at the races The World’s Best Family Event

The World’s Best Family Event


Why our author plans on returning to Quebec City for the Pentathlon des neiges with his family year after year.

One of the best moments of one of my best family vacations was at the Pentathlon des neiges—and bear in mind this was in February, in Quebec, with a 5- and 7-year-old.

Pentathlon des neiges is a dizzyingly fun and event biking, running, skiing, skating and snow shoeing outdoor festival that’s operated by some of the nicest people in the world. It’s the world’s largest winter multi-sport event and has 16 different events for people at every athletic level. Being in Quebec, of course, means the food, beer and wine is terrific, but what was extraordinary about the weekend was my kid’s faces. You can’t buy smiles like that, you have to earn them. And the achievable physical exertion displayed by my family, including my wife and I, made the race even more meaningful. We weren’t just happy, we were proud.

This year marks the event’s sixteenth birthday, and it seems to improve year after year. (Recently they added the option of renting some equipment, which is key for folks flying in from out of town.) Of course, we were nervous about trying something new. We live in Toronto and don’t participate in multisport winter events. My daughter just learned to skate and my son hasn’t been up on skis. So what truly made the event soar beyond fun—because you can have “fun” at Disney World—was that as a family we rose to a challenge that was new in an environment that was supportive, inclusive and triumphant, full of glee.

Our entire weekend in Quebec was spent outdoors. We played in the snow, visited the ice hotel, went tubing and immersed ourselves in the outdoor lifestyle that’s long inspired warm feelings between my wife and I. (It was in Quebec City, after all, at Bonhomme Carnaval when I first knew I’d propose.) It felt like all of the time acquainting ourselves to the weather and vibe led into the day of the big event. I don’t want to call it a “race,” because we weren’t competing against anyone. It was more like something we were doing together. And when my daughter got on her ice skates, the three of us stood beside the rink and cheered. My son, the baby of the group, ran his leg of the relay as fast as he could, his little legs making strong strides in the ice. When he returned to us waiting for him with open arms, he fell right over into the snow. He was exhausted. He was elated. And when it came to my turn to run in snowshoes, I threw him on my shoulders. Together, we crossed the finish line.

There’s lots of ways to spend time with your family, lots of trips you can take and places to drop your hard-earned money. But we found an active vacation at the Pentathlon des neiges was right for us. It bonded us in a way we all will cherish for life.

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