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August 21, 2017

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Blue Mountain Resort, Collingwood, ON.

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Into the blue

Collingwood, Ontario’s revamped ski resort offers high-end facilities with a homey atmosphere

If you haven’t visited the Blue Mountain Resort recently, be prepared for some dramatic changes. Thanks to recent upgrades, the resort nestled on

the shores of Georgian Bay, 90 minutes north of Toronto, has been transformed into a 284-hectare, four-season destination. It’s now Ontario’s largest mountain resort, visited by over 1.5 million guests a year.

Among the changes are more runs and faster lifts, as well as a newly built village located at the base lodge, featuring specialty shops, trendy restaurants and bars, luxury accommodation and a conference centre.

“The resort atmosphere is a lot like Whistler-Blackcomb and Tremblant, only much smaller and less hectic,” says avid recreational skier and Midhurst, Ontario resident Heather Morris-Lawler. And that’s not surprising since Intrawest Corporation (the company behind those other ski destinations) purchased majority ownership of Blue Mountain Resort back in 1999, sparking off a major expansion.

“The vision for the pedestrian village at Blue Mountain is inspired by old Ontario architecture,” explains Blue Mountain’s public relations specialist, Kelly O’Neil.

My brother David Elphick is a 47-year-old Toronto resident who regularly hits the slopes across Canada. His point of view? Because of its size, “Blue Mountain tends to be more ‘homey’ than big-time destinations like Whistler-Blackcomb or Tremblant. The majority of people skiing and snowboarding tend to be local.”

While there’s no arguing that superior conditions exist elsewhere in Canada, Ontario skiing is nothing to shake a stick at. “I often tell people that skiing to the bottom of Whistler can be like driving into downtown Toronto during rush hour — it’s a zoo,” Elphick says. “Some people like that sort of atmosphere, but some don’t.”

Blue Mountain is also a good training ground for bigger slopes. “I regularly ski in Ontario to prepare for Western ski trips,” he admits. “If you are not fit when you go out West, the hills will eat you up.”

The slopes (then and now)

Alpine skiing in the Collingwood-area can officially be traced back to 1924, says Melissa Shaw, museum assistant with the Collingwood Museum (tel: 705-445-4811; www.collingwood.ca/museum). “Back then it was a sport for the very rich, and skiers were taken up the hills by horse-drawn lifts.”

In 1941, Jozo Weider, a Czechoslovakian-born visionary arrived on the scene and opened Blue Mountain Resort. In those early days, the resort consisted of a small chalet, and three hand-cleared trails. The resort’s first lift was powered by an old truck engine which pulled two sleds drawn by a cable running on the ground.

“Back then, the Collingwood area was best known for shipbuilding, not tourism,” explains Shaw.

Fast forward to 2010. Today’s Blue Mountain Resort offers something for everyone from moguls, to glade skiing, rail sliding and steep pitches. Winter at the resort boasts 15 lifts, and 36 ski and snowboard trails ranging from beginner to double black diamond. Conditions are enhanced by world-class snowmaking. For those who prefer to hit the hills after sunset, 24 trails and 11 lifts are well lit.

It takes a village

Nestled at the foot of the slopes, Blue Mountain Village provides plenty to do when taking a break. Lounge beside the fire pit, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, skate on the millpond or enjoy buskers and outdoor concerts.

The village offers plenty of tempting culinary options, ranging from traditional Italian pizza at Firehall Pizza (tel: 705-444-0611; www.firehallpizza.com) to a steak dinner at C&A Steak Co. (tel: 705-444-8877; www.candasteakcompany.com).

Check out the hip and upscale Twist Martini & Tapas Lounge (tel: 705-445-5000; www.twistmartinilounge.com) for some après ski action; the sweet-potato fries are fabulous.

For a lively dinner and authentic Greek cuisine, visit Tholos (tel: 705-443-8311; www.tholos.ca). Weekends include live music, plate breaking and belly dancers.

The small town of Thornbury, about a 12-minute drive from Blue Mountain, is also worth visiting. Stroll the historic downtown, stop in at an art gallery and then head to The Mill Café (tel: 519-599-7866; www.themillcafe.com) for the steak and feta salad. Or try the Thornbury cosmo and curried mussels at SiSi on Main (tel: 519-599-7769; www.sisionmain.com). Scotch lovers should visit the Dam Pub (tel: 519-599-2110; www.thedampub.ca). This traditional bar offers over 300 whiskies from around the world, 200 of which are single malts.

Nearby Collingwood is also worth a peek. History buffs will enjoy the nine large murals depicting the town’s past in its traditional downtown. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, stop by Café Chartreuse (tel: 705-444-0099; www.cafechartreuse.com). House specialties include homemade French croissants and fondues; and good bets are the mulled apple cider and pork fondue.

Twenty minutes from Blue Mountain is scenic Singhampton where world-renowned chef Michael Stadtländer cemented his reputation with Eigensinn Farm, a working farm whose restaurant was ranked ninth in the world by Restaurant magazine. (Now only open for private parties.)

He and his wife Nobuyo have now launched the Okinawa-inspired Haisai Restaurant and Bakery (tel: 705-445-2748; www.haisairestaurantbakery.com; reservations highly recommended). Anything they don’t grow or raise themselves is locally sourced. An Ontario wine list is featured, and you can bring your own wine ($30 corkage fee). The 10-course tasting menu is $150. The walk-in Haisai Bakery offers fresh whole-grain breads, stuffed hot buns and pastries and a selection of Haisai prepared food.

Flat-out fun

Whether you’re looking for child care for your toddler or a ski program for a young downhill enthusiast, be sure to check out the Kids at Blue Centre (tel: 877-445-0231; www.bluemountain.ca/winter_kids_at_blue.htm). Located at South Base Lodge, it’s open daily from 9am to 3:45pm. Space is limited, so all programs must be pre-booked and prepaid.

The new all-seasons Plunge! Aquatic Centre (tel: 705-444-8705; www.plungebluemountain.ca) is not to be missed. Located in the village, it features indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs and an indoor wet playground. It’s open daily and is perfect for the young and young at heart.

Grownups looking for some downtime should check out the Scandinave Spa (tel: 877-988-8484; www.scandinaveblue.com), a Nordic baths retreat where you can soak your sore muscles in hot baths or stretch out in the sauna, before alternating with a cold water dip in a tranquil forest setting.

Need a break from the slopes? Blue Mountain Activity Central (tel: 800-955-6561; www.blueactivities.com) provides recreation options from horseback riding to ice fishing. They will even help organize cooking or jewellery making classes.

And at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, Scenic Caves (tel: 705-446-0256; www.sceniccaves.com) maintains groomed Nordic ski trails and offers dogsled tours and sleigh rides.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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