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Winter Thrills and Ice Climbing in Quebec City

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Immerse yourself in winter in Quebec City, where the art of living the cold season takes on a whole new dimension through ice climbing. Discover the city’s emblematic landscapes, get your fill of winter air, and feel the adrenaline of every ice-climb conquered.

After all, Quebec City is a snow-covered playground in the winter.

A waterfall frozen by winter

“There’s only one rule in ice climbing: don’t fall,” my instructor François Lemieux tells me with the straightforwardness of Captain Obvious.

That seems like a fair rule, but still, it’s not the kind of thing you want to hear when you’re clinging to a frozen waterfall, 30 metres up.

We’re at Montmorency Falls Park in Quebec City, dominated by waterfalls that are 83 metres tall. That’s 30 metres higher than the Niagara Falls, Quebecers are quick to point out. And why shouldn’t they brag about them? They’re magnificent and one of the city’s must-sees. From here, I take in the postcard-perfect views of the St. Lawrence River and Île d’Orléans. And Quebec has decided you must see them not only in summer but in winter, too, when the bone-chilling cold freezes the falls mid-cascade.

And do you know why? Because Quebec City not only survives its winter but celebrates it. Nay, it makes a sport of it. Literally. Frozen lake? Ice canoe. Twenty centimetres of snow? Nordic skiing. Frozen waterfalls? Ice climbing.

An adrenalin rush

And here we are.

I’m crawling up the slippery falls with footwear that has wicked-sharp spikes on it and two ice axes for hands—ice axes!—when I hear François casually call out, “Don’t fall.”

His words take a minute to float up the -22°C frigid February air and burrow into my helmet, underneath my knit toque and into my frozen ear, but once they do, I can’t unhear them.

After three clumsy swings, the ice finally grips my axe. I peel my body off and climb up, digging my feet into the frozen wall. Then I wrestle my left axe out, swing and lodge it into the ice above. Kick, kick, and I hoist my body up, not entirely ungracefully. I feel exhilarated. I stop and look around.

Montmorency Falls ice climbing in Quebec City

There’s a blanket of white as far as the eye can see, punctured by inexplicably lush trees and a rumbling waterfall to my right that even the mighty Canadian winter seems powerless to freeze.

And for a moment, I forget that I have vertigo. That I can no longer feel my toes and fingers. That I’m dangling precariously from a giant icicle. Even the deafening roar of the gushing waterfall is somehow muffled by the silence of the imposing beauty around me. And I soak it all in, this freezing moment frozen in time. This must be why Quebec loves its winter so much.

Tips for winter travel in Quebec

Crédit photo: Francis Gagnon/Destination Québec Cité

When is the best time of year to go ice climbing in Quebec City?

The best time to go ice climbing is generally during January and February, when temperatures favour the formation of solid ice. For a fun and safe experience, it’s best to consider hiring experienced guides.

What should I wear for outdoor activities in winter?

To be comfortable during your outdoor activities, you’ll need a snowsuit that includes trousers and a coat, as well as winter boots, a hat, a scarf and warm, lined gloves. You might even want to pack two pairs in case one of them gets wet.

Popular winter activities in Quebec include downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating at Place Youville, ice fishing and tubing at Dufferin Terrace by Château Frontenac, and winter festivals such as the Quebec Winter Carnival. Some of these activities have even become a winter tradition for Quebec families.

But there are also more fun activities such as dog sledding, a visit to the Nordic Spa and an overnight stay at the Hôtel de Glace!

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