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Owls Head 12/21

xwhaler

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Date: Sunday 12/21
Location: Owls Head, Eastern Townships QC

After a great day at Burke on Saturday ripping glades with Catsup and crew followed by watching our beloved UNH Wildcats lose a tough one in the FCS National semifinals, OysterRiverColin and I headed up to Newport for the night.
$100 room at the Newport City Motel was perfectly fine for 2 guys on a ski trip. Very good pizza about a 1/2 mile down the hill called Hoagie's if anyone is ever in the area.

I had been thinking about Owls Head for a couple yrs now since I saw them on the Fox44 card. Wknd before XMas trip was in the works for a couple months now as long as I could find someone to go with me. Crossed the border and drove up to the mountain passing by very scenic farms and small hills. Owls Head, like Burke, is a lone peak/monadnock that rises majestically from the small hills that surround it.
It's very rural country up there but only about 20 mins from the border so combined with a Jay/Burke trip it can be a lot of fun.
Booted up in the lodge and immediately was struck by the amount of French being spoken...nearly 100%. I know it is Canada but I guess I thought being so close to the US that people may come north and avoid lines/higher $ at Jay. Didn't seem to be the case as the demographic had a very locals feel to it. Signage is both french and English and those works at the mtn speak both but French being the primary language.

Lodge: Old school, wooden building with 3 levels. Bottom floor was tickets, rental/retail shop and a restaurant/bar that we did not sample. Middle floor is the cafeteria and where ppl boot up...huge room with wooden picnic tables. Very functional space with ample room for all. Top floor I guess has some old hotel rooms you can rent on the cheap and be slopeside. It reminded me a bit of the Magic lodge but on a much larger scale....definitely stuck in the 80's but it works well for them.

Lifts/Terrain: Grabbed our Fox 44 tickets and headed up to Sommet-Main Quad. This is a HSQ but very old school, chain driven Dopplemayr. It does the job though and we basically spent all our time lapping this chair. Off the top options were a bit limited given the mtn was probably only 30% open or so. Going right gets you to a couple nice flowly blue squares (Peak/Centennial) that lead into Crossover and Lower Standard. Mix of ice, death cookies, some lsgr. Nice pitch to the runs and they do wind their way a bit down the hill like classic old style runs should. Overall though they are much wider than your classic New England style runs. It's clear to me that when the HSQ's when in back in the 80's the trails were widened considerably so some of the character was lost.
Lily's Leap was a very nice curvy blue square that had some amazing views of Lake Memphramagog that we occasionally could see. Generally visibility was not good as there was a thick cloud deck that set up around mid mtn that I think was partially the result of the widespread snowmaking they had going on all over the hill.

Did 1 run over to far skiers right to the Lake Chair which is another old HSQ. Spent just 1 lap there as only 1 route was open (Upward Trail) and conditions were a bad mix of FSGR/LSGR/Death Cookies/sticky snowmaking snow.

Back to the lodge to warm up after 8 runs. Paid cash for our hot chocolate, thankfully they do accept USD (at par) though if you need change it is returned to you in Canadian funds. There is a little village (Mansonville) that you can stop on your way out to buy things and get rid of the Canadian $ if need be before crossing back over.

Back to the Main quad and did another half dozen runs, checked out a short/semi steep gladed called Magog that was very scraped off though acceptable coverage. Owls Head must not get as much snow as Burke as the coverage was not as deep and clearly was impacted more by thaw/re freeze than Burke to the south. Few more runs lapping what was open but effectively only 2 unique routes off the top yesterday with some short connector options at the bottom.

Overall Impressions: A bit incomplete given the limited terrain we had to sample. There are some steep black groomers that we could see from the chair (Kamikaze, Colorado, Kormans Dive) that looked like they would be a lot of fun when snow is good. Not much evidence of narrow MRG/Magic style trails which is what I expected given the other TRs I've read on Owls. There is a new glade off the top called Kaboul that we didnt hit but looked very steep/tight along with Kandahar far skiers left. Had no way of seeing tree spacing/pitch on the middle mountain glades (Ponsoon, Oz, L'Urubu) because the trails to get there were all closed.
Owls Head I think is perfect for a day trip getaway to do something different if you are already skiing the NEK. I could also see renting a slopeside condo for a couple nights as the mountain does seem big/diverse enough to spend a multiple days there. Virtually nothing going on nearby or at the mtn save for the bar for apres and unsure how popular that is. There was not 1 person in there when we left the mtn at 1:15 so me thinks it is a lot of families and those who bring their lunch....we saw a lot of brown baggers in the lodge.
I'm not sure it is a 3+ day destination on its own by any means but another trip may be to sample Orford and Sutton.
Those who like steep groomers with views will enjoy it. Seems lines would never be much of an issue as they have a ton of lifts and various small trail pods.
I'm glad I went and the skiing being already paid for made it worthwhile....will be back someday I'm sure to give a more complete review of the terrain when its 100% open.
 

