29 words :: Dominique Caron Saturday, 9 a.m. sharp. You push off the chairlift, your skis touch the ground and glide across a blanket of ... ice. Not again. You say to yourself, “this darned mountain is always icy!” You then remember a term you heard from a friend or maybe you read about in the newspaper: Snow belt. “Between Val-David and Val-Morin sits the snow belt,” claimed an article by journalist Alain Demers. Could that explain why some ski resorts are forced to use snow cannons every year without fail, whereas others are blessed by the snow gods with heaps of fluffy snow? Or is it simply an expression that helps resorts reel in customers? A snow belt is in fact a meteorological phenomenon. In a nutshell, it all starts when coastal winds push cold air over unfrozen or half-frozen bodies of water. Since the body of water is relatively warm compared to the air, the difference in temperature creates a recipe for chaos. As the air collects moisture, it moves over land and then releases all its energy. The result? A deluge of snow in a very specific area. That’s what we call the “lake-effect snow”, points out Simon Legault, meteorologist with Environment Canada. In North America, that explains how snow belts are created in and around the Great Lakes. In Quebec, this meteorological phenomenon underlying snow belts is not documented as clearly. Lake Saint-Jean and certain parts of the St. Lawrence River are hypothetically large enough to create lake-effect snowfall. However, Monts-Valin National Park and the Chic-Chocs Mountains—which experience heavier snowfall than other parts of Quebec—are too far away from these bodies of water to be linked to this phenomenon. So then how do you explain the endless amounts of snow? “It’s the topography—the general shape of a land—of these areas that makes all the difference,” explains Legault. The Laurentian Wildlife Reserve [near Monts-Valin National Park] is a prime spot for convergence activity. When the wind picks up, it creates a combination of effects that cause the snow to pile up in some areas and not in others. These phenomena are very regional.” It’s plain to see—some ski resorts in Quebec are snowier than others. Based on the stats released by the Quebec Ski Area Association (ASSQ), ski resorts like Gaspésie, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Charlevoix are among the lucky few. Some of these resorts even manage to get by without having to create any artificial snow at all, explains Camille Chapdeleine, Communications Coordinator at ASSQ. In any case, the term “snow belt” is more of a buzzword than an actual scientific description of a meteorological phenomenon—which, at the end of the day, requires a very complex and precise set of conditions. But we’re willing to let it slide—especially if it has the power to bless us with powdery slopes instead of icy hard-packed pistes. SNOW BELTS On thin ice Le skieur Jean-Philippe Pelletier au Mur des Patrouilleurs, parc national de la Gaspésie. / Jean-Philippe Pelletier making his way to the Mur des Patrouilleurs in Gaspésie. ALAIN DENIS