International Meetings

Our latest International Meetings

Sotchi, Russie, 2020

Une rencontre marquante à bien des égards. Paysages spectaculaires, découverte de sites olympiques, visite de Moscou et plongée dans un pays qui fascine et polarise.

Les chaines de montagnes autour de la station de ski Rosa Khutor (près du village de Sotchi) nous ont paru avoir un petit air de Rocheuses canadiennes, avec leurs vastes forêts d’où émergeaient des sommets dégagés. A l’arrivée de la télécabine, à 2320 m, la vue était spectaculaire sur le Grand Caucase. La station de ski, moderne et bien équipée, a été entièrement construite pour les Jeux olympiques de 2014.

Sous un soleil très doux, mais en l’absence de neige suffisante par endroits, on a parfois slalomé entre les roches… en compagnie de quantité de planchistes qui dévalaient les pentes à vive allure. Les Russes découvrent les sports de glisse et la majorité des jeunes adoptent la planche plutôt que le ski. Enthousiastes, mais pas toujours en contrôle!

Heureusement, une belle grosse chute de neige nous a permis par la suite de goûter à la poudreuse. Il est tombé un bon pied de neige pour la course de ski de fond, organisée sur le site du biathlon des JO de 2014. Il ne manquait plus qu’une foule compacte et enthousiaste dans les immenses gradins enneigés… et vides. Nos performances et le classement s’affichaient en temps réel sur un tableau géant. La longue montée dans un magnifique décor s’achevait avec à l’arrivée, la traditionnelle et fameuse soupe aux pois de nos amis hollandais.

Sotchi, les palmiers au pied des montagnes

Les équipes russe et kazakh, coorganisatrices de la rencontre, nous ont accueilli avec une efficacité et une générosité remarquables, toujours disponibles à la moindre question. Mais au-delà des montagnes, du ski, de l’accueil, nous avons eu la chance de plonger au cœur de l’histoire et de la politique de la Russie, grâce à des visites de Sotchi puis de Moscou, avec des guides extrêmement compétents.

Sotchi, à une heure de route de la station de ski Rosa Khutor, se trouve au bord de la mer Noire. Ville de repos pour les tsars, marquée par la guerre et la révolution, c’est là aussi que Staline avait sa datcha. Vladimir Poutine comptait, avec les Jeux olympiques, en faire une grande destination internationale. Des milliards ont été investis, des autoroutes et chemins de fer construits, mais la clientèle reste surtout russe. Les Moscovites y viennent pour le ski l’hiver et la mer l’été. L’héritage des jeux est encore très difficile à établir.

Moscou, ambiance de Noël tout l’hiver

Ceux et celles qui souhaitaient prolonger le séjour à Moscou ont découvert un centre-ville illuminé de guirlandes et structures lumineuses géantes à chaque coin de rue. Les décorations de Noël, en place tout l’hiver, réchauffaient l’atmosphère froide et humide de la capitale.

C’était l’occasion de visiter ce patrimoine hors norme qu’est le Kremlin, de repérer les Sept Soeurs, ces édifices staliniens symboles de la puissance et des ambitions soviétiques, de patiner en musique sur la place Rouge, de se perdre dans l’immense métro, ce musée souterrain qui n’a pas lésiné sur le marbre, les lustres et les mosaïques à la gloire de l’ex-URSS, conçu et bâti pour être le palais du peuple, de choisir quelques ouvrages de littérature russe traduits en français, dans la plus grande librairie de la ville, et enfin, avec la correspondante de Radio-Canada à Moscou Tamara Alteresco, de déguster des raviolis géorgiens ou des crêpes au café Pouchkine. 

Répression et liberté de presse

Lors de notre passage à Rosa Khutor, nos collègues journalistes russes ont fait venir trois conférenciers pour nous parler des enjeux de la liberté de presse en Russie (lire l’article d’Andrée Ducharme ci-dessous). La journaliste et écrivaine Nadezhda Azhgikhina, directrice du PEN Moscou et longtemps à la tête de la Fédération européenne des journalistes, a abordé de façon très concrète la répression qui sévit contre les journalistes russes, mais aussi la solidarité au sein de la communauté journalistique, qui donne de l’espoir à la relève.

Témoignage également très percutant de l’avocate Svetlana Kuzevanova, du Russian Media Rights Centre. Rien qu’en 2019, cette organisation de défense des journalistes et des médias a porté plus de 100 causes devant les tribunaux. Depuis 10 ans, une trentaine de lois ont été adoptées visant à restreindre la liberté d’expression en Russie.

Photos de Sotchi, Russie, 2020

Val d'Arly, France, 2019 2019

The Savoie village of St-Nicolas-la-Chapelle hosts a corner of «Belgium abroad». In the late 1950s, a young Belgian socialist politician, Lucien Harmengnies, convinced the city of Charleroi to buy land in the Val d’Arly, a region of the French Alps with a view of Mont Blanc, and to build a large building to allow poor young people to spend a few days every year in the great outdoors.