deadheadskier

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Surprised they were only at 30%. That much less snow than VT eh?

I ate at Hoagies a few weeks ago for lunch while in Newport on business. 2 slices and a drink for $4. Real cheap and quite good.
 

xwhaler

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They definitely got less snow than we saw at Burke, also the trails are wide and takes a lot to bury them. Lot of the snow gun technology I saw at Owls was the old ground guns which I'm sure are not as efficient as the fancy new fan guns. Though they were making a good effort with them as they were blasting all over the mountain.

It may have been higher than 30%, I didnt do the math just a guess based on what I saw.
 

dlague

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Date: Sunday 12/21
Location: Owls Head, Eastern Townships QC

After a great day at Burke on Saturday ripping glades with Catsup and crew followed by watching our beloved UNH Wildcats lose a tough one in the FCS National semifinals, OysterRiverColin and I headed up to Newport for the night.
$100 room at the Newport City Motel was perfectly fine for 2 guys on a ski trip. Very good pizza about a 1/2 mile down the hill called Hoagie's if anyone is ever in the area.

I had been thinking about Owls Head for a couple yrs now since I saw them on the Fox44 card. Wknd before XMas trip was in the works for a couple months now as long as I could find someone to go with me. Crossed the border and drove up to the mountain passing by very scenic farms and small hills. Owls Head, like Burke, is a lone peak/monadnock that rises majestically from the small hills that surround it.
It's very rural country up there but only about 20 mins from the border so combined with a Jay/Burke trip it can be a lot of fun.
Booted up in the lodge and immediately was struck by the amount of French being spoken...nearly 100%. I know it is Canada but I guess I thought being so close to the US that people may come north and avoid lines/higher $ at Jay. Didn't seem to be the case as the demographic had a very locals feel to it. Signage is both french and English and those works at the mtn speak both but French being the primary language.

Lodge: Old school, wooden building with 3 levels. Bottom floor was tickets, rental/retail shop and a restaurant/bar that we did not sample. Middle floor is the cafeteria and where ppl boot up...huge room with wooden picnic tables. Very functional space with ample room for all. Top floor I guess has some old hotel rooms you can rent on the cheap and be slopeside. It reminded me a bit of the Magic lodge but on a much larger scale....definitely stuck in the 80's but it works well for them.

Lifts/Terrain: Grabbed our Fox 44 tickets and headed up to Sommet-Main Quad. This is a HSQ but very old school, chain driven Dopplemayr. It does the job though and we basically spent all our time lapping this chair. Off the top options were a bit limited given the mtn was probably only 30% open or so. Going right gets you to a couple nice flowly blue squares (Peak/Centennial) that lead into Crossover and Lower Standard. Mix of ice, death cookies, some lsgr. Nice pitch to the runs and they do wind their way a bit down the hill like classic old style runs should. Overall though they are much wider than your classic New England style runs. It's clear to me that when the HSQ's when in back in the 80's the trails were widened considerably so some of the character was lost.
Lily's Leap was a very nice curvy blue square that had some amazing views of Lake Memphramagog that we occasionally could see. Generally visibility was not good as there was a thick cloud deck that set up around mid mtn that I think was partially the result of the widespread snowmaking they had going on all over the hill.

Did 1 run over to far skiers right to the Lake Chair which is another old HSQ. Spent just 1 lap there as only 1 route was open (Upward Trail) and conditions were a bad mix of FSGR/LSGR/Death Cookies/sticky snowmaking snow.

