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"There is not a city in the world that is better placed, better prepared and that presents itself so well to host the Olympic Winter Games," boasted Québec premier Jean Charest as he sought to build support for Québec City's bid for the 2022 games. Charest was almost right.
The city does have a lot going for it. It's got a sleek and sophisticated European look that would play well on TV. There's a wealth of 17th century architecture, solid public transportation and an average annual snowfall of 14 feet—more in the nearby Laurentian Mountains. It would be a perfect Olympic host, were it not for one problem. There's no ready-made location for a men's downhill course.
Founded in 1608, Québec City's old city is the North America's only walled city north of Mexico. And it was the first urban place on the continent to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [Photo] Landers2006
With political will and unlimited funds, the problem could be easily resolved. The terrain exists to pull it off, though massive investment would be needed to develop new resorts and the infrastructure to access them easily. Not surprisingly, the terrain in question is some of Québec's best-loved (and finest) backcountry terrain: Mont à Liguori in the nearby Laurentians, and the alpine summits of the distant Chic-Chocs range.
In its bid for the 2002 Olympics, Québec City proposed building onto Le Massif de Charlevoix, a local mountain with a 2,465-foot vertical drop; the highest among Québec's existing resorts. Still, it falls far short of the FIS's 2,624-foot minimum for a men's downhill.
Strange as it may sound, adding vert to meet the height requirement isn't unheard of. In Sarajevo in 1984, the men's downhill course at Bjelasnica started on the rooftop terrace of a summit restaurant. But Québec's Le Massif is 150 vertical feet shy of the height requirement, and such development didn't sit well with the IOC. The idea of building a course finish onto barges in the St. Lawrence River at the foot of the mountain similarly failed to gain traction. So for the 2002 games, Québec City was eliminated early on in voting.
The rounded peaks of Laurentian Mountains just to the north of Québec City. [Photo] Josyan Pierson
With the existing resort at Le Massif looking unlikely, Québec City began exploring other options. The first, and most obvious, was the development of the adjacent Mont à Liguori, probably Québec's most popular backcountry skiing destination.
Unusually, Le Massif's summit can be accessed by car, and the (usually) deep powder of à Liguori is reached by a short skin or hike along the ridgeline from the parking lot. Part of the area was officially incorporated into the resort as off-piste terrain in 2008, but skiers had long been slipping away from the lifts into spacious evergreens and mature hardwoods that are largely free of the undergrowth that plagues most eastern glades.
Even as the coveted backcountry terrain of à Liguori was being evaluated by the FIS, opposition to its development never really mobilized. The Olympic bid is widely supported in Québec, in part because of the prestige that an Olympic host gains. But also, in Canada, international events are a key way for provinces to obtain federal funding for facilities. And in Québec, government investment in Olympic venues is largely seen as means to bring the National Hockey League back to the city. After all, hockey is still king in Canada, and since 1996, Québec has been without a home team.