“This is the last run…seriously…I mean it this time,” I told my daughter as we flopped ourselves into the moving tubes to be hauled up the mountain via tow rope for what seemed to be our 22nd snow tubing run and about the third time I had uttered those words. This was a far cry from the trepidatious family that first arrived at Village Vacances Valcartier, North America’s largest winter playground a few hours earlier — one of us scared of heights, another scared of rides, and the little one not feeling 100 percent. A little bravery, a little Advil, and a lot of experience later, all of us were reluctant to leave and put an end to our day of family fun.
Unlike some snow tubing parks associated with ski mountains, Valcartier, located just 20 minutes outside of Quebec City in Canada, focuses on tubing, with more than 35 slides (wow!!), 5,000 inner tubes, and 17 mechanical lifts to bring you to the top. With this much variety, it was hard to know where to start, but after a quick lunch in the sprawling, medieval fantasy-themed lodge, it was time to grab our tube, hit the slopes and figure it all out.
One look at the pulse-quickening Everest, which is the highest accelerating slide in North America and reaches speeds of 80 km/h, we knew we needed to start small. Anything named after the world’s tallest mountain wasn’t a fit for this family of sissies. Luckily all the runs are labeled just like ski slopes: green = easy/beginner; blue = intermediate; black diamond = difficult/fast; double black diamond = crazy fast; so it was easy enough to find something that suited our temperament. Also, the two main lifts from the lodge area brought us to the top of the same mountain and it was easy to walk across to another sliding area to check out the runs.
If you want to start slow, take the rope tow lift to the right of the lodge when facing the mountain and at the top, take a second smaller lift to the Avalanche area. But don’t worry, while Avalanche sounds scary, you can come right back down that short second lift section on Trail #24 — very slow, very easy and a good introduction to snow tubing, especially for smaller children or scaredy cats. From the Avalanche section you can also find the “Tornado” tube, which seats three to eight people and is equipped with a special mechanism that makes it spin as it slides (no thank you, I’m all set with spinny rides,) or the 12 passenger snow raft, which goes up to 60 km/h.
We took a walk through the woods and past a few of Valcartier’s 600, four-star camping sites to check out the view of the frozen Jacques-Cartier River, where you can do some real white water rafting in the summer. Since the Himalaya slides in this area were all double black diamonds, reaching 80 km/h and giving the impression of dashing off the edge of the mountain toward the frozen river valley below, we headed back to our comfort zone in the Central Section.
As we approached our first run and looked down the mountain at the tiny people below, all of us were just a little nervous for our first-time snow tubing (although I had gone once nearly 20 years ago). I’ve heard stories of concussions, bruised tailbones, and bone-jarring bumps. As we looked at each other to see who would go first, I knew it was time to take the leap. With the first bit of acceleration, I got that same drop in my stomach that incites panic whenever I go on a ride and immediately threw down a heel to slow myself down. But soon the speed took over and I relaxed and went with the flow…or the slide…and within seconds I was coasting to a stop at the bottom of the hill and turning to give a thumbs up to my daughter, who was next in line.
In the Central Section, we found a mix of greens, blues, and a couple of blacks that kept us busy and happy all day. In this area, the supervision isn’t as tight as the faster runs, which have monitors posted at the top of each run to get people connected and spaced out properly, but there were still gates that raised when it was safe for the next slider to start. We went up and down for hours in every combination possible: everyone alone, mommy & daughter, daddy & daughter, and one family run; with multiple runs on our favorite trails (#12, 14, 8 & 9.) Every ride as smooth as silk, no bumps, no bruises, and no longer any fear.
It is easy to spend the entire day snow tubing at Valcartier — whether you are a daredevil or a chicken. Between two lodges they offer nine restaurants and six receptions rooms for resting or enjoying a packed lunch. We were also happy to find plenty of lockers available for rent for $10 CA, of which $5 is given back when you return the key. Valcartier is very family-friendly, offering a children’s playground with tunnels and slides, animal mascots, family games that could win you a free maple taffy from the sugar shack, and pop music playing in the background.
We took a little break from tubing with a turn at ice karting — a small-scale go-cart track — on ice. And if we could have pulled our daughter away from the tubing trails, we could have also tried ice skating along the 1 km long skating path.
And before you think we were TOTAL sissies — it’s ok, we kind of are — my husband and I did try one black diamond trail, the Demi-Lune. This half-pipe type of slide drops you down super fast and whips you back up the other side, but then you gently, albeit quickly, glide the rest of the way down the mountain. Not too scary at all.
Tips for Snow Tubing in Quebec:
- Dress warm — wear layers and stick with wool or synthetic blends versus cotton
- Don’t forget your hand warmers, foot warmers, tissues, lip balm and sunscreen
- Ski goggles or sunglasses are helpful to keep the wind and snow out of your face
- Snow pants and snow boots are a must
Note: Our stay in Quebec City was hosted by Tourism Quebec, Quebec City Tourism, and tickets and a tour were provided by Village Vacances Valcartier but my opinions are my own — and we loved it! The featured photo at the top of this post was courtesy of Village Vacances Valcartier.