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Mont à Liguori could be built up to the necessary height without much effort; it stand only 40 vertical feet short of the requirement. But the proposed course didn't have the required degree of difficulty.
In addition to an extended flat section with a slight rise about midway down the mountain, Mont à Liguori simply isn't steep enough for Olympic-level racing. Speaking to Montréal's La Presse newspaper from Kitzbuehel, FIS expert Bernard Russi noted, "At Mont à Liguori, the steep stretches just don't exist. It's uniform, all over the mountain. You just can't find it. Quebec City has to accept the fact that a men's downhill just isn't possible there at the highest level."
Looking out from an alpine plateau in the Chic-Chocs in summer. [Photo] Jean-Philippe Caron
The idea of staging the downhill at Lake Placid, N.Y., a five-hour drive away, has been floated. But the IOC doesn't allow international bids, so it's a moot point.
A last gasp attempt was to look to the Chic-Chocs mountains, where a wealth of alpine terrain and heavy snowfall have made the area into Québec's premier backcountry touring destination. 300 miles downriver on the Gaspé Peninsula, the Chic-Chocs top out at the unimpressive height of 4,160 feet, but they rise steeply to that altitude from sea level and the transition to alpine terrain begins at just 3,200 feet.
From a technical standpoint, it's hard to imagine the Chic-Chocs Mont Nicol-Albert not getting the FIS stamp of approval. It's higher, steeper and less uniform than Mont à Liguori. But the Chic-Chocs are remote not only from Québec City, but from anywhere.
That remoteness would likely preclude the private investment necessary to pull off development on the scale needed to host an Olympic games. Even if a resort were developed, it's unclear who would ski there once the games left town, which makes it a risky business venture. Québec City is the closest major center, and it already has numerous resorts operating nearby. And Boston, the nearest major city to the south, is a 15-hour drive.
Gaspé is one of the poorest parts of Québec, with its fishing-dependent economy recently crippled. So local politicians predictably jumped at the potential public investment that the Olympics would bring. "We need to re-evaluate the potential of the Chic-Chocs," said provincial legislator Pascal Bérubé, speaking to Québec City newspaper Le Soleil. "A 1994 study showed that the Chic-Chocs were the best site. It wasn't chosen, but then the chosen site lost to Salt Lake City."
In winter, storms rolling off the open water of the St. Lawrence virtually guarantee a deep snowpack in the Chic-Chocs. [Photo] Samuel Bouchard
There's little doubt that he's right about the Chic-Chocs suitability, but serious public and private investment would be necessary to make it happen. Today, the range is crisscrossed by dirt roads and there's no international airport. The few hotels in the area are small and rustic—places with hallway vending machines that sell beer and a hotel bar that doubles as the local strip joint. They're reasonable for staging a backcountry trip, but aren't likely to satisfy the whims of the billionaires and aristocrats who flock to the Games.
The odds of salvaging a bid are stacked tall, but Team Québec, the body responsible for developing the bid, hasn't thrown in the towel just yet. It has decided against recommending any development plan for the men's downhill at this time, but has suggested a women's downhill course on existing terrain at Le Massif to host future international events such as the World Cup.
For any Québec City bid—now or in the future—the men's downhill is a serious Achilles heel. But for backcountry skiers, it is a blessing. Between Mont à Liguori's lack of pitch and the Chic-Chocs remoteness, the bid process isn't likely to meet much success. It effectively kills the city's Olympic dreams—and deflates its ego a bit. However, it also spares some of Québec's best backcountry terrain from development for mass tourism for the foreseeable future.
Sources: cyberpresse.ca, nationalpost.com