It’s not every day you see a skier on stilts, but exceptions are increasingly the rule at Le Massif, Quebec, a refreshingly unusual resort just downstream from Quebec City on the left bank of the St. Lawrence River. Long renowned for its upside-down layout—you park at the top, where the main lodge is, then ski down some 2,500 vertical feet toward the river—Le Massif is poised to turn the entire resort experience upside down. Owner and ringmaster Daniel Gauthier, who co-founded Cirque du Soleil in these parts, is drawing upon his creative background (and perhaps childhood memories of
) as he re-imagines the resort, injecting equal measures of whimsy and environmentalism.
“We’re a very far cry from a traditional resort,” Gauthier states in the development plan. “Our goal is to create something different in the tourism industry. We are advocating a project with a human aspect and social and environmental substance. Our challenge will certainly be to prove that such a project can be economically viable.”
The project has been under way since Gauthier acquired Le Massif in 2002. “From the outset, my intent has been to develop this project responsibly, respecting both the people and the environment. The mountain has always wielded a certain power over me. It embodies something magical, even mystical.”
Now he intends to weave that magic into the resort. He began discussions with the community and government about the proposed Territoire Le Massif in 2005, and by last February, Groupe Le Massif had received the approvals necessary to proceed. The $230 million project reaches beyond the resort, from Quebec City to La Malbaie in the Charlevoix region. Charlevoix is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and Gauthier’s vision is green and sustainable, intended to complement and emphasize the natural environments and encourage experiential tourism. Between 2009 and 2013, Le Massif will expand terrain, add unusually creative lodging and transportation options and offer educational programming—redefining the “resort” experience in a way that both integrates the environment and stimulates the senses.
As gas prices have soared, the transportation aspects of the plan, especially, make more and more sense. Gauthier envisions a tourist train that will hug the 80 miles of shoreline between Quebec City and La Malbaie. It will stop in Petite-Rivière-Saint-Francois, the tiny village at Le Massif’s base. There, visitors are presented with an array of intermodal transportation options: a shuttle train to the nearby art enclave of Baie-Saint-Paul, a cable car to the ski slopes, a river taxi connecting nearby islands and shoreline, all-season trails and paths for walking, biking, dog-sledding and snowshoeing. Transportation plans even include a 10-kilometer toboggan run cutting through the forest from the summit of Le Massif to its base, with rest stops and destinations en route.
Village development will be concentrated in three areas: Le Massif’s summit (Les Cretes), which will focus on nordic skiing and emphasize remoteness; Le Massif’s base, where a new village with shops, spa, restaurants and hotels will transform the base and be integrated into the nearby village; and La Ferme (the farm), a historic site in Baie-St.-Paul, which will immerse guests in regional agricultural practices and products.
Most intriguing are the planned accommodations. “Wind houses” will top the knoll at the summit of Cap Maillard, where they’ll allow guests to feel the wind blow. At the mountain’s base, “tide houses” will be built over the river. Railway cars parked on a bypass track will be transformed into sleeping accommodations. And treehouses and bridge houses are planned for the woods in between, accessed via that 10-kilometer toboggan run.
Not to be overlooked, meanwhile, is the on-slope expansion. Skiable terrain will increase by 30 percent, with a new emphasis on glades and backcountry. One new lift will run from base to summit, the other from midmountain up.
With its stunning vistas of the broad, ice-choked St. Lawrence, its proximity to colorful, historical Quebec City and its surprisingly big vertical, Le Massif was already one of the most unusual and enjoyable resort experiences in North America. Add a dash of the Cirque du Soleil aesthetic to it all, and the possibilities are intriguing indeed.
SIGNPOST: Le Massif, Que.
2,526 vertical feet; summit 2,645 feet; base 119 feet; 410 skiable acres; 248 inches average annual snowfall; five lifts, including three high-speed quads
Le Massif is 45 miles east of Quebec City on Route 138.
– SKI MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2009