“Let’s go!” my friend, Éliane says, pulling a 12-person rubber raft towards us.
We’re standing at the top of a snow-covered hill in Quebec. Below us, 30 runs spread out like fingers, and we watch as happy riders go shrieking down the mountain in rubber tubes and rafts.
Snow tubing is serious business in Quebec, especially at Super Glissades de Saint-Jean-de-Martha, a family-friendly snow tubing destination just 1.5 hours from Montreal. Tubing lifts pull riders and their tubes up the mountain. The runs are well-formed to keep each rider in their own lane, and safety gates open for the next rider when the run is clear.
The tubing raft Éliane has pulled over to us is big enough for our whole group, and my friends and I climb in. The gate opens and down we go, laughing with delight like kids.
Winter in Quebec is special. Each time I visit, I’m surprised at how much time I spend outside. At home, I like to stay inside where it’s warm. But here, I’ve learned that winter isn’t something to fear, but something to be embraced—and the Québécois do that in spades.
A wise Swede once told me, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” That’s what locals here tell me too. All you need are a warm pair of boots, some snow pants and a good coat, hat and gloves, and you’re all set to have fun outdoors.
Authentic Quebec: Mauricie and Lanaudière
After starting our trip in Montreal, my friends and I had wanted to explore a different side of Quebec. We traveled north to two regions known for quiet country roads, rolling hills, and pristine lakes—Mauricie and Lanaudière. Though it’s just an hour or so from Montreal, this area has a whole different feel. Thick forests dot the countryside—and as I write this, there are more than three feet of snow on the ground.
It’s the perfect winter playground, and our snow tubing adventure is just the beginning. Over the week, we find four other ways to play in the snow in Quebec.
Sure, there may be three feet of snow on the ground, but that doesn’t stop hikers and snow-shoers in the Ouareau Forest. The trail is so used that it’s often well packed down. All we need are some crampons, and we hit the trail. The forest is quiet and peaceful, and the only sound is our footsteps.
Many families and hikers stay in the cozy cabins at Kabania, an environmentally-friendly cabin resort in the middle of the forest. You can cook your meals in the communal kitchen and stay warm in your forest cabin at night.
Quebec has a love affair with Nordic spas—and once you’ve tried them in the winter, you’ll know why. There’s something magical about sitting in hot pools of water under a light falling snow. A traditional Nordic spa offers a series of treatments that follow a hot-cold-rest cycle. First, you warm your body in a hot water pool, steam room, or sauna.
This is followed by a cold plunge into an icy river or cold-water pool, followed by a period of rest in a warm, serene environment. It may sound crazy to jump into an icy cold pool, but it brings a relaxing tingling sensation when you get out. After following this cycle several times, you feel relaxed and rested.
We spend the day doing just that at Natur’eau Spa & Chalets, a lovely Nordic spa in Mandeville. They have tiny vacation homes and glamping lodges available, as well as a bistro, so many visitors stay for a few days. We wish we could stay too.
Mauricie and Lanaudière are snowmobile country. With more than 2,900 miles of trails and superb winter conditions, the area attracts snowmobilers from all over North America. Many snowmobilers travel from hotel to hotel for a week-long adventure.
To prepare for our snowmobiling adventure with Pourvoirie du Lac Blanc, a lakeside resort that offers snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing, they outfit us with special coats, bibs, mittens, helmet, and boots. Then our patient guide gives us a driving lesson and leads us onto the forest trail. Though I’m timid at first, soon I’m enjoying every minute. Driving through the snow-covered forest is exhilarating, and a great way to explore the region.
Dog sleds have been used for transportation in the far north for generations, and we experience it with the skilled outfitters at Hôtel Sacacomie in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts.
Hôtel Sacacomie is an excellent base for adventure in Quebec, and local families come here year after year. Located in the heart of the forest on Lake Sacacomie, their cozy white pine log structure is a good base for an escape into nature. With that kind of location, the hotel is popular year-round. In summer, guests come to fish, boat, hike, and view wildlife. During winter, the hotel offers a different kind of fun, including ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and more.
Their dog sledding kennel is just a 15-minute walk from the hotel. There we meet their friendly husky and malamute dogs, who can’t wait to get going. After a quick lesson on driving a dog sled—the driver guides by voice command, shifting weight on the sled and a brake—we load the sleds. My friend, Paula, and I take turns driving. She drives first, while I sit in the wooden sled, warmed by a woolen blanket.
The dogs are eager as we get ready to head out. Many of them bark happily, jumping with excitement. When our lead guide gives the word, we’re off. The dogs know the way, but it’s still exciting to lean and turn. Soon we are zipping through the forest. By the time we’re finished, we are comfortable driving the sled—and I’ve had a smile on my face the whole time.
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 45 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.