International Meetings

Our latest International Meetings

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.

À partir de 1962, les jeunes citadins y découvrent la montagne, la neige, le ski, tout en poursuivant leurs études, dans ce qui deviendra les premières « classes de neige ».  Ils sont hébergés dans un bâtiment qui deviendra « Les Balcons du Mont Blanc », géré aujourd’hui par une entreprise de vacances familiales. C’est dans cet hôtel bien particulier, avec un personnel à la présence chaleureuse, que nous avons séjourné pour la 66e rencontre internationale du SCIJ, organisée sur les chapeaux de roue à la dernière minute par nos collègues de la Belgique.


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.

L’ensemble offre 158 pistes balisées, totalisant 192 kilomètres de longueur, en plus d’innombrables champs de neige et de plusieurs corridors non balisés capables de mettre au défi les skieurs de tous les niveaux. Des pentes douces, idéales pour le ski familial (Mont Lachat et Mont Bisanne) côtoient des reliefs plus accidentés (la crête de Praz-sur-Arly). On passe d’une altitude de 1000 mètres, dans les villages du Val d’Arly, à 1600 mètres au col des Saisies, et 2300 mètres au sommet de la crête, une arête neigeuse qui offre une vue imprenable sur le Mont-Blanc et les Alpes Italiennes, non loin à l’Est. Pour parcourir cette série de monts et de vallées, les six stations gèrent au total près de 80 remontées mécaniques… qui souffrent bien rarement d’embouteillages!

A more modest meeting

Comme les dates et le lieu de cette rencontre annuelle n’ont été confirmés que très tardivement, nous étions 130 journalistes (contre une moyenne de 200 d’habitude) de 29 pays, et même 30 si on compte les deux employés d’une station de ski japonaise venus tâter le terrain en vue d’une possible invitation au Japon, dans deux ou trois ans. L’avantage d’être un peu moins nombreux: les participants avaient plus le temps de se connaître et d’approfondir les échanges.

Autre avantage: le Canada avait plus de chances de remporter des médailles! Au ski de fond, malgré un parcours glacé et des pentes “casse-gueule”, Ginette Lamarche et Pierre Sormany sont montés tous deux sur le podium, remportant chacun le bronze dans leurs catégories respectives.

Nations’ Evening

Le Canada s’est distingué aussi à la Soirée des Nations avec des bagels au saumon fumé et à la viande fumée de chez Schwartz. La table a été très fréquentée.

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