What La Traversée de Charlevoix lacks in turns and glaciers, it makes up for with a beautiful forested landscape and deep snowThe rugged 105-kilometre cross-country-ski trail cuts through the ancient Laurentian Mountains and past the Hautes Gorges, the tallest rock walls in eastern Canada (south of the Arctic). Besides the varied skiing and scenery, the highlight of every day of the week-long tour is arriving at the next cozy cottage and collapsing in front of the fire.
Originally blazed in 1978, the Traversée is the oldest long-distance ski route in Quebec. It starts near Parc National des Grands Jardins and cuts through Parc National des Hautes Gorges de la Rivière Malbaie before ending at Mont Grand-Fonds, a downhill ski area. Most groups take six nights and seven days to complete the route, stopping at cabins or cottages along the way. And to make it even more luxe, the non-profit that manages the huts and trail will also shuttle luggage and fresh food between the cabins every day. (Another option is to organize a food drop for mid-week.) The first day is short—a flat four-kilometre ski down an old road that's safe even at night—so that people who arrive late after driving all day can make it to the cabin. From here the trail becomes narrower and more wooded for the most part, with lots of ups and downs. Day two is considered the most challenging with a couple of very steep descents. The skiing gets easier from here and the scenery more spectacular. You can see the St. Lawrence River and a big chunk of the Laurentians from the summit of Montagne de la Noyée, an optional detour on day three. And on day four—at almost 20 kilometres, the longest of the week—the trail descends to the Rivière Malbaie and a view into the Hautes Gorges, part of the Charlevoix World Biosphere Reserve. The last two days of the traverse run through the snowiest region, where the trail signs marking the route sometimes disappear under the white stuff.
When to go
There is often enough snow on the ground by December to complete the route, but most parties wait until February and March when the days are longer. Snow cover usually becomes an issue by early April.
The cabins are spaced to accommodate a seven-day itinerary, but the first and second day could be combined to cut a day. There is also an option to do a four-day, three-night trip.
Every night there are two types of accommodation to chose from: a rustic cabin or a more opulent timber frame cottage. The cabins have a wood stove for heat and a sleeping area for up to eight people. The cottages are bigger, sleep up to 15 people, and have propane stoves and lights, and sleeping mats in a shared dorm upstairs. Price varies with packages and number of people in the group. For instance, basic cabin accommodation starts at $158 per person. The deluxe package, with food and luggage shuttles and cottage accommodation for four people, is $742 per person.
Daily distances range up to 20 kilometres, with as much as 1,500 feet of elevation gain. But the more taxing component is skiing for seven days straight. Add the possibility of breaking trail through fresh snow and you'll need to be in good shape.
There are long distances of wilderness travel and only 30 per cent of the trail gets cell coverage. So all groups should be self-sufficient in minor equipment repair, first aid and winter survival. Navigation is easy; the trail is well-marked.
What to take
Lightweight, metal-edge backcountry skis are best and at least partial skins are a good idea. What else to bring depends on how you're travelling and where you're staying. Cottagers just need to bring a three-season sleeping bag, food and clothing, while those staying in the cabins will need a sleeping pad and cooking stove as well. Self-supported parties should use a 65-litre or larger pack for carrying a week's worth of food, preferably dehydrated. Those enjoying food and luggage shuttles can use a day pack.
The Traversée website has lots of information and an overview map. Detailed maps for the entire route are available for $7. Call to pre-order or pick up the map when checking in for the trail. Cabins and cottages must be prebooked (418-639-2284).
From Quebec City, drive an hour east on Highway 138 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence to Baie-Saint-Paul, then turn north on 381 towards Saint-Urbain. The trail office is located 10 kilometres past Saint-Urbain. Check in here before driving 17 kilometres farther to the trailhead. The Traversée organizers will move cars to the end of the trail at Grand-Fonds.