Montreal skiers tend to be either ardent Laurentian-lovers or Townshippers, depending on their preference for hills north or south of the city. But I live in the heart of the village-and-gourmet-bistro-dotted Eastern Townships about 70 minutes from Montreal, so I’m biased. I can choose between four nearby downhill resorts, each with at least one spa in the vicinity. It’s fair to say I’ve become something of a ski/spa expert on the region. Soothe the windburn at these ski and spa locations; they’re the best in the region.
Dancing with trees, cooling in a creek
When I feel more like dancing with trees than cruising groomed trails, I head to Mont Sutton, a 50-year-old, family-owned mountain famed for its award-winning runs through birch and maple. (About 1,000 new trees are planted every year.) Almost half of the 60 trails are glades (some are “glade-inspired”), doable even by kids. Sutton got more than 600 centimetres of snow last winter, much of it left ungroomed for powder hounds. With Sutton’s reputation for requiring more mogul/glade expertise than other hills – this is a great place to take sous-bois (under the trees) lessons – women in particular are being wooed to the mountain with special rates and lessons on Diva Thursdays. But the higher guys-to-gals ratio makes for a lively scene at the four mountaintop restos and at après bar Le Tucker, where there’s live jazz every Friday night.
After a day at Mont Sutton, I look forward to undoing my knotted mogul muscles at Balnea Spa, an outdoor camp-turned-chic outpost with a wilderness view, about 40 minutes from Montreal. It feels good to heat up Scandinavian-style in steam and dry saunas, in an outdoor sweat lodge, or in hot pools with steaming waterfalls. Then dip into the chill of icy indoor and outdoor plunge pools to get your blood surging. Relax, by meditating on tropical fish flitting across a wall-size aquarium, or by watching nature footage in a mini-spa theatre, complete with plush reclining seats. Finally, refresh with a healthy lunch or gourmet dinner and wine in the bistro.
Kid-friendly prices, grown-up view
If a more mellow day is on the menu, I head to Owl’s Head, a ski resort alongside Lake Memphremagog where the mountain rises dramatically like a sugar cone from the pastoral landscape. While there are a handful of challenging runs, it’s a low-key, low-priced (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are $20) family-oriented hill with plenty of kid-friendly downhill. But the views are all grown-up: The 360-degree panorama at the summit and distracting vistas of the lake and Vermont’s mountains sometimes make it tricky to stay on piste.
Tucked into the woods nearby is the steaming gem of Spa Bolton. Recently renovated, it’s a small but delightful riverside Scandinavian spa with saunas, outdoor hot tubs and a traditional wood-fired Finnish sauna complete with waterlogged spruce branches for self-cooling. Be sure to pick up a wooden board to sit on or you’ll soot your suit. Tiptoe through snow to the ice-fringed Missisquoi River and plunge in at the base of a waterfall. Contemplate your invigorated tingling muscles in a warm, serene yurt, where the only sound is the crackling fire in the woodstove. Then go do it all over again.
IF YOU GO
Mont Sutton: Lift ticket: adults $62; kids: $35. Starting Jan. 12, Divas on Skis offers a special $25 day pass for women. Two-hour glade lessons: $140. montsutton.com
Balnea Spa: Day access: $50 weekdays, $60 weekends. There is also a full menu of spa treatments at an additional cost. Also yoga, fitness boot camp, snowshoeing. Café open daily. Sutton offers a full day ski/spa package for $84; call 450-534-0604. balnea.ca
Owl’s Head: Lift Ticket: adults $45; kids $32. Starting Jan. 10, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are $20 for everyone. owlshead.com
Spa Bolton: Day access: $30 weekdays, $40 weekends. Massage, mani-pedi and facials are available. Present your Owl’s Head ski ticket from 5 to 9 p.m. for a special après-ski rate of $20, which gets you the Scandinavian spa experience. spabolton.com
Special to The Globe and Mail
Editor's note: The original version of this article contained an incorrect phone number for Balnea Spa. This version has been corrected.