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Children ride up the magic carpet with their instructor at Mont-Sainte-Anne ski resort near Quebec City.Handout

As a dad who loves to ski, it’s hard to beat that feeling when your child skis into your arms at the end of a lesson smiling ear to ear, and then talks at lightning speed about how much fun they had. Or that feeling of pure joy when you stop in the middle of a powder run to give your burning legs a break and look around to see only trees and lightly falling snow.

To some, it may seem counter-intuitive to spend months planning a trip, taking time off work and all the effort of schlepping two young kids on a plane and then into a rental car for a few fleeting moments.

I was nervous about this trip. Ski vacations play an oversized role in my childhood memories. The family time, the food, the fun of skiing with new friends I met on the hill and the personal growth by challenging more difficult terrain can’t be matched.

My wife and I have taken numerous ski trips on our own, but this would be the first trip with our two kids, aged seven and four, and there was much more to consider. A bigger room, kids ski lessons, family-friendly dining, child-friendly activities on the travel days, an easy-to-navigate ski resort and all during an era of changing COVID-19 protocols.

With the constantly changing rules in early 2022, we decided to stay in Canada and wanted to go somewhere we could drive if we had to. When I brought up the idea of Mont-Sainte-Anne, my wife’s eyes lit up. She spent Christmas breaks there as a child and was eager to return and watch our kids build those same sentimental memories.

After we landed in Quebec City, about a one and a half-hour direct flight from Toronto, and before we headed to our destination, we headed to the Hôtel de Glace, or ice hotel. I sold the 30-minute detour to my younger daughter by saying it is the closest thing she will ever see to Elsa’s Frozen castle. It didn’t disappoint. Guests can spend the night in rooms that range from $399 to $999 per night or for about $30 take a self-guided tour and see the intricately designed theme rooms (this year there was an undersea kingdom, Viking and Las Vegas room, among others), chapel, ice slide and massive bar, where glasses are also made of ice.

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An astronaut carved from snow in a space-themed room at the ice hotel near Quebec City.ETIENNE DIONNE/Handout

Then it was on to the Museum of Civilization, where an exhibit dedicated to poop was an easy way to get the kids into a museum. After dinner in downtown Quebec that first day, we drove 40 minutes through heavy rain along the St. Lawrence River to the mountain.

As it happens, luck could not have been more on our side. Shortly after we arrived, the heavy rain turned to heavy snow.

We woke to more than 30 centimetres of fresh powder, and I was scheduled for First Tracks – a program that gives guests access with an instructor to the mountain 20 minutes before everyone else for a one-hour session. The cost is $99 for one person, $49 for two or $39 for three and it comes with advice from a pro. On that day, it meant hopping on a gondola three times for three untouched powder runs. Those runs were the best I had skied in two years and after an hour, I felt like I could end the vacation at that moment and be happy with the trip.

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The Viking-themed room at the ice hotel.ETIENNE DIONNE/Handout

My wife – a saint, but not named Anne – undertook the herculean task of getting our kids set up with rental skis while I soared down thigh-deep fluffy powder. With the rental shop only steps from the hotel, she was able to manage to get herself and both of the little ones into equipment before the kids’ lessons began. She did First Tracks the following day while I got the kids ready, enjoying numerous groomed cruiser hills all to herself.

After weeks of arguing with my eldest daughter about ski lessons – she didn’t want to take them without a friend – she went into the class right away and immediately met two sisters around her age. At the end of the lesson, she was the one who skied into my arms smiling ear to ear. My younger daughter enjoyed her one-hour private lessons each morning and afternoon and joined me and my wife for lunch.

If I had to share one complaint, it would be the uphill capacity. In February, 2020, the gondola came to a sudden stop injuring 21 people. A second incident with an abrupt stop occurred in March, 2020 leaving one person with minor injuries. The resort removed half the cabs and invested $1.5-million to improve the gondola’s operating system. No similar incidences have occurred since, but it means longer lines, especially on weekend mornings. Although, if you are used to skiing weekends in Ontario, the lines don’t seem that long.

What really sets Mont-Sainte-Anne apart is the combination of a lot of challenging terrain and the community feel. Everything at the base is close together. One could walk end to end in less than 10 minutes while wearing ski boots, allowing us to know our way around within a few minutes. From the moment we arrived, it felt like being at a local hill I’ve skied hundreds of times. Because everything was so easy and comfortable, I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

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Children play tic-tac-toe while skiing down the Enchanted Forest at Mont-Sainte-Anne.Handout

As we were about to drive off back to the city, both of my daughters were crying in the back seat of the car because they were sad to leave. We told them the sign of a good vacation is when you don’t want it to end. In that moment I felt that all the time, money and effort that went into to the vacation made it completely worth it.

After the ski trip, on the way home our travel day activity was the toboggan slide located next to the Château Frontenac. We had to pry the kids off of it in order to make our flight.

I couldn’t help but think back to the Ice Hotel. Dozens of ice workers and artists spend six weeks perfectly manipulating 40,000 tons of snow to create such a beautiful structure. For a few short months, guests get to appreciate and be amazed by the artistry and elegance and then when the weather warms, the entire structure is knocked to the ground in five hours with only photos and memories remaining.

Even though the vacation was short, my memories of this first family ski trip won’t be.

The writer was a guest of RCR and Destination Québec cité, which did not review or approve this article.

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The view over the St. Lawrence River from Mont-Sainte-Anne.Renaud Gagnon/Handout

Your turn

How to get there

Mont-Sainte-Anne is about a 9-hour drive from Toronto if you don’t stop. The other option is to fly to Quebec City, rent a car and drive the half-hour to the hill.

Lift tickets

An adult day ticket costs $129. There are also options for half-day and night skiing. Skiers and riders with the top-tier Vail Epic pass have access to seven days at RCR resorts, which include Mont-Sainte-Anne, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Kimberly, Nakiska and nearby Stoneham after Vail Resorts announced a partnership with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies in 2018.

Where to stay

The Delta Mont-Sainte-Anne Resort is the closest building to the gondola and is maybe a 50-metre walk. It offers a variety of rooms including ones with a kitchen and two bedrooms where one room has twin beds (key when you have kids who complain about sharing a bed on vacation). A large buffet is offered on holidays and weekends. On quieter days, there is a café open for breakfast. When we were there, the new aquatic centre was under construction, but it is now open with an indoor and outdoor pool and hot tub (the outdoor pool is open seasonally).

Where to eat

In Quebec City, Bello Ristorante offers fine Italian dining with a cozy ambience and delicious food. Boulangerie Paillard offers sandwiches on croissants or freshly baked bread and French pastries and Resto-Bar Le Commandant offers a great option for a bite near the airport.

Near the hill, Le Brez is steps from the base with upscale dining. The cozy atmosphere and more than 15 different kinds of fondue easily makes you forget about the blizzard outside.

Le Bistro Nordik is located in the Delta and is great if you are staying in the hotel and don’t want to bundle up after a long day of skiing. For lunch, the Chouette Bar is right above the cafeteria serving up pub food. (I also hear it is great for après-ski, but this favourite tradition looks a little different with kids). Or, right behind the main building is Les Petits Becs Cafe & Sandwicherie, a cute sit down spot servicing sweet and savoury crepes.

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The outside of the ice hotel.ETIENNE DIONNE/Handout

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