Take your pick: adrenaline packed or slow and contemplative?
To stay in top shape and for a nature getaway, until the last snow has melted, there’s nothing better than alpine touring.
by Simon Diotte
Over the past couple of years, the latest trend for the skiing industry has been all about alpine touring. Its adepts refuse to take a chairlift and prefer to work their way up the ski hills with the help of adhering skins they place under their skis. Once they reach the top, they take these skins off and enjoy an exhilarating descent. “We really savour each turn!” explains Gilles Larose.
I met this very athletic skier at the foot of Mount Sutton. Along with his friend Denis Bouvier, they are among the pioneers of alpine touring in the region. “We invented this sport in Sutton about twenty years ago,” laughs Denis Bouvier with his wide grin. With Raymond Julien, another “skin” fanatic, the accepted expression given to aficionados of the sport, I left on a Friday morning to explore this uphill trail set on the mythical Mount Sutton ski hill.
I couldn’t have hoped for better climbing partners. These three retirees, of more or less 70 years of age, are true machines. The moment an opportunity presents itself, they tackle the 3.8 km ascent as they challenge themselves on this 460-m vertical drop with only the power of their calves to push them on. All the way up, they help me by giving their precious advice. Although there are a couple dozen years separating us, I can’t follow their beat. I use the excuse of needing to take some pictures to slow them down a bit. A subtle way to preserve my dignity!
What’s really great about alpine touring is to be able to climb the mountain far from the crowds and the waiting lines of the ski lifts. We’re always in motion, no music or sound other than that of our skies gliding over the carpet of snow and the trees that crack with the blowing winds. It’s a marvellous combination of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Although I’m almost always at the end of my breath, I push on, knowing that I’m investing in my health with this exercise. Each ascent will lengthen my life by a few minutes. With a little discipline, I hope to have as much endurance and speed when I’ll be 70 as these three musketeers. The climb becomes more difficult in the last metres of the ascent corridor. My new friends have no problem with this more abrupt portion, but it’s not the case for me. I struggle and lose control. My skies, rented at the Mount Sutton ski centre, refuse to challenge gravity. That’s when Denis Bouvier comes to my rescue. I take off my skies and my friend carries them on his shoulders until the end of the course. Thank God, for alpine touring friendships.
After an hour and a half of climbing, we arrive at the top of the ski hill, in the chairlift VII section. This long excursion in the woods has led us back inside the real world. As I looked down upon these regular lift-using skiers, I think: “Me, I climbed this Appalachian mountain without any mechanical device, you didn’t!”
Before heading down on one of the 60 ski trails of the centre, we stop at the Altitude 840 ski chalet for some hot chili served in a bowl of bread (a classic here).
As I left the ski hill, Mother Nature dropped a new layer of snow on Mount Sutton; 45 centimetres of white gold fall on the summit and 30 cm at its base; this makes Denis, Gilles and Raymond very happy, because they’ll be skiing here until the snow melts. Wait for me guys!