For Émile David, photography and videography are powerful storytelling tools. As a filmmaker and Director of Photography, his work focuses on the relationship between humans and land. He's currently based in the Saguenay to be closer to untouched, pristine natural spaces.

Louis-Dominic Parizeau, Vice President of Marketing at Altitude Sports, is a lover of all things outdoors. An ultra-trail runner and avid skier, he’s always pushing himself one step further in order to witness the best that our natural world has to offer, travelling to corners of the earth that others overlook. 

Words: Reilly Doucet, Altitude Sports writer

Somewhere Only Skis Know: A Mountaineering Lesson from Rab

Louis-Dominic Parizeau, Vice President of Marketing at Altitude Sports, traveled to Gaspésie to prove that deep-snow skiing in April is very possible in Quebec. Equipped with gear from Rab for a two-day trip of mountaineering, ski touring, and backcountry camping, he learned that when you dare to take on winter’s toughest conditions, you’re rewarded with some of the most extraordinary experiences.

What makes somewhere feel special? The most exceptional places aren’t found at the top of “Must Go” lists. They’re not teeming with crowds. They’re not gracing our explore pages over and over again. They’re hard to get to.

For most people, everything is more of a chore during winter: layering up, trudging through snow, heating up the car. The cold is avoided at all costs, and going outside is done as seldom as possible. But for a rare few, winter is an invitation. And by RSVPing to some of the coldest, remotest, most treacherous landscapes the season has to offer, they’re rewarded with some of the most exclusive experiences in nature. This past April, I was one of those people.

Youtube Video

April is a month decorated with symbols of spring: tulips fighting their way out of frozen ground, young wildlife emerging into a new world, toques replaced with ball hats. But in the Chic-Choc Mountains of Gaspesie, Quebec, winter is still in full swing. I traveled there with a team of guides, athletes, and representatives from British outdoor brand Rab, all brought together for three days of mountaineering, ski touring and winter camping. This year was the first edition of the group expedition, and Rab plans to do more in the future.

Leading up to my journey, I practiced skiing in the Laurentian Mountains. But a welcomed change of scenery greeted me on my first day in the Chic-Chocs: the sea. The regional park that holds the mountains sits right where the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River meets the ocean. The snow was beautiful; the terrain jagged. Our crew got to ski and camp around the Mines Madeleine, an area that is usually off limits, led by our insightful guides.

They explained that, though normally spring skiing is less ideal, it happens to be the best time to come to this mountain, even despite the steepness, precipitation, wind, and potential for avalanches. We had to be vigilant. We were seeing a corner of Quebec, of Canada, of the world that most people never get to see.

Parc national de la Gaspésie is the second oldest provincial park in Quebec. Our group spoke to a representative from the park who explained its heated roots: the Chic Choc mountains were formed from underwater volcanic activity, 600 million years ago, while the McGerrigle Mountains were created by molten rock that seeped up through weak spots in the earth’s crust, causing a huge bubble of magma 380 million years ago. The Mines Madeleine, an old copper mine, are not from these mountains.

Though as interesting as it is to hear about the area’s geological makeup, and to see some captivating rock formations for myself, the knowledge that really counts today is all about conservation. It’s the primary focus of Parc national de la Gaspésie, which works hard to protect several rare and endangered species and plant communities. Take, for example, the ancient fir forests and the Serpentine Minuartia.

I consider myself someone who feels totally at home in the outdoors, but the athletes who live the remote touring experience all winter long are in a league of their own. When you’re in a super isolated area, with only nature and the gear you’ve brought to rely on, staying warm gets more complicated. There’s no shower at the base of the mountain, which is an issue since the sweat you work up on the slopes may freeze and make you colder. So sweat-wicking yet insulating clothing is a must, and my Rab base layer certainly did the trick, as well as my down jacket and midlayer. It was my first time trying down pants, too. It’s all about layers, layers, and more layers - these mountains would be unexplorable without the right gear.

Clothing is one thing - now let’s talk camp. We set up ours at the foot of the mountain, near the lake. The snow cover was impressive, almost 12 feet. My tent was built for tough conditions, but I learned one key tip from my group that applies no matter the quality: not to touch your tent from the inside during the night! If you do, the condensation will snow into your tent.

Our first meal was local crab, cooked over the fire. We dug into the snow to create our own kitchen: a six-foot deep hole large enough to fit a table for twenty. I sat on a snow bench, and a tarp rustled above us to block out the wind. When you’re really dedicated, anything is possible, I thought to myself. And you’re rewarded for pushing through such cold, difficult conditions too. At night, a blanket of brilliant, glowing stars danced across the dark sky. I had never seen anything like it.

Q&A

3 questions for LD

• How long have you been ski touring?

One season, two trips.
• Favourite moment on the trip?
The descents! Skiing in April, in Quebec, in deep snow on extremely steep slopes with a big blue sky is unreal. 
• What surprised you the most at Les Mines Madeleine?
The plateau high up the mountain, with its old trees covered in snow, and strange, desertic view.

We spent about eight hours on the mountain each of the two days we were in the area. The rough terrain felt like a playground…a good place to remember how to do a kick turn. Our seasoned guides would explore different corridors in search of the best snow, meaning we were spoiled with almost untouched run options. A plateau in the high mountains, not far from Mount Jacques-Cartier, was one of the most interesting features I saw: it looked like a desert landscape, dotted with hundred-year-old trees covered with snow. I surveyed the land that stretched out in front of me, really absorbed the view, and thought about how lucky, how special I was to be there.

Whether we like it or not, winter defines us. Its freezing and unforgiving conditions define if we’re the type of person to stay cooped up inside, waiting for warmer temperatures…or an audacious outdoorist willing to push limits in search of the freshest powder, unseen mountain landscapes, and unparalleled experiences. 

It’s a privilege to be able to explore, but the teachings of our guides and park representatives reminded us that we need to be as mindful as possible in our outdoor surroundings too. These areas are rarely seen because they need to be protected, not just because only crazy winterphiles like us are willing to camp in them. All in all, if there’s anything I learned from this trip and the fellow mountaineers I shared it with, it’s to never let winter stop you from going above and beyond. In fact, let winter be the reason you go above and beyond. When you experience these beautiful, remote areas for yourself, you’ll understand what I mean.

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