New Camp Mercier
Cross-country skiing destination
In collaboration with Jean-Sébastien Massicotte
Alexandre Simard's smile spoke volumes. The manager of Camp Mercier strolled through his new airy and light-filled quarters with the satisfaction of having the new cross-country skiers' paradise unfold before his eyes. The snow of Réserve faunique des Laurentides is already a source of envy, and now the brand new building that will welcome cross-country enthusiasts this winter will be state-of-the-art in every possible way. "We will be THE cross-country ski destination," guarantees the manager.
As soon as you walk through the front door of the building, you can already imagine the lively discussions among skiers warming up around the fireplace. Or the laughter of folks sitting at the tables when it's time to take a break and have a bite to eat.
In anticipation of the first skiers to arrive, in the large equipment and waxing room next door, you can almost feel the excitement of winter mornings, minus the scent of wax applied to the bases of people’s skis.
A top destination for winter sports enthusiasts for more than 50 years, Camp Mercier was ready for an upgrade to its reception chalet, located about 40 minutes north of Quebec City. "It had reached the end of its useful life," recalls Alexandre Simard about the facilities that were originally logging camps from Baie-James.
The building has plenty of windows, allowing natural light and the surrounding landscape, which features the boreal forest, to shine through. The ventilation has been designed to avoid the inconveniences of wax application, even during peak ski preparation periods. Everything has been designed to enhance the visit of cross-country skiers and snowshoers. The work began over three years ago with a budget of $10.4 million.
Essentially the same size as the old reception building, the new Camp Mercier has nothing in common with the old, dilapidated facility. “It's a better organized reception chalet, with very little wasted space," asserts Alexandre Simard.
This will make it easier to move around and improve the storage of users' belongings. Not to mention the bench seating all along the generous windows, in addition to the 120 seats at the tables.
Integration into the environment
The building blueprint was carefully planned to promote a more ecological construction, more fully integrated into the environment. The sunshine and prevailing winds were taken into account when orienting the building, which stands at an altitude of over 700 metres.
Access to the 70 kilometres of cross-country ski trails and the 30 kilometres of snowshoeing trails is close to a protected courtyard, a pleasant place to gather near the outdoor fireplace. A few steps away, a slope equipped for the new snow tubing activity will delight young and old alike.
The brand new, ultra modern Camp Mercier is also greener. The building is heated by a system that consumes biomass. And to cope with the 600 centimetres of snow that accumulates in the sector on average each year – twice as much as normally falls on Quebec City – the solid framework of the reception chalet is made of wood beams. The gently sloping roof is designed to be emptied of snow largely without human intervention, with the help of the prevailing winds.
A brand new grooming machine is now also in the arsenal for maintenance of the slopes. More powerful and more efficient, it will ensure a high level of performance for skiers. Investments have also been made to enhance certain sections of the cross-country ski trails. "This will be especially noticeable at the beginning of the ski season," points out Alexandre Simard, who explains that the work was aimed at improving drainage. A way to allow the ground to freeze more quickly. "Folks will be able to skate ski right from the start of the season, instead of two to three weeks in."
The mad rush of winter
The parking lot near the building has been reviewed and adjusted to facilitate access and traffic flow, and also provide nearly 150 additional parking spaces, for a total of 400 vehicles. Camp Mercier will now be better equipped to handle the traffic.
But since it is really the number of vehicles that limits access to the popular outdoor destination and not the number of people on the trails, Alexandre Simard likes the idea of encouraging carpooling or the use of shuttles organized by clubs and specialized shops. Ways of doing things that could guarantee access for everyone, even during peak periods.
The appeal of cross-country skiing is undeniable. Alexandre Simard attributes this to the growing popularity of the great outdoors. This winter will be no exception. As proof, season passes for cross-country skiing are already sold out in the Sépaq network. Fortunately, day tickets and 5-days season passes are still available.
For families in particular, the new Camp Mercier will be even more attractive. The improved comfort will simplify the pleasure of family outings. By the fire or on the couch in the multi-purpose room, waiting for the return of one or another member of the clan has never been so pleasant! Not to mention that the Sépaq Family Experience program is still free of charge for children 17 and under.
Equipment rental will be much better organized and quicker to complete. Even a dryer integrated into the imposing boot rack has been acquired for the comfort of skiers who borrow equipment. The shop with the essentials is now located at the visitors' entrance.
For the patrol, new and better adapted premises will provide more efficient service for the skiers who will have to go through the infirmary. Direct access from the outside will allow snowmobiles and ambulances to approach the space through an adjoining shelter, for more speed and discretion.
Improved food services
The brand new self-service cafeteria-style food court is sure to please. Sandwiches, pastries, and hot drinks will be on the menu. “Not to mention Camp Mercier's famous pea soup," chuckles Alexandre Simard. “It alone is worth the trip!”
For those who can't live without winter sports, or who simply want to enjoy them more often, there are always accommodations nearby. A total of 19 cabins are available for rent, including those at Devlin, Lac-à-Noël, and Pécan.
As for the après-ski, it will take a pleasant turn with the new liquor licence. Thanks to Camp Mercier’s association with the La Souche microbrewery, a specialty beer, the Fondeur, and a brew of the day will be served in cans. “The offer could eventually be improved,” adds Alexandre Simard, who is never short of ideas.
Despite all the improvements and changes, the big star of Camp Mercier will always be its legendary snow. "Here, the snow falls earlier and stays later. It's crisper too," says the manager with pride. "Our territory is ideal for cross-country skiing!”
Usually one of the first snowy ski destinations in the province, Camp Mercier is now ready as ever to welcome winter sports enthusiasts in style.
All that's left is for enough snow to pile up for the party to begin. And that won’t be long in coming!
About Jean-Sébastien Massicotte
A journalist by training and an all-around sports enthusiast, Jean-Sébastien never misses a chance to step up to the plate for a good story. A columnist, photographer, and adventure content creator now based in Quebec City, this Abitibi native has been an outdoor reporter since 2011. Jean-Sébastien collaborates notably with the magazine Espaces.