Owl’s Head

Green Chair and Lake Memphremagog

“Oh Shit,” I thought. Approaching the Canadian boarder, I had just glanced down at my speedometer–which lacks an inside arc denoting km/hour. Fearing Quebec might have a “welcome party” similar to that of North Troy, I readied my phone’s conversion app. I was clearly out of my comfort zone; and that was a very good thing.

Comfort zones are easy to dial in. We not only rely on them but embrace them, perhaps a bit too much. We calmly function on assumption and understanding rather than over analyzing trivial details. Comfort zones help us function properly in society. But they also dull the senses and reduce awareness. Avoiding novel experiences robs us of new perspectives, exciting discoveries, and diverse experiences.

Anticipation floods me when I visit a ski area for the first time. By definition, you only get a novel experience once. Though we might routinely chase re-occurrence, you can never again see it for the first time except through someone else’s eyes. So we either accept monotony or pursue the novel experience; never content to accept sameness and repetition without deviation.

Lake Chair at Owl's Head

Owl’s Head is one of three Eastern Township ski areas on The List (along with Orford and Sutton). A Quebec excursion during the holiday was planned long in advanced. Due to poor snow conditions, I opted for the more groomer orientated Owl’s Head, saving the tress of Sutton and Orford for better snow.

Conditions were firm hard pack and scraped with occasional frozen groomer tracks. Abysmal would be putting it mildly. Easily the worst conditions I have skied all season. An early season WRDO would have been preferable save for the crowds–which there were none to speak of at Owl’s Head (except the lodge at lunch time courtesy of a ski race). Even on blue square and even green circle terrain, I was fighting to hold an edge.

Skiing in Canada to escape holiday crowds, pricing, and blackouts is effective strategy. Lifts were ski on all morning. Tickets were only $45 CAD (though I should have opted for the morning ticket at $39). With Tuesday and Wednesday pricing at $20 and all ticket prices for children/teens/students under forty, Owl’s Head offers incredible value. The mountain sports three high speed quads making it perhaps the best dollar per high speed quad value in the east.

Main Quad at Owl's Head

The mountain is a steep groomer lovers’ paradise. Many trails ski more difficult than their rating suggests, though the mountain is internally consistent. Even beginner trails such as Chouette seem almost inappropriate for a new skier or rider. Colorado ranks amongst the longest steepest groomed trails that I have skied.

Owl’s Head trails are generally open and straight down the fall line with good pitch. A few sidewinders mix things up including Lilly’s Leap and Lake View. But don’t expect to find character rich trails here. Even the steep natural bumpers bordering the lift line Kamikazee get down to business in a straight and linear fashion.

Owl's Head Lodge

Tree skiing was limited. Due to snow conditions, I did not explore off the map–though I did notice many tracks heading into the woods for short and steep shots. On map trees are limited to three gladed areas and two short shots. Off map options seemed tight, short, and wild but lacking in substance. Hard to judge without full exploration but my observations did not have me contemplating a return trip.

The mountain skis bigger than it’s 1772′ vertical drop would suggest. Top to bottom skiing (summit to lake) is possible with a double high speed quad combo. But the transition from upper mountain to lower mountain lacks characteristic trail integrity making pod skiing the better option. Lake Memphremagog is ever present and always visible on almost all sections of the mountain. Combined with the mountainous terrain to the northeast, the Lake provides an excellent back drop but fails to capture my interest quite the same as mountain vistas.

Cultural exploration has little appeal for me. Many might consider that the highlight of skiing in Quebec. For myself, it is simply a comfort zone pushing means to an end. But the comfort zone pushing ended at the parking lot entrance. The culture of skiing is the same almost everywhere excepting big shit show resorts. Speaking of which… Stratton is coming up on The List next month. Now that is going to seriously be pushing my comfort zone.

5 thoughts on “Owl’s Head

  1. Happy you made it across the border. They are a few fun things to ski at Owl’s Head, but Sutton and Orford (when there is snow) are top in the East…Eastern Townships that is!

  2. You would never know it today from looking at the pictures but the runs under the main chair and the green chair were like narrow MRG runs filled with trees , stumps and logs . All of this was graded out when the new chairs went in sometime in the early 80’s . Owl’s head was one of our favorites in HS back in the late 70’s . Still can’t look at these pictures and not wince.

    • Thanks for the comment, Anthony! You are right, I would never have guessed it! But that is how most mountains with wide and straight trails started out. Very sad that Owl’s Head went that route. With its pitch, curvy flowing trails and gladed lines would have been perfect!

      Those high speed quads are very old. Same style as the original Stowe High Speed Quad which just got replaced (I recall Stowe was the first High Speed in the east). They are Dopp’s with the bull wheel separated from the loading area and the chain driven chair movers. The Lake Side high speed doesn’t even have padded chairs, never seen that on a high speed lift! Must have been something with all fixed grips and old school narrow trails!

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