Ski Garceau, Québec

Lanaudière’s Classic Family Hill

Ski Hill: Ski Garceau
Map: Location
Vertical: 305m (1,000 ft)
Snowfall: 304 cm (120 inches)

In a landmark study, the Snowsports Industries of America (SIA), found that the number one factor in determining whether a child will take up skiing and stick with it, is Mom. The more Mom likes to ski, the more likely her kids will, too. Which may well explain why Lauda Garceau handed the keys to his namesake ski hill to his wife’s side of the family.

Community ski areas are where most of us learned to ski and where, in turn, we’re now introducing our children and grandchildren to this fun and healthy, lifelong winter pastime. Community Ski Areas: True Stories from the Heartland of Canadian Skiing is an ongoing series that examines how, when and why community ski areas have become such a welcoming and enjoyable part of Canada’s vibrant winter landscape. || Creative Director: Gordie Bowles | Writer: Dave Fonda

Two Families: One Hill

Lauda Garceau was a visionary, entrepreneur and building contractor in Saint Donat, Québec. Situated 90 minutes north of Montréal in the striking Lanaudière region, the town has drawn vacationers and cottagers alike with its pristine lakes, scenic mountains and copious quantities of natural snow.  

When Lauda Garceau married Diane Gauthier in 1961, they already had 15 children between them, five Gauthiers and 10 Garceaus. With a brood that large, it seemed only natural that one day Lauda would think of opening a small family resort with lakeside cottages and a sizeable ski hill. Several years after he had completed his sprawling Manoir des Laurentides hotel, Lauda turned his attention to developing Mont Garceau. At the time, the ski industry in Quebec was booming. Even tiny Saint-Donat boasted two ski hills: Mont Jasper (long since defunct) and la Réserve. Unperturbed, Lauda opened Mont Garceau for the 1964-65 ski season with a handful of trails, a T-bar and a base chalet. 

Lauda Garceau and Diane Gauthier. Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.

The double chair and Poma lift which were installed in 1964-65. Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.

Steady, She Grows

The same year, Lauda installed a double chair and a Poma lift, so skiers could comfortably ride up to the 305- metre summit the following ski season. (Mont Garceau stands as the second-highest, lift-served peak in both the Laurentians and Lanaudière.) Over the next 15 years, he continued to open up more terrain and cut new trails. He also opened the hill’s famed Togo slope. Piotr Jelen, who later became Mélanie Turgeon’s ski racing coach, was so impressed with the new slope’s pitch, that he helped Lauda have it officially approved and homologated by the International Ski Federation (FIS).  Lauda Garceau’s small family resort was now officially FIS certified as a race-ready venue. And aspiring world-class racers from across North America soon gathered here to train and race.

Lauda Garceau Steps Down. Marcel & Claudette Gauthier Steps Up. 

In 1976, Lauda Garceau took stock of his accomplishments, surveyed his many holdings and then did the unthinkable. He ’retired’ and divided his considerable assets between his wife’s side of the family and his own. He bestowed his booming auberge/hotel business to the Garceau side of his clan. Then he handed over the keys to his ski resort to the Gauthiers. That same year, siblings Marcel and Claudette Gauthier took over the reins at Mont Garceau. The first thing they did was agree to retain Mont Garceau’s good name and further cement its reputation as Lanaudière’s premier family ski area. Next, they installed a new quadruple chairlift, beefed up the snowmaking capacity and completely transformed the base chalet. Under their new leadership, Mont Garceau was positively booming by catering both to families in the region and the weekenders who’d come to their cottages to ski.

Marcel and Claudette Gauthier. Photo courtesy of Mont Garceau.

“Ski Garceau was always run by a family to serve families. We were the first ski area here to have a small slope for beginners, and the first to have a ski racing club for children. And that attracted a lot of families.” 

– Virginie Provost, Director of Communications, Marketing and Events at Ski Garceau

Photo courtesy of Mont Garceau.

It’s A Family Affair

Mont Garceau became known as the region’s favourite family hill the year it opened its dedicated bunny slope. The first of its kind in Lanaudière, the new beginner hill also marked the first of many giant steps that the ski area would take to attract families and then keep them as loyal, lifelong, skiing devotees. In the 1970s, Mont Garceau formed a partnership with la Perdière, a local children’s holiday camp. As a result, tens of thousands of children have come to the area to learn and pursue healthy, lifelong, outdoor recreational activities. Then in the 1990s, Mont Garceau became the go-to ski area for the acclaimed Sport-études programs at the Léopold Gravel and Des Rives schools in nearby Terrebonne. Sport-études students get to divide their school days almost equally between time spent in a classroom and time spent on the slopes. Adults should be so lucky! 

Community Outreach

The 1980s saw Mont Garceau become a focal point in Saint-Donat’s acclaimed Perspectives ‘French as a Second Language’ program. According to the ski area’s communications director, Virginie Provost, “Perspectives has supported local business activities, playing a vital role as a major economic driver during the winter season. In addition, the resort has provided valuable winter jobs to the Saint-Donat community, with many dedicated employees who have been part of our team for over 25 years.”

To this day, the ski area remains vitally involved in the community. Over almost six decades, it has formed multiple short and long-term partnerships to promote economic development and support organizations, institutions and events in the region. As Neil Young would say, “Long may she run.”

Photo courtesy of Mont Garceau.

“Since its founding in 1964, Ski Garceau has been actively involved in the development of the Saint-Donat community with notable initiatives.” 

– Virginie Provost

Photo courtesy of Mont Garceau.

Like Father, Like Son

Marcel Gauthier decided to step down in 2012. Like father, like son, he passed Mont Garceau onto Martin Gauthier and his wife, Nadine Dallaire. Having grown up in the ski industry, they clearly knew what they were doing. Martin renamed the area Ski Garceau and soon began drawing over 100,000 skiers and snowboarders per year. Says Virginie Provost, “Under their leadership, Ski Garceau took off again. They made significant investments in infrastructure and transformed the boutique into a centre of excellence capable of meeting every need of the athletes who frequent it.” Being sandwiched between the mountain and two impressive lakes, Boutique Garceau has become a hotspot for lakeside and slopeside gear, wear and accessories in the summer and in the winter.

Ski Garceau: The Next Generation

This summer (2023), Ski Garceau once again changed hands, but this time outside of the family. The new owners all have homes in Saint-Donat. They’re all passionate skiers and they all share a love of the area. Their goal, says Virginie, “is to accelerate the development of the centre’s infrastructure, improve the ski area and improve the customer experience.” Were they still alive, M. Lauda Garceau would no doubt approve of the move. While his wife, Diane Gauthier would quietly smile and offer them some words of encouragement. Mais oui, Mom’s rule!

Photo courtesy of Mont Garceau.

Mont Garceau

Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.
Photos courtesy of Mont Garceau.

Ski Garceau à Sain-Donat

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