Active Family Vacation: Skiing in Mont Sainte Anne

I’m really behind on blog post topics.  As the subject matter becomes less current (or even irrelevant), I’m left with either abandoning the topic, or going ahead with a ‘better late than never’ attitude.  This one falls into the latter camp; I know you don’t want to hear about winter, but we had a good time, and maybe the information will be useful for next season.

Winter is tough.  For everyone, but even worse for families with small children.  If you’re a family with small children and want to lead active lifestyles, EVEN TOUGHER.  We’ve done a good job of embracing the elements that a Canadian Winter gives us, but the snow in Southern Ontario is inconsistent at best, and really immersing yourself in the winter environment takes more time than than the average weekend allows (think packing, driving, herding the cats kids).  Enter the ski vacation.

Two years ago, we shopped around at the Ski and Snowboard Show for ski resorts that could accommodate a family with a child less than 18 months.  All the reps at the show acted like it would be no problem, since they simply wanted to make a sale, but the truth was, that the 18-month mark is a dividing line for daycare licensing and insurance and most resorts didn’t have that capability.  Shark Boy was going to be 17 months old (close but no cigar) for the dates we were looking at, but Mont Ste Anne takes kids into it’s daycare from 6 months on!  Staying inside Canada meant no customs/border hassles, avoiding invasive TSA screening procedures and dealing in Canadian currency.   Long story short, we loved it and booked another trip this year, which we did in the end of March.

We flew to Quebec City with Porter Airlines from the Toronto Island Airport. That made for some excitement as the kids got to enjoy a taxi ride, a ferry ride and a plane trip... I made the pre-boarding a little more exciting by forgetting one of our suitcases, necessitating a panicked taxi-ride home and back (an extra hundred bucks, ouch), but we made our flight just fine.  

The weather in Ontario had been iffy, sometimes cold, sometimes mild, but not very good with snow, but immediately before we left, Sainte Anne got a dump of fresh snow.

From what I could tell, this wasn't powder of the very highest grade, but it was good enough for me. We were booked into the Chateau Mont Sainte Anne, and in one of their newer Studio (Nordik) rooms with a King bed. We had a crib for the Lightning Kid and Shark Boy slept on the pull-out couch.

The morning after arriving, we brought the boys to the daycare where they were welcomed with open arms. My theory on child-care givers is that experience brings an air of cool confidence that kids can read, and things tend to go smoother; the staff at Mont Sainte Anne has that air. We kept Shark Boy in for the whole day on Saturday which gave us the time to ski almost
all day.

Problem: I hadn't downhill skied in two years at least. We took mostly Blue runs, but we found we had to take frequent breaks on the hills, and even on the Blue trails we found moguls we weren't ready for. My theory is that downhill skiing is quite the opposite of most sports I do: rather than applying little to moderate force through a fairly large scale movement (like a running stride or cycling pedal stroke), you're mostly pushing with a great deal of force through very little movement at all when you're digging your edges in on turns. It's dynamic versus static muscular strength and endurance.

We'd pick Shark Boy up after his second ski lesson, and had a few runs with us so we could see the progress he was making - it seems like he's a natural. After that, we'd pick the Lighting Kid up (typically once he'd woken up from a nap) and take them for a ride up the gondola... and of course, back down.

He got frightened during a plane take-off but this didn't bother him a bit.

Dead times before (and sometimes after) meals were spent in the kids room in the basement of the Chateau (there is also a video arcade, but our kids are too young for that kind of thing, and we weren't going to encourage it - though later on, I got smoked at Dance Dance Revolution). The kids loved the toys in there and frequently played with other children - language barrier be darned.

I did have a little scare in the kids' playroom. One morning, the Lightning Kid woke up around 5, and wouldn't go back down. I had to dress quickly and hustle him out of the room before he could wake up his brother. I took him down to the playroom and let him go. I ended up finding a very large bug, which (to my surprise, since I was feeling sluggish as you can imagine) I was able to capture and bring to the front desk. Any parent wants their kids to be able to play in a fairly clean environment so my paranoia was going full tilt. When I followed up later, a member of the staff explained that they deemed it a grasshopper (rather than something more scary), and that these sorts of things could come in from all over the world in visitors suitcases. They take a lot of measure to prevent infestations like the kind my imagination was running wild with, and I had to admit, it didn't really look like a cockroach or anything like that, so I was basically satisfied.

There are a good variety of restaurants within the resort grounds, so we tried a new place every night. We also ended up packing up our food before we could complete a proper meal, because the kids wouldn't behave properly (I think they were a little overstimulated by the new environment and/or activities). Quebecers are really laid-back and don't bat an eyelid at kids' behaviour; unfortunately, I'm not a Quebecer, I'm an uptight Ontarian and meal-times ended up stressing me out.

The last gasp before bedtime was a swim in the pool (also in the basement of the pool). I was able to get Shark Boy to show me some of the skills he's been learning in his swim lessons, and we've long since discovered that swimming is an excellent way to tucker them out so they'll sleep.

Once they were out one of us had to stay in the room with them, so we weren't able to enjoy our evenings as a couple. We'd do a little solo (drinks, the aforementioned arcade) but conk out early from exhaustion. There were many wake-ups to deal with, so it was good to get all the rest we could.

The next day, I felt so much stronger and more confident on my skis. We still stuck mostly to Blue hills, but it really felt like the best I've ever skied in terms of technique. We made sure this time to put in a stop at the Maple Syrup hut on the East side of the mountain. Here, they pour maple syrup into a trough of snow where it congeals, then you pick that up on a stick by rolling it all up (see below). Delicious!
In the trough
I got all the syrup... LIKE A BOSS!

The other thing we made time for is making sure we caught some of Shark Boy's ski lesson. Then we took him for another run with his parents on "The Big Magic Carpet" as requested.

On our third day, I actually opted to head back to the room and sleep rather than ski. Normally there's a voice inside that makes me seize the day, and says:"You can only ski like this so often, but you can sleep anytime!" but that isn't actually true anymore. A chance to sleep without being woken up by the kids (or a phone call or whatever) is about as rare as good powder, which I missed out on that morning by all reports. I did manage a couple of Black Diamond runs in the afternoon, though the snow had gotten granular.

The vacation wound to an end... but they left me wanting more. There is an extensive network of cross-country skiing trails that we haven't explored yet, and other winter activities like dog-sledding beckon too. My one gripe is that access to other services isn't so great; two years ago I had to hail a taxi to get to a drug store for infant pain-killers because Shark Boy got an ear infection. There is also no shuttle to/from the Quebec City Airport making cab rides necessary.

Even as the kids get older and the daycare requirements get lighter, easier and more flexible I could see us returning to Mont Ste Anne. For another view on this trip, please visit the Lightning Kid blog.

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