Winter in the Wilds of Quebec – C’est Bon!

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of “most upscale/most expensive/most outrageous holiday travel stories” from our talented Vagablond contributors. If you have a story to share, please email us via the link below.]

chic-chocs lodgeBouncing along in the vintageBombardier, I was taken by the strong resemblance of our driver to the French film actor Gerard Depardieu. OK, I was in the oh-so lovely province of Quebec, and the night before dined at the divinely decadent Restaurant Europea in Montreal. After a nearly three-hour dinner with Champagne and wine, followed by an amazing sleep at the classy Sofitel Montreal, I was in a Euro-type of mood.

Turns out our driver’s name is Roger Saucier, and I’m aboard his 1957 12-person Bombardier. It’s covered and it’s cozy but “Gerard” is spending more time talking with his hands in the air than driving with them on the wheel. Our destination is the newly opened Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge, located on the Gaspe Peninsula and 465 miles east of Montreal. Earlier that morning, I’d flown from Montreal to Ste-Anne-des-Monts Airport, and then a quick shuttle bus ride to Cap Chat to meet up with the rest of the group.

The Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge (Auberge de Montagne des Chic-Chocs) is Eastern Canada’s first wilderness lodge. In the winter, the only way to get there is by snowcat. But for our group it’s the dark blue Bombardier, as the snowcat is under the weather. We’re packed in snuggly, all 13 of us including the driver: Lucette and Roch from Quebec City; Claude and Lisette from Sherbrooke, Quebec; Carole and Liz from Montreal; Christine and Chris from Toronto; Angela, Corey and Ben from Nova Scotia; Roger from New Brunswick; and moi, the lone American, from Whidbey Island, Washington.

While Roger and Claude chat away in French in the front seat (yes, they also speak French in parts of New Brunswick), the rest of us get to know each other. It’s not hard, as we’re seated cheeks to cheeks. And since we’ll be spending the next four nights together, now was a good time to break the interior ice. No problem with this raucous bunch. French and English flew freely around the wood paneled interior of the Bombardier.

About halfway into our 25-mile trip, Roger is waving his hands more than usual. We suddenly stop and pile out of the Bombardier. Bad news…the Bombardier has gone off its tracks. Needless to say, our trip to the lodge takes twice as long, as Roger (with the help of generous advice from the passengers on board) tries to figure out how to get the machine back on its tracks. Voila! With a lot of tinkering and tools and probably a little French cussing, we’re back on the snow road again.

The next four days are sublime, with snow falling on spruce and barren birch trees. By trip’s end it had snowed three feet, and at times the winds were whipping upwards of 50 MPH. The 18-room lodge, which is run by SEPAQ (their provincial parks department), is a welcome sight after our rugged outdoor exploration. Activities include snowshoeing and alpine touring (I opt for the former), led by two wonderful guides: Jean-Francois Dube and Yann Barriault. With cozy accommodations, a sauna and outdoor hot tub (wear your toque!) and three yummy meals a day, we’re happy adventurers. At the end of the day we sit around a roaring fire in the lounge area, laughing and quaffing a Quebecois beer or sipping a fine French wine.

We became fast friends.

But back to Roger, aka Gerard. On the final morning after a breakfast of crepes with maple syrup, I decide not to go out for one last snowshoe. I’m mentally and physically packed. So Roger says, “Wanna go for a ride?” Off we roar into the swirling snow, and I discover he is quite the Bombardier collector. In fact, he owns 15 of them (four in good condition) and his daughter owns two. “This is the Cadillac of its day,” says Roger, noting that it still has the original engine. He paid $5,000 for it in 1999 and has put $30,000+ into it since then. Not a cheap hobby.

Roger and his family spend weekends in their Bombardiers. In the summer, they simply take the skis off and it morphs into an odd looking ATV. A year ago he ordered two sunroofs to use during the warmer months, but they have yet to arrive. He hopes to install an automatic transmission in one of the machines, making it easier for the women to drive.

Another Bombardier approaches us with new guests, part of a group of 27 coming in for a three-night stay. Roger eventually turns around, as it’s time to go back and load people and their luggage into the vehicles. Two Bombardiers and a big truck, that’s what it takes to get us down to Cap Chat. I ride with Roger one last time along with Claude, Chris and Liz. The trip is somewhat wild as we get behind two sets of “moose on the loose.” At one point Claude is going 50+ MPH and Liz and I try to contain our screams. The wayward moose finally get out of our way and Claude continues to talk and wave his arms in the air as he drives.

J’aime ces bombardiers!

The Chic-Chocs Mountain Lodge in Quebec is a luxurious remote wilderness lodge. Photo by Sue Frause.

Posted by Sue Frause on December 24, 2006 in Travel

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