Legacy 1934: Girls Gone Wild

For girl-meets-boy skiing, there was no better place than Quebec’s Gray Rocks.
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For girl-meets-boy skiing, there was no better place than Quebec’s Gray Rocks.
Fast Times

If you were single, the ingredients of a successful ski trip for generations of skiers were a big lodge with communal dining, a bar that was open past midnight, talented ski instructors, dancing, good-looking girls and handsome fellas...and, oh yeah, reliable snow. For years, no resort fused these qualities better than Gray Rocks, in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. It succeeded even though its 620-foot vertical was dwarfed by nearby Mount Tremblant’s 2,000 feet.

Gray Rocks resort was born a century ago when the Wheeler family built an inn on the shores of Lac Ouimet. It was a rambling, ever-expanding building, with creaky wide-board floors, smoky fireplaces and shared bathrooms. Initially offering fishing, hunting and golf, Gray Rocks branched into skiing in 1934 with the installation of a ropetow. 

If Gray Rocks didn’t invent the Saturday-to-Saturday learn-to-ski week, it perfected it. The secret was its Snow Eagle Ski School—arguably the most disciplined and best-trained on the continent. The instructors polished their leather boots each morning and wore spotless uniforms. They were diligent professionals. It wasn’t a problem for a daughter to get permission from her parents to visit Gray Rocks to learn to ski. Of course, she could learn a lot more.

It wasn’t the fault of the instructors that they were bronzed athletes, many of them with charming French accents. They often could be found at night in the packed cocktail lounge, where the throng of après-ski revelers danced from table to table. “There wasn’t a secretary on the Eastern seaboard who hadn’t been to Gray Rocks,” quips a skier who’s visited the region for 60 years.

To ensure reliable snow, Gray Rocks was one of the first Canadian ski hills to install snowmaking. But recent years were not kind to the aging ski area. The public’s desire for shorter vacations with more sophisticated amenities killed the learn-to-ski week. Multimillion-dollar improvements at Tremblant siphoned off vacationers. And now boy meets girl via match.com.

This past summer, Gray Rocks’ American owner, Phil Robinson, shut the place down. After a hundred years, the party is over.