Not for the faint of heart, this sport takes adrenaline junkies to a whole new level. I had the absolute pleasure of traveling to beautiful Quebec City recently where I tried this insane sport that only few other non-professionals have tried. For those who don’t know what this sport is, let me try to explain: Ice canoeing is a combination of rowing the waters and pulling the canoe over slabs of crackling ice. The Saint Lawrence River is unique in that it doesn’t completely freeze over in the winter. The enormous slabs of ice shift with the currents that are ever-changing and reverse throughout the day. Nowhere else in the world can someone have this experience and that is exactly why I knew I had to try it in Quebec City. Originating as a means of transportation between the shores of Quebec and Lévis, today it is a highly competitive sport for the most extreme of athletes.
This year a brand new company is offering ice canoeing excursions to the public–the first of its kind. CANOT A GLACE QUEBEC offers the chance for anyone in reasonable shape to travel out into the Saint Lawrence with two experienced guides for an excursion of a lifetime. While I thought I was in reasonable shape it became quite apparent to me that I need to either a). start snowshoeing up bigger mountains or b). join an ice canoe team. Unfortunately, I don’t think I am quite strong enough or coordinated enough to do the latter.
To begin our ice canoe journey, the guides outfitted us with some pretty cool accessories: Neoprene socks and boots, handmade crampons, a personal flotation device along with my own hat, mitts, and trusty GoPro. When I inquired about the height of the Neoprene boots–as they came right up to my knee–I was assured they were for keeping my legs dry when my feet hit the water. Wait, I thought I was going to be in the canoe while in the water? Too late to back out now and after some thorough instructions, a lesson on the French words we needed to know and a confidence boost from the guides we were off to hit the river.
And hit the ground running we did. With one legs in the canoe and the other jogging beside it, we travelled for about four minutes over the snow and ice that led us to the open water. The key part of ice canoeing is to work as a team and coordinate your timing. I must admit I was already out of breath by the time we reached the water that I hardly concentrated on my timing. With our guide calling out instructions we battled over the ice, sunk our feet into the water and jumped into the canoe and started rowing.
There are no words to describe the feeling that one gets while rowing down the river, surrounded by masses of ice while gazing at the gorgeous city of Old Quebec City. As we paddled by the huge freight ship it occurred to me that we are very small humans in a very large world. There was no time to ponder this thought though because all of a sudden the guide was telling us to get out and start pulling. I was at the front of the canoe with one of our guides, so our job was to jump out first and essentially pull the canoe onto solid ice with the other three people in it. At five-foot, four-inches tall and weighing about 120lbs., the thought of me and one other person trying to pull the canoe and three others is a pretty amusing image. I must admit, my foot hit the water numerous times, I fell down more than once and I certainly tested those Neoprene boots out to the fullest.
From paddling the waters to jumping out and travelling over the ice to stopping on a solid piece and having a coffee, this was one of the best experiences of my life. To say that the experience was exhilarating is an understatement; to say that it was one of the most challenging things I have done is also an understatement. The experience of pulling a canoe over slabs of ice in the middle of an ever-changing river in the midst of winter will never be forgotten.
The guides at CANOT A GLACE QUEBEC were professional, knowledgeable and instilled in us a confidence that we could absolutely do this sport. Offering this incredible experience to the public between December and March (depending on weather conditions) and located just a few minutes from Old Quebec City, this is one excursion that everyone should try. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offers incredible views of the city that only few can witness amongst the massive ice slabs, a great workout and the chance to do something out of the ordinary.
Special thanks to Quebec Tourism for arranging this amazing experience. More information can be found at http://www.quebecicecanoeing.com.