Standing at the top of the bunny hill at Stoneham Mountain Resort, I wondered how I had ever skied a green or blue run last year, my first year of downhill skiing. I was afraid to go down the hill. It had been pretty much an entire year since I’d been on skis. Would I remember what to do? Would I crash into the little kids taking lessons? There was only one way to find out… I pushed off, and I successfully made my way down the hill! I was nervous though, and the turns were tighter than I would have liked, given all the people on the hill. I was ready for a green run and more room to get reacquainted with downhill skiing!
At Stoneham (about 20 minutes north of Québec City, in the Province of Québec), there are 42 runs across 3 mountains, with 19% of them green (easy), 26% blue (intermediate), 38% black (advanced), and 15% double black (extreme). In other words, there’s something for everyone! At times we consulted the trail map on our phones, to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into trouble (read: onto a black diamond run!). And to get everyone up the mountains, there are 3 quad lifts, 1 double lift, 1 T-bar, and 2 magic carpets (for the bunny hill). Over the course of 5 full days of skiing, we never waited very long for a lift – maybe 5 minutes at the most, and this during the very busy Christmas break. While riding one of the lifts we joked about how you would never find your cell phone in the snow if you dropped it while on a lift… little did we know then that we would later be searching the snow for a 6 foot long ski!
Last year, after my daughter Ailish took a ski lesson, I became the weak link – I was the slowest and most nervous skier! This year, it took time, but I started to feel more confident. Yes, I fell 6 times or so, but who’s counting? I was able to control my speed and try increasingly more difficult runs. I found myself thinking in French a lot, and in particular, what went through my mind was: “Je n’aime pas la vitesse!” (“I don’t like speed!”) Last year, it was “Turn left, lift left. Turn right, lift right.” At one point during the week, I received high praise from my 14 year old son: “You aren’t as afraid of speed!”
While last year we rented gear, this year we were trying our own stuff for the first time. We were all very happy with the things we picked up at Corbett’s Re-Runs in Oakville. We didn’t need brand new top of the line gear, just functional stuff so we could enjoy ourselves. We were very impressed with the customer service we received. If you’re looking for ski gear, check them out!
You might not believe me, but I didn’t shut the ski lift down at all this year! I didn’t even fall getting off one. I did fall once while turning away from the lift, but no one was inconvenienced! Over the course of the 5 days, we (not me!) did shut the lift down twice though, with skis falling off just after getting on the lift. The only lift we didn’t try was the T-bar – next time!
As the days went on, we tried increasingly more difficult runs. In fact, by the end of our time at Stoneham, we had done every green and blue run except the ones that went through the woods and were “mogul-like”, and one other (Les Cantons).
We skied morning, afternoon and evening! We loved skiing in the hour or so before closing, when there were no lineups at all for the lifts. Once again we stayed in a condo at the base of the mountain, so it was really easy to get to and from the ski hill! We also brought food from home, bought the rest from the local IGA, and cooked all of our own meals.
One night, when my husband Alasdair and I were having a “ski date”, we got off a lift only to find out that the blue run we wanted to do (La Gonnet) was closed, and that the only run we could do was a black diamond (La Rock and Roll). There was plastic tape across La Gonnet, and around 10 people trying to decide what to do. The ski patrollers assured us that the black diamond was actually an “easy black”. I wasn’t convinced! We were told that the blue run would open in 30 minutes, but it was cold, and at first I thought there’s no way I’m waiting that long in the cold and wind. But then I thought, there’s no way I’m skiing down a black run!! I figured that the run might open sooner than the ski patrollers said, so I sent Alasdair to do the black diamond, and to see if it really was “easy”. He was gone for about 15 minutes, and by the time he returned, the blue run was already open. He told me that I could have done the black run. In fact, later in the week, Ailish decided to do it with Alasdair (her first black run), and she had no problem!
At one point, Alasdair and Ailish had skied ahead, with my son Keaghan and I behind. He would wait for me at the flat sections. When I caught him at one point, he only had one ski, and couldn’t find the other. It had popped off while he was skiing, which caused him to fall. The ski disappeared under 10 or more cm of fresh snow! It was hard looking for it while wearing my skis, so I took them off, and marked a big X in the snow at the edge of the run so we would know where he was when he stopped. We were trampling the snow and it would have been hard to know where we started. We dragged our poles through the snow, to no avail. A woman stopped and helped us. I texted Alasdair so he wouldn’t worry about us. Eventually, Keaghan found his ski. It had taken about 5-10 minutes. Who knew a ski could disappear so easily!
Toward the end of our time at Stoneham, Alasdair decided to tackle a black diamond run called La Marquis (as he put it, he was getting cocky), which ran pretty much parallel to a blue run that I was going to do again, La Grande Virée. However, he failed to notice the “Experts only” sign at the top of the hill! Later when we met at the chair lift, he told me that he only did about half the hill – it was full of moguls, and exhausting to ski. You might say that the hill tackled him. He said that he did part of it head first. He cut through the trees to the blue run that I did as soon as he could, and he has concluded that he is not an expert!
Me, on the other hand? I knew from the beginning that I was no expert! I was continually amazed at the tiny little kids zooming past me on the hill. No fear. As Alasdair noticed, some of them were too little to even open the doors of the main chalet!
Silly me, I thought that fresh snow would make skiing slower and easier – nope! It did slow things down, but it also made turning harder! Another day, I had to learn to ski around moguls, when Alasdair and I found ourselves on a section of a run with snow mounds everywhere! I think I prefer freshly groomed trail. Thankfully, this year we didn’t have to deal with ice, which seemed to be all over the ski hill last year!
Two of my favourite runs at Stoneham (La Randonnée and Short Cut to La Traverse) are ones that are narrower than a typical ski hill, going through the forest (but not around trees in the “mogul like” forest trails). They require tighter turns, but it’s so pretty in the forest!
Almost all of the runs intersect with other runs, so you can make things more interesting by changing up your route. It’s easy to split up from another skier part-way down a hill and reconnect with them at the bottom!
Our only suggestion for improvement is, once again, signage – the park and all the runs that we skied are very well marked – but the signage at the bottom of the hill could be better to tell skiers if a run has been closed. Granted it’s not always possible (for example, a run may have to be closed if a skier gets hurt, and you might be on your way up the lift already), but I still think things could be better! Even a piece of paper taped to a board would do!
We had a fantastic time at Stoneham. This trip almost didn’t happen, when Keaghan broke his foot on November 3rd! I asked the doctor at the fracture clinic at McMaster Children’s Hospital if we should cancel our ski plans, and he replied that we should not cancel our plans – if Keaghan couldn’t ski, he would join us! Thankfully, 8 weeks post-break and super protective boots meant that Keaghan was ready to ski! So glad we didn’t cancel.
Despite the fact that I’m now suffering some fall-related aches and pains, we will return!
[How could I not mention that I forgot my purse at the Tim Horton’s at 300 Boulevard St-Joseph in Drummondville, Québec on our way home. We were hundreds of kilometres away when we realized it. A kind soul turned it in, and even though I suffered 30 minutes of panic and 2 days of anxiety, I got it back, fully intact. THANK YOU! MERCI!]