Back to the lodge to warm up after 8 runs. Paid cash for our hot chocolate, thankfully they do accept USD (at par) though if you need change it is returned to you in Canadian funds. There is a little village (Mansonville) that you can stop on your way out to buy things and get rid of the Canadian $ if need be before crossing back over.

Back to the Main quad and did another half dozen runs, checked out a short/semi steep gladed called Magog that was very scraped off though acceptable coverage. Owls Head must not get as much snow as Burke as the coverage was not as deep and clearly was impacted more by thaw/re freeze than Burke to the south. Few more runs lapping what was open but effectively only 2 unique routes off the top yesterday with some short connector options at the bottom.

Overall Impressions: A bit incomplete given the limited terrain we had to sample. There are some steep black groomers that we could see from the chair (Kamikaze, Colorado, Kormans Dive) that looked like they would be a lot of fun when snow is good. Not much evidence of narrow MRG/Magic style trails which is what I expected given the other TRs I've read on Owls. There is a new glade off the top called Kaboul that we didnt hit but looked very steep/tight along with Kandahar far skiers left. Had no way of seeing tree spacing/pitch on the middle mountain glades (Ponsoon, Oz, L'Urubu) because the trails to get there were all closed.
Owls Head I think is perfect for a day trip getaway to do something different if you are already skiing the NEK. I could also see renting a slopeside condo for a couple nights as the mountain does seem big/diverse enough to spend a multiple days there. Virtually nothing going on nearby or at the mtn save for the bar for apres and unsure how popular that is. There was not 1 person in there when we left the mtn at 1:15 so me thinks it is a lot of families and those who bring their lunch....we saw a lot of brown baggers in the lodge.
I'm not sure it is a 3+ day destination on its own by any means but another trip may be to sample Orford and Sutton.
Those who like steep groomers with views will enjoy it. Seems lines would never be much of an issue as they have a ton of lifts and various small trail pods.
I'm glad I went and the skiing being already paid for made it worthwhile....will be back someday I'm sure to give a more complete review of the terrain when its 100% open.


When Owl's head is fully open it is lots of fun and the trails you mentioned (Kamikaze, Colorado, Kormans Dive) are fun as well. Colorado has a trail that crosses towards the bottom but speed needs to be maintained due to a short steep up hill section that you need to clear. The woods there are not huge but they are fun. I of ten found that they do not generally have much open before Christmas. Whenever I have skied there we skied Sutton, Jay Peak, and/or Orford as well as Owl's Head. We have stayed at their apartments before for an entire week and it is where my youngest who at the time was 3.5 years old really found his legs and started skiing for real. We put him in private lessons for three days and it paid off. BTW - they make great Bloody Caesars - a norm in Quebec. Foods to try while up there - Poutine (not like the versions I find in the US), fries w/white vinegar, cird cheese (not like the cheddar variety found here) and Langostinos or Langoustines (a small lobster tail dish that is generally cooked scampi style). If you can make the drive - Sherbrooke has lots of good places to eat as well - a favorite "Casa du Spaghetti" - sounds like a spaghetti place but it is not but they do have great European style pizzas.

My $.02
 

VTKilarney

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I think the reason that you don't see more English speakers from the United States there is that it's not really convenient from the USA because it's on the western side of the lake. This means that Jay Peak is always going to be closer.

I really like Owl's Head. I like that it's one of those mid-size areas that has a decent product without large crowds. It is also run VERY responsibly from a financial standpoint, and would serve as a lesson to places like Magic Mountain. They have a very active adaptive sports program based there, which is great to see.

As for the lower snowfall, the difference between Owl's Head and Burke is explained by the fact that the lake had not yet frozen over. This creates a warmer micro-climate at Owl's Head. Once the lake freezes over the snowfalls are generally comparable. That is why I like to ski Owl's Head later in the season.

I've always viewed Owl's Head as an attractive part of a larger trip to Jay and/or Sutton. At $20 CAD midweek, you really can't beat it.

We have explored Granby a lot in the summer thanks to their massive bike path network. There is a GREAT hotel there and some excellent restaurants. Sherbrooke is a mill city that has never done much for me.
 

xwhaler

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As for the lower snowfall, the difference between Owl's Head and Burke is explained by the fact that the lake had not yet frozen over. This creates a warmer micro-climate at Owl's Head. Once the lake freezes over the snowfalls are generally comparable. That is why I like to ski Owl's Head later in the season.

