Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star…”
The Crash Test Dummies’ baritonal rendition of the holiday classic jingles out of the rental-car stereo just as Sommet Saint-Sauveur’s starry lights come into view. It’s just past 4pm on Dec. 23, and as usual I’m driving from the Central Train Station in Montreal to the family chalet near Mont Tremblant.
Sauveur’s night-skiing operations, and others like them, have been lighting my way along the Laurentian Autoroute for years. But unlike the biblical Magi, who famously followed a star, I have always bypassed the valley’s beckoning beacons.
Not so this year. With ski gear in the trunk, fresh flakes on the highway and a few hours to spare, some warm-up laps sound like just the thing before hitting the slopes of Eastern Canada’s largest ski resort.
It turns out to be one of the best pit-stops I’ve ever made. So great, in fact, that I’ve taken three more detours along the Corduroy Highway, as I’ve come to call it, since then. There’s certainly no shortage of options: With a dozen impeccably-groomed hills lining the 70 kilometres of blacktop between between Sauveur and Tremblant, the Riviere du Nord valley is home to Canada's densest concentration of ski areas, all of which are making the most of 2019 spring skiing thanks to one of the best snowfall seasons on record.
This ski-area abundance goes back to the late 19th century, when the P'tit Train du Nord railway line — now Canada’s longest multi-use rail trail — first linked Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and Montreal. This made it much easier for city-dwellers to explore the region, which became even more popular when one of North America’s first mechanical ski lifts was installed on Mont Saint-Sauveur in 1934. In those early years local hotels tended to operate their own lifts, many of which serviced single runs. No wonder more than 220 ski operations are said to have opened in the valley since 1900.
Another pleasant surprise: Despite their proximity and shared Laurentian setting, the four resorts I’ve sampled so far are pleasingly varied, with histories, personalities, terrain, cuisine and quirks all their own. What makes each worthy of much more than a pit-stop? Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
The record-setting extent of Sauveur’s nightskiing hits home as I stand at the top of the L’Atomic Expresshigh-speed quad. Radiating outward like the spokes of a massive whitewashed wagon wheel, the six wonderfully groomed runs below me might account for the full extent of evening descents at many much larger ski areas. At Sauveur, however, more than 70 per cent of the 40 trails are illuminated, yielding 48 hectares of floodlit terrain — reputed to be the most extensive on Earth.
My nocturnal opportunities feel limitless. To the left and right, beginner-friendly traverses lead to seven more of Sauveur’s lifts, as well as to the three that climb adjoining Sommet Avila. I charge down the single-black Côte 70 Est in front of me as if the world’s last remaining order of poutine is waiting for me at the bottom. Thankfully, Sauveur’s stylish T-Bar 70 restaurant has plenty of fresh cheese curds and gravy on hand, as well as the breaded chicken strips, crispy bacon and pepper sauce it adds to its signature version of Quebec’s famous dish. A crisp Griffintown craft pilsner caps my pit stop within a pit stop, and I head back out to carve down groomer after groomer.
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