Beginning in 1962, young city dwellers discover the mountain, snow and skiing, while continuing their studies, in what will become the first «snow classes». They are housed in a building that will become «The Balconies of Mont Blanc», managed today by a family vacation business. It is in this very special hotel, with a friendly staff, that we stayed for the 66 th International Meeting of SCIJ, organized at the last hour by our colleagues from Belgium.e rencontre internationale du SCIJ, organisée sur les chapeaux de roue à la dernière minute par nos collègues de la Belgique.

Espace-Diamant

The ski area called Espace-Diamant is much less known thant its prestigious neighbors: Megève, Combloux, La Clusaz or Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc. Espace-Diamant is a group of six local stations nestled between the Val d’Arly and the Massif du Beaufortain (Praz-sur-Arly, Flumet, Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe, Crest-Voland-Cohennoz, Les Saisies and Hauteluce), joined by long cross roads.

The area offers 158 marked trails totaling 192 km, in addition to countless snowfields and several unmarked corridors to challenge skiers of all levels. Gentle slopes ideal for family skiing (Mont Lachat and Mont Bisanne) alongside more rugged terrain (the ridge of Praz-sur-Arly). One starts at an altitude of 1000 meters in the village the Val d’Arly to 1600 meters at the Col des Saisies and to 2300 meters at the top of the ridge. This snowy ridge offers a breathtaking view of Mont Blanc and the Italian Alps, not far to the East. The six stations manage a total of 80 ski lifts to tour this series of mounts and valleys, with hardly any congestion.

A more modest meeting

As the dates and venue of this Annual Meeting were confirmed very late, we were 130 journalists (instead of an average of 200 usually) from 29 countries. Two employees of a Japanese Ski Resort also came to test the ground for a possible invitation to Japan in two or three years. There are advantages to being less people: participants get to know each other and have deeper exchanges.

And Canada is more likely to win medals! In cross-country skiing, despite an icy and risky course, Ginette Lamarche and Pierre Sormany both won bronze in their respective categories.

Nations’ Evening

Canada also stood out a the Nations’ Evening with smoked salmon and smoked-meat bagels from Schwartz. Our table was very busy.

Special mention to the abundance of snow and the exceptional weather. The sun shone almost all week, with temperatures of 12 to 16 degrees at mid-day. If such spring conditions did not make the exploration of snowfields and off-piste possible, the terraces of mountain restaurants became even more appealing!

Photos of Val d'Arly, 2019

Pamporovo, Bulgaria 2018

Pamporovo is a funny name for Bulgaria's largest ski resort, located 250 km east of Sofia in the Rhodopes Mountains. The country's second largest city, Plovdiv, is 80 km to the south. It will be Europe's Cultural Capital in 2019 (see Ginette Lamarche's story published in Le Devoir).

Heavy snow was falling on the twisty road on our way up to the resort. Buses had to put on chains and were moving so slow we couldn't wait to get there! Fortunately, the sun came out the next day and stayed with us all week so we could enjoy the fresh snow.

One morning, we came across skiers dressed in traditional costumes everywhere on the mountain. Fake mustaches, daggers at the waist, red and white woollen dresses, embroidered aprons, thousands of men, women and children carrying the white-green-red flags paraded down a gentle slope to celebrate Bulgaria's National Holiday (March 3rd). It was a splendid setting for unusual photos mixing ski and culture, a true reflection of our week.

Ski-wise, an interesting mountain, majestic firs covered with snow, magical hors-piste skiing in the undergrowth and three friendly races, including a team downhill competition. Culturally, we discovered the soul and history of a country that was able to bounce back after every foreign domination, Roman, Ottoman, Soviet, a country that proudly kept its name against all odds: Bulgaria. Traces of the past, Orthodox monasteries and churches stand alongside mosques, Roman theaters and Soviet-style buildings. In Sofia, flower stands overflow with roses, the country's symbol and a full-fledged economic sector. The European luxury perfumeries pay dearly for the Bulgarian Rose Oil.

A few kilometers from the ski resort, we came across a fabulous regional museum so large - build in Communist style- that it must have cost a fortune to heat in winter. They day we visited, it was colder indoors than outdoors.

Our stay in Pamporovo ended with a memorable Gala Evening. Teams were invited to dress up in honor of their country: Italians wore Roman gowns (togas), the Belgians were inspired by Tintin characters, the French wore striped t-shirts and berets. Canadians hesitated between lumberjacks' shirts and hockey sweaters... We'll do better next time!

Photos of Pamporovo, Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgarie 2018

Val Cenis, France, 2017

Wow! A snow storm marked our arrival, another one our departure. Snow was abundant in this sunny Savoie resort located near France's border with Italy. 

A full meter of snow fell on the 3000 meter-high peaks. We had to remain at lower elevations on the first day while experts were triggering avalanches to secure the alpine (see Martine Lanctôt's story published in Espaces).