Very interesting about the lake...I commented to my friend that I found it interesting that the Northern half of the lake was open water while it was frozen back into VT. I figured colder north it would freeze from the north south but apparently not the case with that lake.
I would like to get to Sutton sometime....tree skiing there looks tremendous.
 

VTKilarney

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The southern basin of the lake is polymictic, which means that it is too shallow to develop thermal stratification. The northern basin in dimictic, which means that there are two mixing cycles per year.

What this really means is that the northern basin, on average, freezes over a couple of weeks after the southern basin. They thaw at about the same time, though.
 

Cannonball

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Great report XWhaler. Nice feather in the cap to bag that one!

(VTK: fyi that's not what polymictic means. Not trying to derail this thread so I'll leave it at that, you can look it up).
 

steamboat1

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All the areas in the Eastern Townships are worth a look. My favorite is Sutton with Bromont being my least favorite but still worth a look. Orford is probably the largest & most diverse. Sutton is more like old school New England skiing which is why I liked it the best. It felt more like New England then New England feels these days (with the exception of MRG of course).

Also as far as French being spoken more than English that's true but most everyone speaks English also so communicating is not an issue. Same thing up in the Quebec City area & Tremblant for that matter too.
 
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VTKilarney

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One thing that amuses me about Owl's Head is the random nature to the slopeside lodging. There is definitely a variety.
 

Edd

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No pics. Turned phone off approaching the border so i wasn't on the Canada network paying all kinds of roaming

Yeah, that kind of blows. A two day Montreal trip a few years back tripled my bill.

On a separate trip to Jay, my bill got bumped up because my phone pinged off of a Canadian tower. I called BS on that one.

Great TR. I just need to take a week off and drag my lazy ass up there. Sounds like a good time.
 

xwhaler

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Yeah, that kind of blows. A two day Montreal trip a few years back tripled my bill.

On a separate trip to Jay, my bill got bumped up because my phone pinged off of a Canadian tower. I called BS on that one.

Great TR. I just need to take a week off and drag my lazy ass up there. Sounds like a good time.
About 3 miles from the border approaching North Troy my buddies phone switched over to the Rogers Network and off of VZW....he started getting text messages about data roaming charges etc. He did take a few pics during the day I can try and get from here and share.
Next yr Catsup948 and I may check out Sutton to be combined with a Jay/Smuggs trip.
 

deadheadskier

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I'd like to stay in Magog someday and do a Sutton > Orford > Owl's Head weekend. Sucks they don't get the snow that VT does. I'm thinking a March corn weekend sometime.
 

xwhaler

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I'd like to stay in Magog someday and do a Sutton > Orford > Owl's Head weekend. Sucks they don't get the snow that VT does. I'm thinking a March corn weekend sometime.

Owls Head with its steep/consistent pitch prob bumps up very nicely in the spring. With awesome views of the lake I think that would be a real nice setup. I'd like to hit Sutton mid winter when the glades are all in.
 

deadheadskier

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From the pics I've seen, Orford has me the most excited, but from what I gather most of their really good stuff takes a ton of snow to open. Snowmonster posted some pics from his trip there and it looked amazing.
 

VTKilarney

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If you have a smartphone, just turn the data roaming off and you're all set. I use mine all of the time in Canada with no problems. Incoming texts are free, so no worries there.
 

VTKilarney

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I'd like to stay in Magog someday and do a Sutton > Orford > Owl's Head weekend. Sucks they don't get the snow that VT does. I'm thinking a March corn weekend sometime.
Elevation comes into play once you cross the border. Orford/Sutton/Owl's Head have base elevations of 1000/1312/682 respectively. Jay Peak's base sits at 1,815 feet. I have found Burke to be pretty similar to the Eastern Townships. Burke's base is at 1,267 feet and it sits on its own like the mountains in the Eastern Townships. The one catch, as mentioned earlier, is that Owl's Head gets a lot less snow until the lake freezes over.

Magog is a pretty good location to check out those mountains. It's far from my favorite town in the area, but the location is pretty ideal.

IMHO, the best time to ski in Canada is during a United States holiday weekend. These weekends are not holiday weekends in Canada. The worst time is during Quebec's school break, which is generally the first week of March.
 
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