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Francois Roy is a 47-year-old French-Canadian ski mountaineer, ice climber, and part-time geologist who spends his summers prospecting for gold in northern Quebec. During the winter, however, Roy becomes Cowboy Froy, owner and lead guide of Vertigo Adventures in Quebec’s Chic-Choc Mountains—the most unusual and thrilling backcountry ski-touring destination in eastern North America. The Chic-Chocs jut 4,000 feet straight up from the St. Lawrence River on the remote Gaspé Peninsula and boast hike-to bowls bigger than Tuckerman Ravine—with more bottomless pow.
I meet the wiry Cowboy Froy, his face framed by a mustacheless, copper-colored beard, early in the morning at a café near the ice-crusted coast of the St. Lawrence, a 12-hour drive from Boston or an epic two-day, three-flight journey from New Mexico, where I live. He picks me up in his 1948 Bombardier “auto-neige” snow machine, dubbed the Blue Pill because it is shaped like a suppository and painted the color of Viagra.
The Blue Pill, which can reach 40 miles per hour, smokes and rattles alarmingly for the entire two-hour approach to Vertigo’s base-camp yurt, which is tucked into a grove of firs at the foot of Mont Blanc. We dump our gear and are soon shuffling our skin-kitted skis toward the frosty 3,280-foot snow cone fluted with avy chutes that provides much of Vertigo’s skiable terrain.
I do my best to keep pace with Roy and a few other locals. They’re so fast that one of them short-ropes me to his dog, Gadjo, who helps pull me up the trail. We stomp out a couple of 500-foot “warmup” laps, then head to the top of Mont Blanc. Roy leads us to a gladed line named Orgasmatron: a nearly 1,000-vertical-foot, 35-degree run paved with sun-ripened corn that finishes in a slalom course of old-growth cedar.
The next day, we venture to a neighboring peak striped with a series of steep, north-facing, 800-foot shots that still hold powder from a week-old storm. “Theez ones are a leedle beet tricky,” says Roy, whose English is also a leedle beet tricky. The runs involve a dicey 50-degree entrance but then ease off to a more manageable 40 degrees. Despite the mild day, the snow is crisp, cold, and deep enough to choke on.
We farm the north face until dusk, mowing half a dozen lines before sliding home in the alpenglow, my legs so wasted I can barely support my body weight. At the yurt, Roy’s girlfriend whips up homemade meatball stew while we dry our stocking feet by the wood stove and sip Bordeaux from tin cups. I’m not just impressed; I am floored. I grew up skiing the East Coast, and left, jaded. I just needed to push a little farther north.
Max Elevation // 3,280 feet
Max Vertical Drop // 1,640 feet
Average Daily Vertical // 2,500–6,000 feet, depending on ability
Price // $470 per day for one to three people, plus $82 per day for each additional person, with a max of 10. Roy offers a 30 percent discount per day starting on the fourth day of a weeklong trip. You can bring and cook your own food, or Roy and his staff will cook for you for an additional $40 per day.
Info // vertigo-aventures.com