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Quebec’s Chic-Choc Mountains a late-winter wonderland

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CHIC-CHOC MOUNTAINS, QUE.—The big red snowcat chugs through a wild mountain world of spruce and birch blanketed thick with snow; with the driver up front in the tank-like machine and us rolling behind in a bus-like trailer on treads. Then it all comes to a halt, and someone up front exclaims, “Un original!” and I rub away the icy condensation on my window and see the moose blocking our path.

We wait. It takes its sweet time. Nobody minds. Eventually, the moose dips back into the forest, snow coming up to its belly.

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Set amid 60 square kilometres of protected wilderness in the heart of Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs is an 18-room, provincially operated four-star lodge. Hours from anything in the Chic-Choc mountains, which form part of the northern Appalachians, the lodge draws mountain bikers, wildlife watchers and hikers in the summer. In the winter, it’s metres of snow and every way to traverse it.

When we first arrive, we’re fed a hearty lasagna lunch in a communal dining room. Sitting across from me, burly and affable guide Yann Barriault asks if I’ll go backcountry skiing this afternoon.

I demur, bashfully telling him that I’ve been downhill skiing only once, on an elementary school trip to Toronto’s Earl Bales Park, and even then on the bunny hill, I spent most of the time on my butt.

Yann looks taken aback for a moment, then leans over his plate in earnest and tells me that I must ski this afternoon; that if I don’t learn now, I’ll never ski again; and I may never ski again somewhere like this — a place that blows even seasoned skiers’ souls with its steep, powder-filled wilderness where every route could be mine alone, my signature trailing behind me in the snow.

“There’s a lot of pleasure: the feeling to fly, the feeling to glide,” the Gaspe Peninsula native says. “When you do a good line, the feeling inside is emotional, yes? It’s a kind of victory.”

What can I say — I’m convinced.

We’re handed boots, skis, skins and poles, and begin climbing through the forest toward the summit of Mount 780. In a clearing, Yann gives our small group an avalanche safety tutorial, showing us how to use our electronic beacons and dig someone free. When I fall and a ski pops off, the snow comes up above my waist.

Just over halfway up, Yann continues on with the more experienced skiers and Monia Fiset, the lodge’s youngest guide, teaches me the basics in a clearing. I’m taking spills at every turn. Soon, the other skiers are zipping past, shouting “Woo hoo!” But I start to get the hang of it: I start learning how to carve my path through the fresh snow, dodging trees to glide down the mountain.

“Seriously, you weren’t bad,” Monia, 24, tells me later. “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Inside the auberge, it’s all casual class: warm woods, cosy couches, a crackling central fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over snow-covered summits and yawning valleys. There’s even a sauna and an outdoor hot tub, where a long-time skier from Quebec City raves about the Chic-Choc’s bounty of powder. Nuts to chairlifts, he tells me: a gruelling climb on skins for even just one pristine backcountry run is better than a whole day at a ski resort.

“I’ve got a quote for you,” he says. “This place is terrific! You don’t need to go to Alberta to ski: it’s all right here.”

Meals with everything from salads topped with scallops, to bacon-and-cheese stuffed chicken, to homemade fruit pies with maple syrup sorbet, are served family-style, with one of the lodge’s staff seated at every table. And every night, Jacques, the lodge’s elder statesmen, serenades guests with a guitar.

“It is not the man who takes the mountain,” he sings in French to the tune of Renaud’s 1983 song, “Dès que le vent soufflera.”

“It is the mountain that takes the man.”

The next day, I follow Jacques for more backcountry skiing, his beard and wispy hair matching the snow, eyes like glacial ice set against a mink-trimmed blue parka worn over black neoprene overalls.

“Both of your legs should be on the same side of the tree,” he instructs with a grin.

Jacques gracefully plows a trail through the powder.

“It’s a little orgasmic, no?” he says at one point. “It’s liberation.”

Snowflakes like dazzling jewels cling to even the tiniest branch. Moose prints are the only things that punctuate the snow.

Later, the 68-year-old tells me about his enviably adventurous life: travelling across the country to make documentaries for Radio-Canada, partaking in punishing expeditions from Ellesmere Island to the southern tip of Argentina, climbing Alaska’s Denali and the highest peak in the former Soviet Union. But he always returned here, he says, to where his life began in the Gaspésie.

I ask Jacques what his secret is: how he can be more than double my age and in better shape than I’ve ever been.

“It’s the Chic-Chocs’ oxygen,” he says with a laugh.

“So, if I move here, I’ll become like you?”

“I guarantee it.”

I spend the rest of my three-night stay contentedly exploring on snowshoes, plodding to modest summits and traversing deep into the valley below the lodge to see the stunning 75-metre-tall Chute Hélène waterfall, entirely frozen over, the sound of rushing water audible beneath its dense, bulbous ice.

Wearing a pair of Hok skis — a hybrid between snowshoes and cross-country skis — Yann glides ahead of me.

“I’m in love with it: the wildlife, the rivers, the mountains,” the 38-year-old tells me, taking it all in. “We’re all at the same level in the forest.”

Daniel Otis was hosted by Le Québec Maritime, Réseau Sépaq and Tourisme Québec, which did not review or approve this story.

WHEN YOU GO

Do your research: Start planning your trip on the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs’ website, sepaq.com/ct/amc

When to go: The lodge is open this winter until April 2, then again in the summer from July 7 to Sept. 13. The next winter season runs from Dec. 27 to March 30, 2019.

Get there: The fastest way of getting to the lodge from Toronto is by flying to Mont-Joli, Que., via Montreal on Air Canada (about 4.5 hours), then rent a car at the Mont Joli airport and drive nearly two hours northeast along the Saint Lawrence to the town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. That’s where the lodge picks up guests twice per day — once in the morning, and once in the afternoon — for a three-hour mountain ride that includes a snowcat in the winter. You can also get to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts by bus with Orléans Express. Or, include the lodge on any Gaspe Peninsula road trip.

Stay: Rates at the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs, which include all outdoor gear, guides and food, start at $1,156 for two people for a two-night minimum stay in the winter, or $438 a night for two people in the summer. Views from the cosy rooms are particularly spectacular from the lodge’s rear. Be sure to book well in advance in the winter. You’ll also likely need to spend a night before or after your trip in the town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, which has several hotels, including the well-appointed Hôtel & Cie, where the lodge picks up its guests.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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