cross country skiing and snowshoeing In the Quebec City area

The city of Quebec is the most European-flavored of all North American cities and its history is reflected in its architecture from French and British occupation. It is known as the cradle of French civilization in North America and the city's charm is most famous in the Old Quebec section with cobblestone streets, boutiques, bistros, and galleries. Winter (late Jan) and summer (early July) carnivals are major celebrations in Quebec.

Quebec was a strategic port where the St. Lawrence River narrows and is flanked by towering stone cliffs. The historic aspects of Quebec are abundant with military and religious places of interest including the fortification wall, the Citidelle, various churchs and seminaries, museums, and much more. Many of the buildings seem like they are taken right from the Lord of the Rings. While xc skiing can be found in the city at Parc des Champs-de-Batille, there are places nearby the city that are world class xc ski areas and a discount coupon book is available from Sepaq Parks for xc skiing at Duchesnay, Camp Mercier, and Mont-Sainte-Anne. A winter shuttle service is available at 418-525-5191. A travel planner service for lodging is at Reservotel (www.quebecreservotel.com; 800-463-1568). You can stay in the city, take half day trips to ski, and return for the shopping and bistros.

The Quebec region has 51 xc ski centers in the Cross-Country Quebec Area Ski Association (RSSFRQ) in an area covering 150 km ( 95 miles) around the city of Quebec and further within 2500 square km (1500 square miles) region of Chaudière-Appalaches, Charlevoix, and the Centre-du-Québec.

The Sepaq Park System encompasses 40,000 square kilometers with 22 parks, 16 wildlife reserves, 8 tourist resorts, 8,000 campsites and 600 cabins/huts.

Superlatives are all one hears for the Mont-Sainte-Anne Cross-Country Centre which is to the east of Quebec and 7 km from its sibling alpine ski area in Beaupre. With 212 km of trails groomed for classic skiing through the Laurentian forest, this center is the largest in Canada, second only to California's Royal Gorge in North America, and not to be missed just for the "joie de ski" Canadians exude on xc ski trails. Skating skiers will find a whopping 125 km of trails groomed for them, while snowshoers have 48 km of their own dedicated trails. If you are driving from Quebec, stop by at the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, which is a waterfall that is higher than Niagara Falls.

If you're an intermediate or beginning xc skier, don't be intimidated by the large numbers of obvious and very athletic-looking experts in brightly colored Lycra skiing here. Theski area has plenty of trails for all abilities and a choice of varying length trail loops make it easy to adjust your outing to your ability and stamina.

The area's base lodge called Saint-Julien Lodge, which was originally used as the alpine ski area base lodge and then moved to the xc ski area, has an extensive ski school, a small cafeteria, a waxing room and a cross-country ski boutique with rentals, which include a baby glider to pull along your youngster if you choose not to leave him or her at the Alpine area day care. There is also a large sitting area around the fireplace to relax and a locker room with couches.

There are 7 heated shelters along the trails, 3 of which have lodging facilities. A day trip for the not-faint-of-heart is the trek along the powerline (Sentier du Versant Nord) to the base of the north side of Mont-Sainte-Anne Alpine area. Though it's about a 7 km trek, all uphill, the reward is the superb scenery along the way and a nice lunch at the Chalet du Versant Nord. And then there's skiing downhill all the way back to the base lodge. A shuttle is available between the xc and alpine centres on weekends and holidays.

Lodging opportunities at the xc ski area include the unique B&B, l'Auberge du Fondeur (418-827-5281; 800-463-1568) right on the trails, or the Ruisseau Rouge and Le Chaudron shelters along the trails. These rustic shelters each can accommodate up to eight skiers and are equipped with a wood stove so skiers can cook their own meals. Reservations are required (418-827-4561, ext. 408) but there is no charge for their use with purchase of a two-day or more ski pass. There are 3,000 beds located within a 5 km radius around the mountain and 11,000 rooms in the great Quebec City area. Auberge Le Baluchon in St-Paulin has a 5 km ice skating trail along Riviere du Loup, which is torch lit at night and there is a microbrewery nearby. Chateau Mont-Sainte-Anne (800-463-4467) is a popular lodge in the area.

Camp Mercier (418-848-2422, www.sepaq.com) is north of Quebec and it is in the Reserve Faunique des Laurentides, less than one hour 50 km north of the city on Highway 175. There is a 190 km trail network with trails for first timers and experts alike, varying in length from 1.4 km to 37 km. Five of the trails are groomed for skating. There are 9 brand new cabins in the Lac-a-Noel area. Camp Mercier has rental equipment available for xc skiing and snowshoeing. Camp Mercier has a cafeteria and a fireplace and lodging on site and because of the higher elevation, it is known for nearly 20 meters of annual snowfall and a long season. Nearby lodging includes Foret Montmorency (418-846-2046), which has 10 km of trails adjacent to Camp Mercier. Auberge Du Jeune Voyageur (418-848-7650) is 17 km away and Hotel Stoneham (418-848-2000) is near the Stoneham Ski Area between Quebec and Camp Merceir. For luxury accommodations, Manoir Du Lac-Delage (418-2551).

Station Touristique Duchesnay (877-511-5885, www.aubergeduchesnay.com) is a newly renovated lodging facility with various accommodations including the famed Ice Hotel and Auberge Duchesnay, which is on the shore of Lac Saint Joseph with scenic views of the surrounding mountains.There are 48 rooms in the new hotel with a restaurant, swimming pool, fitness room, and massage services. The 150 km of groomed trails includes 25 km of trails groomed for skate skiing. A full xc ski facility with rental equipment, waxing room, game room, and food service area is also available. Barely 30 minutes to the west from downtown Quebec, skiers of all ages and ability will enjoy the center's picturesque setting and full array of services. The Ice Hotel is a 3,000 square-foot complex made entirely of snow and ice with sponsor Absolut served at two disco bars and a gallery.