So much snow made it possible to ski in powder in the undergrowth. Val Cenis is located in the Haute-Maurienne region, at the end of a valley away from mass tourism. The natural setting is well preserved and there are lots of undergrowth to ski. 

All week long, we explored the hills of this vast resort covering 5 villages: Lanslebourg, Lanslevillard, Termignon, Sollières-Sardières and Bramans. The ski area offers 125 km of trails (over 58 runs) and 28 ski lifts. Plus lots of powder off-piste, when conditions are right, and 27 km of cross-country trails. Le domaine skiable offre 125 km de pistes balisées (réparties sur 58 pistes), accessibles grâce à 28 remontées mécaniques. Ajoutons les nombreux champs de poudreuse entre les tracés, lorsque les conditions de neige le permettent, et 27 km de pistes de ski de fond aménagées.

We sometimes used buses to get back to the chalets at the end of our ski day. The free shuttle between the villages allowed us to explore the region and discover the unique links between this valley and Canada (see René Saint-Louis' story published on Radio-Canada).

One particularly beautiful scenery stands out: a sea of fluffy clouds hovering over the Mont Cenis Lake and its dam, at the foot of the Italian Alps. The resort's highest chairlift took us to a belvedere perched at 2800 meters and this remarkable view. The fluffy clouds moved out during the week so we could then admire the blue of the lake.

Another big snowfall hit us the day before our departure. Some of us stayed on for a 2-day excursion at the end of the valley, visited one of France's most beautiful villages, Bonneval-sur-Arc, and the hamlet of l'Écot accessible only in hors-piste skiing or snowshoes. The lovely setting was nice and quiet. 

Others chose a gourmet tour. Wine, cheese and "tartiflette" were on the menu during a 2-day tour of tasting. France, after all, is renowned for its cuisine! 

Photos of Val Cenis, France, 2017

Sestriere, Italy 2016

Sestriere, elevation 2000 meters, is in the Northern Italian Alps. The hills' highest summit peaks at 2800 meters. A prominent resort of Piedmont, Sestriere was the site for downhill races at the 2006 Turin Olympic Games. We were housed in the Olympic Village, in apartments built for athletes and connected by long indoor corridors with an outdoor path to the foot of the slopes. The resort was actually created in 1934 by a Mussolini decree and its tower-shaped hotels were built by the Agnelli family, owner of Fiat.

When you arrive in Italy in March, you soon find yourself at a sunny terrace. Jetlag is soon forgotten as you glimpse the snow covered peaks at the end of a pedestrian street lined with delicious chocolate shops. After the welcome ceremony at the baroque Palazzo Madame in Turin, we drove to Sestriere and its peaks.

A huge snow fall had covered the ski area, very large with 200 km of slopes. Sestriere is connected to Sauze d'Oulx, Pragelato, Sansicario,Cesana, Claviere, Montgenevre... From one ski lift to another, one must allow for a few hours to get to the end of the resort and back before closing time, or else walk or take a taxi back - which of course happened to us!

Ten years after the OG, the Mayor of Sestriere shared the outcome of the experience at a conference organized with local officials (see Cathy Senay's story). At the top of the slopes, we were surprised to see a group of people on sit-skis assisted by instructors. Which goes to prove that a resort can both host World Cups and realize the dreams of handicapped skiers (see Martine Lanctôt's story).

Photos of Sestrière et Turin, Italie 2017

Baqueira-Beret, Spain 2015

Baqueira-Beret is located in Val d'Aran, a border area facing France. It is the most accessible of the large Pyrenean resorts, 167 km from the Toulouse Airport, a mere 2 hours by car (or 3 1/2 hours by bus or by train).

Spain's largest resort (33 ski lifts, 104 slopes on more than 150 km and a vertical drop of 1000 m), includes three hills connected by chairlifts. The remarkable Cape of Baqueira (2500 m) looks over a village bearing the same name 1000 m further down. It boasts great slopes of Olympic calibre and a few walls for thrill seekers.

Further north, Pla du Beret (1850 m) is an Alpine meadow where the Garonne River begins its course. There are a cross-country ski centre with 7 km of trails and ski lifts spreading out to five peaks ("tucs" in the Aranese language), two of whom are higher than 2600 m. Many of the slopes here are gentle and ideal for family skiing. And mountain restaurants with nice terraces welcome those who want to enjoy the sun. mécaniques déployées en éventail donnant accès à cinq pics (« tucs » en langue aranaise) dont deux dépassent les 2 600 m. Ici, plusieurs pentes sont douces, idéales pour un ski en famille. Et quelques restos de montagne offrent de belles terrasses à ceux qui veulent profiter du soleil.

The third hill is Bonaigua Pass (2072 m) located to the south-east and dominated the Tuc de Llanca (2650 m). There are many advanced and expert runs, lots of snow and the best powder fields.

Photos of Baqueira-Beret, Espagne, 2015

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