Swooping down the perfect corduroy slopes of Shady Lady at Owl’s Head in Quebec on a gorgeous January morning, I got my big first taste of the “wow” factor I’d heard so much about, as Lake Memphremagog stretched northward for some 27 beautiful miles, all the way to the lofty heights of Mont Orford and its national park.
The other big “wow” factor, of course, was the skiing, which just got better and better with each ensuing run down the mountain. Owl’s Head rises steeply near the southwest end of the lake just a handful of miles north of Vermont, topping out at 2,480 feet in elevation and offering skiers a healthy 1,772 feet of vertical.
Owl’s Head is one of four major ski areas in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec, which I introduced in a recent story, “Four big resorts in the Eastern Townships of Quebec offer awesome skiing, great value and are closer than you think.”
“Skiing here is simple and affordable,” said Luc St-Jacques, the sales and marketing director at Owl’s Head. “The place is less known and less traveled, but is attractive with its good trails and high-speed quads.”
St-Jacques, also known as Luc Skypowder per his Facebook persona, speaks the truth. Owl’s Head is all those things and more, a throwback ski area for skiers looking to get in lots of really good skiing in an uber-scenic natural setting, all for not a lot of money.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for example, you can ski for just $20CAD, including tax. Yes, you read that right, and yes, that’s in Canadian dollars. Do the math and you’ll quickly see why St-Jacques dubs these days “Cheapie Tuesday and Wednesday.” Buy your lift ticket online and it’s even cheaper, as are daily lift tickets in general. It’s pretty amazing in an era when $80-and-up lift tickets have become the norm.
St-Jacques also told me about another awesome deal at Owl’s Head, the “Don’t Tell Fred” special (a la Fred Korman, the owner). This great package gets you a day of skiing, a night’s accommodations onsite at the Auberge Owl’s Head, and breakfast in the cafeteria… all for a whopping $95CAD. Way to go Luc! (But don’t tell Fred!)
Make no mistake, Owl’s Head offers something for skiers of all interests and ability levels, from easy greens to killer black diamonds to backcountry woods terrain. Eight lifts include three fast quad chairs so you can make the most of your time exploring the 50 trails and glades.
Families will also enjoy Owl’s Head, not only because it’s uniquely affordable, but because as St-Jacques puts it, “kids can roam free here” owing to the compact base area and the fun and friendly, family-oriented atmosphere.
Pretty much every trail at Owl’s Head gets you its signature vista out over Lake Memphremagog, from Shady Lady and Standard on skier’s left to Panorama at the lower center of the mountain to Chouette and Upward Trail on skier’s right. The long and winding Lilly’s Leap is perhaps “the” run, sweeping down the mountain’s eastern ridge before cutting back across the north face. The double black diamond Colorado will challenge the best of skiers with its shorts-tightening steeps.
Owl’s Head has been family-owned and operated by Lillian and Fred Korman since the place opened 49 years ago. Both of them can still be found daily at the mountain doing whatever needs doing. Lillian was working the cafeteria line during my lunch stop there in the quaint base lodge, and served me up a steaming bowl of delicious chili.
“To survive 49 years in this business you have to have good management and be prudent,” St-Jacques said. “That sometimes means replacing a lift with a used one rather than buying new.”
Owl’s Head plays an important role in the local economy in and around Mansonville where the mountain is located. Unlike many other ski areas, the employees at Owl’s Head are mostly full-time winter and summer.
“These are good local jobs,” said St-Jacques, noting that everybody is likely to do any job at the mountain at any time. “People stay on because they like the atmosphere and the philosophy and values of the owners.”
The understated base lodge is a classic, one central building housing all the ski area services, from a retail ski shop to a tech shop with tuning and rentals to a ski school. The cafeteria on the second floor serves everything you could possibly want for lunch, from soups and chili to burgers and dogs and much more, while just below, the Creemore Lounge is a cozy pub just right for an après ski brewski. When your day is done and your après beer is downed, check out the dining room, where “the steak is legendary,” so St-Jacques told me. I had the steak that evening and duly concur. The wine is pretty fine as well.
Speaking of evening, the Auberge Owl’s Head upstairs in the base lodge offers “rustic, simple, basic” accommodations with “nice, clean, cozy rooms, including TV and Wi-Fi.” We stayed the night in the comfy dorm-like auberge and woke right there at the heart of the mountain, ready for breakfast just a stone’s throw from the Summit Quad and the slopes.
Owl’s Head is located in the Quebec region known as the Eastern Townships, just a few miles northwest of Newport, Vermont. The ski area is 190 miles or a little under 5 hours driving time from Portland via US 302, I-93 and I-91.
The skiing at Owl’s Head is tremendous, the locals welcoming, the food delish and the beer mighty good, the lodging warm and quite adequate. And the price for a weekend or two or three weekdays of winter fun on the slopes simply cannot be beat. Make the trip and experience Owl’s Head for yourself!
MORE INFO: Owl’s Head, 800-363-3342.