The Escapade in Rigaud, less than an hour
from Montreal, has terrific trails, magnificent views and it’s free
It may be difficult to imagine, but there is a cross-country ski centre less than an hour from Montreal that rivals some of the best in Quebec.
It has 25 kilometres of groomed undulating trails – some of them rising and
descending 120 metres – through stands of maple trees preparing to gush
forth with sap.
This is the place where you can
get amazing runs, great views across the St. Lawrence River to the
Adirondacks in New York state and all at a fabulous price.
The Escapade, the Rigaud linear park, west of Montreal and
just off Highway 40, is absolutely free.
There may be some drawbacks such as dogs and snowshoers on the trails and
occasional proximity to noisy ATV and snowmobile routes, but they are
tolerable in the face of the other excellent conditions and the cost. And
the people on showshoes are courteous in keeping to the trail between the
tracks set by the grooming equipment.
I was introduced to the trail a few years ago by Sid Harvey, and
it was certainly a revelation to find this gem so close to the city. We
spent just over two hours on a circuit that covered nearly 14 kilometres and
included a breathtaking climb to the Haut Lieu. I’m a regular now and ski at Rigaud several times a season.
From the Haut-Lieu you can see the St. Lawrence River and the Adirondacks to the
south, and the Beauharnois power station and a short stretch of Highway 40
to the east.
For shear ups and downs, the Escapade rivals Morin Heights and Gatineau
Park, the quality ski areas that I know best. And it’s way ahead of local
areas such as Cap St. Jacques (lovely riverside scenery but flat trails),
the Morgan Arboretum (trails chewed up by walkers and dogs), and Les Cèdres
(good services with trails over flat terrain). Those centers are good and charge $6 to $9
for either parking your car or per skier.
There are several spots where you can join the Escapade trail, but I like to start at the Sucrerie de la Montagne on Rang St. Georges where there is plenty of parking.
I have skied in all kinds of conditions on the Escapade and I like it best from February into March when the snow and sun are at their best.
Even on the best days, the trails – double-tracked for traffic in both directions – are still relatively
A few years ago I spotted Suzanne Bolam, then manager of now-defunct ski boutique Norway Nordic in Ste. Anne
de Bellevue, climbing an ascent on the section south of St. Georges Rd. near
the parking lot of the Sucrerie.
A veteran cross-country skier and holder of the coureur des bois gold for
completing the Canadian Ski Marathon three times, she calls Rigaud a
paradise for cross-country skiers. She rates Rigaud as one of the four best
ski areas in Quebec, adding Parc Mont Tremblant to my list. Other people
would include Mont Ste. Anne.
The trail was put in place more than 10 years ago by the municipality of Rigaud, which
obtained grants from provincial government agencies and rights of way from
developers to create this superb linear park. (It is in use 12 months of the
year, attracting hikers in other seasons.)
There are trails for all levels of skiers, and maps at regular intervals
indicate the elevation and difficulty of the trails.
As late winter tends to bring more snow and warmer days, skiers we should be able to count on
very good conditions until late March.
This is an ideal spot for the family, or parents can drop their
daredevil children at nearby Mont Rigaud Ski Centre for boarding or downhill
while they go cross-country.
For those who are peckish after a couple of hours on the trail, the Sucrerie
de la Montagne provides traditional Quebec fare of pea soup, beans,
tourtière, pancakes and maple syrup and other goodies.
Good to go
From Montreal take Highway 40 west to Exit 17. Turn left at the Tim Hortons on to Highway 201 and drive two kilometres to Rang St. Georges. Turn right and go five kilometres to the parking lot at the Sucrerie de la Montagne.
For more information on l’Escapade go to http://www.ville.rigaud.qc.ca, click on
attraits et événments and then click on l’Escapade. The Sucrerie de la
Montagne receives 1,800 people a day at the height of the sugaring off
season. It’s better to make reservations. The website is