Winter can be a long, lonely season. Particularly in the city where the snow quickly turns to grey, salty mush that stains your pants and gets in your carpet, winter is more of an inconvenience than a joy. There is however a small but dedicated community among us who seem to have figured out a way to enjoy it.
Snowmobiling is less of a hobby in Quebec than it is a way of life. Not only is it the most fun way to get around, in some areas during the depths of winter, it’s the only way to get around. Sadly, the invention of the snowmobile stems from a tragic story. During the winter of 1934, one of Joseph Bombardier’s six children, a two-year-old boy, died of peritonitis because the family was not able reach a hospital from their rural community. He developed and tested the first snowmobile the following year as a means of winter transportation.
As a devout motorcycle fanatic, I generally spend my winters hibernating or travelling to warmer climates rather than travelling to where it is colder. Naturally gravitating towards anything involving powerful engines and speed, however, I couldn’t turn down the invitation to explore areas of Quebec by snowmobile.
As we approached the Saguenay region, it seemed like every second vehicle on the road had a sled in the bed of the pickup or towing behind on a trailer. At a certain point snowmobiles began to outnumber cars and SUVs. Completing the drive from Montreal up to Quebec City then Chicoutimi, the elevation increased and the temperature dropped, resulting in an abundance of snow. The roads were plowed and well maintained, but the sleds travelling the trails along the side of the road appeared to be having way more fun.
Offering over 33,000 km of marked and interconnected trails, Quebec is home to one of the largest networks of snowmobile trails in the world. That doesn’t include the frozen lakes that feature a network of dedicated roads for riders to reach their ice fishing huts in the many such villages across the province.
Throughout Quebec’s various regions, there are many vibrant communities to explore, each with their own geography, history, and unique culture. People in this province embrace what they call joie de vivre, or “joy of living”, and it shows. They are friendly, they love food, and they don’t hate tipping back a tasty beverage from time to time.
This was personified by Henri-Jean Vittecoq, the owner of Pourvoirie du Cap au Leste in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. Despite managing the massive property, in addition to other businesses around the world, he had nothing but time for us as we put our feet up and he described how he ended up purchasing a 400-acre plot of land to develop a year-round resort.
Overlooking the Saguenay Fjord (the First Nations word for “where the water flows out”), Cap au Leste offers stunning scenery. It’s an aquatic playground in the summer with boating, kayaking, and whale watching in close proximity. The area offers spectacular colours in the fall, but in winter it comes alive with those who embrace the season as snow can typically last from October until May.
Making use of the classic chalets and traditional cabins, winter all-inclusive activities include snowmobiling, ice fishing, and dog-sledding. Connected to 3,500 km of trails, traditional rentals or time-sharing options are available for their 25 snowmobiles and 70 sled dogs. The plan is to even have a fleet of electric sleds next season. Providing the necessary gear and equipment means that people from all over the globe have come to stay and enjoy these activities without the cost of investment. There’s also a nearby animal sanctuary and ski resort.
Roughly an hour away, the Monts-Valin National Park offers its own winter activities such as hiking and snowshoeing in the postcard-worthy Valley of Phantoms. Following a fun-filled day hiking through the wintery landscape, we warmed our extremities by the fire in our private cabins within the park. Without the distractions of cell service, television, or Wi-Fi, we were free to truly unwind, listening to the sound of the wind and crackling fire as we sipped on some local beer and spirits.
The following morning, we drove to Centre Plein Air Bec-Scie. Okwari Adventures provides fishing guides and nature education in the summer, but also offers winter activities that include cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.
Machines have obviously evolved since the early part of the last century, and thankfully so has the gear. Materials are far more advanced these days, so you can wear multiple layers without feeling like the Michelin Man, but you definitely want to ensure that you don’t have any bare skin. You’ll be exposed to the elements and chances are good you’ll be moving briskly.
Offering a selection of late model sleds, I jumped aboard an Arctic Cat Pantera 7000.
Anyone who has ridden a snowmobile knows that acceleration was instantaneous and seemingly endless. The rear track provides a surprising amount of grip to take you across terrain you never thought you’d be able to traverse. This leads you to places you would otherwise never see. Travelling across picturesque landscapes where no other vehicle could go, we toured through rolling snow-covered valleys, passing by farms and cabins, smoke slowly curling from their chimneys like an oil painting.
Following the many trails, we then entered the town of La Baie where we visited the Fjord Museum (Le Musée du Fjord). The short tour allowed us to appreciate the marine species living beneath the ice and the unique geographic situation that caused it to exist.
We then rode the sleds across town to Bistro Café Summum where we warmed up over a delicious lunch before ice fishing on the bay. Fishing huts have come a long way. The one provided by Okwari Adventures was heated, well insulated and fully equipped with everything we needed, aside from talent. We didn’t catch any fish on our first attempt, which just means we must go back and try our hand again. Regrettably we didn’t have any fresh-caught fish for the chef at Auberge des Battures, but that didn’t stop him from preparing an incredible meal.
By the time the month of March rolls around, most Ontarians who aren’t fortunate enough to be snowbirds are cursing Wiarton Willie‘s name and praying for warmer weather. You can spend half the year being miserable and hating the cold weather, or you can embrace it with open arms. If you can’t snowmobile where you live, go find a place where you can! You’ll be glad you did.