News from the snow
Mont Sutton Canada
Snuggling just on the Quebec side of the US/Canadian border, anyone arriving from the south will feel they've landed in a different world when the first roll in to the village of Sutton. Located in the heart of the unspoilt Eastern Townships region of the predominantly French speaking Canadian province of Quebec, Sutton has the immediate charm that so many ski resorts claim, yet sadly so few actually deliver. Guests from Europe who maybe familiar with French ski areas will perhaps find something here that's too often missing in the Alps. Friendly locals, a relaxed atmosphere, good French food and fair prices are all, remarkably, rarely seen in top French resorts - yet Sutton has all in abundance. The scenery is spectacular too, with some of the most impressive mountains in Quebec, part of the Appalachian chain and some of the most varied terrain in between. Vineyards, mountain lakes, woodland (70% deciduous compared to predominantly coniferous elsewhere in Quebec), fields and a wide variety of traditional architecture reflecting the numerous cultural influences on the area. The resort's history is one of the classic tales of ski holiday pioneers, with guests arriving by train and walking up the nearby hills to ski down. According to the local museum one of the biggest problems then was having your sandwiches freeze as you enjoyed the slopes. What is now Mont Sutton ski resort, a few kilometres up the hill from the village centre, began on December 17th, 1960, when the Boulanger family opened the first lift. Harold Boulanger, his son Réal and family friend François Lévesque, a lawyer, were the main players in Mont Sutton's development, seeing the ski resort as a perfect winter alternative to their busy summer dairy business. The Boulanger family have retained ownership and management ever since. Indeed the heritage and the strength of family values shine through in Sutton. The village grew up in the eighteenth century with a mixture of British Loyalist, American and Irish immigrant inhabitants before the dominant French culture began to shape the area in the latter 19th century. It's clear that through the twentieth century many of the locals more or less 'grew up on skis' and its still common to see grandparents on the slopes teaching their grandchildren to ski. This attitude, combined with Sutton's community rather than 'tourist resort' feel, make it a unique ski destination.
A family-owned resort, Mont Sutton offers skiing through some of the most beautiful glades ( Sous-Bois) in Eastern North America.
Once you're actually on the slopes you'll see things are a little different in other ways too. The slopeside sugar shack where you can buy maple syrup lollies is a nice idea and the permanent rustic wooden access lanes for lift queues are easier to support yourself and pull yourself along in than the flimsy ropes employed by most resorts.
As with all things Sutton there's an intriguing mixture of old and new with a high speed detachable quad whisking skiers up the main slope from the base lodge whilst elsewhere you can find antiquated double chairs as old as the centre itself, wheeling out of their own wooden base station.
Because much of Mont Sutton's terrain is based on narrower runs than in many modern resorts, arranged in a sophisticated network, the resort has to use special miniature groomers to actually groom between the trees. Wide modern groomers are too big for much of the terrain- again demonstrating a dedication to their art form that's hard to find anywhere else in the modern skiing world. The maintenance crew ever plant trees in front of lift towers to make everything seem more natural.
The trail map is intelligently designed with the steepest runs beneath the 968m Round Top summit to the left and the easiest to the right as you arrive from the base car park. Most of the slopeside lodging is also to the right of the mountain. If you don't stay slopeside you'll find Ski Sutton offers free shuttle service to help visitors move down and up from the village to the mountain every weekend and during Holidays.
Virtually all of the skiing is on the snowsure north facing slopes, but there is one run on the back of the mountain, La Fantaisie, open since 1994. Due to its southerly exposure its only open in the main season and because there's no direct return lift up, users need to frustratingly break their descent half way down and take a long relatively flat run back round to the lower part of the Concou run, unless they want to hike back up. The run is outside the main patrolled area, as warning signs testify, along with warnings of the recovery fee payable if you need recovery.
Snow cover is rarely a problem thanks to an annual average of 473cm (just shy of 16 feet) topped with around 70% snowmaking, with new equipment doubling and updating capacity there in recent seasons.
Passes are highly affordable, especially compared to most other leading North American resorts, and those purchased for four days or more are also valid on the slopes of neighbouring resorts Owl's Head and Orford.
Mont Sutton also boasts four mountain restaurants and spills out in to slopeside barbecues when the weather is warm and the weekend crowds fill the hill.
For children just a little older, first ski school classes begin at age three. Children aged under six get free lift tickets. After that there's a discounted rate to age 17 inclusive.
Down in the village, just as on the mountain, children are made very welcome in all the eateries and there is of course the sweet shop and factory that must not be missed.
The 'local's favourite' establishment is probably Les Alleganys just outside the village centre on Maple Street, the main road up to the ski area. This bistro style restaurant serves favourite dishes the world over alongside regional and European fayre (co owner Linda Graham is originally from England). It's a cosy, friendly place full of memorabilia from Sutton and the ski slopes.
The Aubrge le St-Amour is another delightful, relaxing inn, situated in the heart of the village. The spacious rooms are artistically decorated and again the food is
For a great café for everything from a cup of coffee to a full meal Tartazzina is a good choice, on a warm sunny day you can sit out on the terrace. The Moccador nearby offers a wider range of food and is one of several with snails on the menu. It's one of the limited number of eateries open on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Unusually there's also an Indian take away in town - International Spice man Dass Paul produces excellent home made Indian food - a rare treat in any ski resort.
If you still have any energy left you might like to join the night snowshoeing crew for a night time hike over snow.
The resort also limits its grooming to less than a quarter of the main trails, even less when there's fresh powder about, so the likelihood of more knarly terrain appearing each day is high.