft, untouched, and meter deep. We took 4 runs that day and I remember every turn.
Adam showing off how its done
Ian getting deep
We rode that high through the next night of festive and into the next day of skiing, which unfortunately had to be our last. We took a few short laps of Champ de Mars, a short steep pitch with some BC booters (I guess you could say "BC booters"...) to play around on. The weather had certainly mellowed out and so had we, once we understood we had already seen the best the Chic Chocs had to offer. I took in the views for the last time, felt the satisfaction of a ripping turn through soft snow, and caught some air. We packed the cars up, and began the long journey home.
Pipe dreams on top of Champ de Mars
That's a really fun run
Nine hours of night driving through an unrelenting blizzard with 5 people in a Fiesta took a good toll on our energy levels when we arrived at Jay early the next day, and the crowds were out since it was Saturday. That was the only day of our week long adventure that all nine of us didn't ski our hearts out, and no one felt too sorry for it. I called it quits at one o clock, took off my boots, and passed out in the car. When I woke up I was almost back at school, and became keenly aware of the assignments I had due the day after next. Real life set in pretty hard, and it was hard to remember that the shred was real, the Chic Chocs were real, and that my legs were going to be disgustingly sore in the morning.
The shred was real.
Video made by Nick Edwards and Adam Silverstein documenting the trip