TRAVEL: A Touch of Frost in the Canadian Winter; RHONA GANGULY Has Fun in the Snow in the Canadian Province of Quebec

The Birmingham Post (England), January 26, 2008 | Go to article overview
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TRAVEL: A Touch of Frost in the Canadian Winter; RHONA GANGULY Has Fun in the Snow in the Canadian Province of Quebec


Byline: RHONA GANGULY

I have never really been a fan of cold weather.

Stick me on a Caribbean island with a fruit punch in one hand and a book in the other and I'd be perfectly happy.

That notwithstanding, there is something quite attractive about visiting a country with temperatures as low as - 22C.

Just the thought of all that crisp white snow instead of the slush we get here in Birmingham, which always manages to bring our traffic in the city to a complete standstill, is worth donning hats and scarves for.

No, it's quite fair to say we Brits are absolutely clueless when it comes to coping with snow and plunging temperatures - no matter how minor they may be.

But for the Canadians who live in the Province of Quebec, known as the Quebecois, the harsh weather conditions really are just a part of their every day winter life.

In fact they are quite used to the average seasonal snowfall of three metres, which lasts for several months. Admittedly - 22C might seem a little hard to imagine here in Britain, but having felt these freezing temperatures first hand during a five-day trip to the region, I think I am perfectly qualified to explain them.

I arrived in Montreal Trudeau airport after a seven-hour flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle with Air France. Just hours earlier, I had taken the airline's shuttle service from Birmingham.

On arrival in Canada, I was warned that frost bite kicks in within 30 minutes. Surely not, I thought. And then the airport doors opened.

I thought I was going to freeze to death on the spot. My fingers and toes felt brittle and I was convinced they would break off. Every time I inhaled, I could have sworn I was breathing in ice.

In fact, Quebec is so cold that even if you have the heating on in a car, ice will form on the inside as well as the outside of the windows.

Not only is it cold, but the sheer size of Quebec is beyond belief: it is seven times bigger than the UK and three times the size of France.

It covers more than 1.5 million square kilometres of north-eastern North America and stretches almost 2,000km from north to south.

Its capital Quebec City is just a one-hour flight away from New York, while its northernmost point lies less than 425km from the Arctic Circle.

In addition, it is home to an astounding variety of landscapes including two major mountain ranges - the Laurentians and Appalachians, vast expanses of forest, and close to 6,000km of shoreline. All sprinkled with more than a million lakes and thousands of rivers.

But sometimes the Quebecois cannot always depend on their cars' snow tyres to get them to the region's most remote places.

I've always considered myself to be an excellent driver, whipping around the streets of Birmingham in my VW Polo. But my experience of navigating Spaghetti Junction could not have prepared me for the daring forest snowmobiling trail I attempted. Granted it was a practice trail and I nearly fell off while crashing into a tree before deciding I'd had enough, but the thrill of snowmobiling really was second to none.

And the experience of zooming across a frozen lake and through a forest was thrilling. Snowmobiles can reach speeds of 100mph.

If you like your snow with a bit of speed, Quebec offers numerous snowmobile trails and slopes. But if, like me, you're not really a fan of the gas guzzlers, there are more environmentally-friendly alternatives available for getting around Quebec.

Take for instance dog sledding. Huskies are still a preferred cross-country form of transport in the region because of their reliability in extreme temperatures and their ability to travel where cars may not be able to.

With their gorgeous blue eyes and wolflike features, they are incredibly gentle animals. Once harnessed, they go from being completely placid to the loudest creatures you have ever heard - howling and desperate to get going.

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