Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VILLAGE OF BLUE MOUNTAIN, ONTARIO — “I’ll be able to walk over Niagara Falls after this, right?” I ask James, the likeable young guy who looks like he could run a half-marathon and barely break a sweat.
“Oh, yeah, no problem,” he says with a laugh less than 12 hours after Nik Wallenda made history about 250 kilometres south of where we stand, which is a wooden platform stained dark green like many backyard decks. Above and beside us are harmless-looking planks strung up by wires attached to beams of wood and steel. Below is a layer of sand in what’s called the Woodlot, a new attraction that looks from a distance like monkey bars at a boot camp for disorderly children.
Up close, you see it’s an obstacle course that, I am told, takes some physical strength but mostly mental focus and courage to complete. A skinny girl who looks to be nine, maybe, is going through the lower obstacle course while exerting no more effort than it would take to play hopscotch. A boy, apparently as addicted to this activity as someone his age might be to a video game like “Modern Warfare” or “Halo”, is going through the course for a third time in an hour, I overhear.
This can’t be difficult, I tell myself, and proceed to allow James to latch the tether attached to the harness I’m in to the steel bar that runs around the first and easiest of the three courses at the Village of Blue Mountain, southern Ontario’s primary ski resort that has also turned into a bustling summer destination full of soft adventure thrills like this.
Once your tether is attached, you can’t go back. You have to finish the course, returning to the starting point so James or one of his fellow attendants can detach you from the contraption. I saunter up to the first obstacle and it’s then that the sadistic nature of this “game” becomes apparent. Those planks of wood are secured in the way that a boat anchored in the ocean during high tide might be. Sure, it’s not going anywhere, but getting from one end to the other is about as easy as tracing a line after closing time on St. Patrick’s Day.
I begin. Eight planks swayed in front of me, with a couple of inches of space separating them. The goal is to get across to the other station and then traverse the next obstacle and then the next and so on until you can rejoice and say you made it. I grab on to the first of the thin ropes that link each plank to the beams above, keeping the course from losing out to gravity. I take the first step and immediately feel my knees quake. My instinct is to crawl to the next platform that’s only about 12 feet away, but at the moment seems as gaping as the mouth of the Falls. Crawling would not only be dorky and pathetic, it would be the most un-Wallenda way to attack challenge. I wobble my way across on two feet and feel relieved that I’ve done it.
More prepared for what I’m in for, I make it a little more easily across the next set of planks, which zig-zag like Ws with wide holes between the stems. Then come the tires. On the first step, my ankle flops over like wet cardboard. The tether yanks me up like a marionette before I begin to dangle over the edge of the platform. To cross over, you have to step on the corners of the obstacle, where four tires are wedged together, giving each other support. You learn the game in this way. A bit trial-and-error, a bit puzzle-solving, and more flexibility than 40-year-old limbs can typically manage.
I get through the first obstacle course and I’m ready to relent. I really don’t need any more time on the attraction to understand it, but I press on, thinking of Wallenda and his conquest of the Falls and how this really isn’t that big of a deal compared to his feat. Slowly, steadily, I reach the final obstacle on the third course, which is elevated about 20 feet off the ground. Being the last challenge, it is, of course, the most difficult. It involves tires, no surprise. You have to step sideways while the tires dangle and push farther apart from each other with the disruption caused by your weight. It doesn’t go well. I’m stuck standing with legs far apart, each foot on another tire, unable to move either one across without falling off the course. I hug the tires and call for James to rescue me, my Wallenda moment ending with a flop.
The Low Ropes, as the Woodlot course is called, are a challenge best met by the agile and sure-footed. Kids will love it for the puzzle-solving aspect and for the excitement that can come from dangling in mid-air. The course ($29 for adults; $19 for youths; with discounts available for overnight guests to the Village) will entice many adults too, just make sure James is within shouting distance before you approach those last set of tires.
This week, Blue Mountain opens the High Ropes, a similar obstacle course but in the trees on the slope of the mountain, with stations elevated 60 feet up. It’s a much more serious challenge. I’m asked if I will be back to give it a go. Recklessly, I say, “Yeah, I’ll try anything.” It’s up to you, friend, to stop me before I do.
OTHER BLUE MOUNTAIN SUMMER ATTRACTIONS
The Ridge Runner alpine coaster is a blast — and much more enjoyable than the crazy looping monsters designed, it seems, to test the hold of stomach muscles. Travelling along a kilometre-long track, the Ridge Runner climbs to the top of the mountain and then lets you sail down while treetops pass by and the Village and Georgian Bay sweep into view in front of you. Each coaster fits one or two people, and allows you to control the speed of the descent. A push on the handles and you can go up to 42 kilometres an hour, pull back and you can go around the turns at a slow, gentle pace. ($15 for adult ticket; $5 for youth; discounts for overnight guests.)
Also new is the par-67 Cascade Putting Course ($15) at the base of the mountain. It’s a challenging putting course that serious golfers and mini-putt fans will enjoy. Segway tours along the peak and the opportunity to visit the Blue Mountain’s private beach on Georgian Bay are among the other attractions that debut this summer in a resort that has prospered in the past decade, offering an experience similar to what you find in Whistler, Mont Tremblant, Aspen, and ski resort villages overseas.
While Blue Mountain is far from an imposing peak, it has succeeded in bringing more than a million people annually to its destination, and continues to build on business in warmer weather by offering family-friendly activities, reasonable prices, nightlife, and a selection of food choices and entertainment offerings that will please the masses. Walk around Blue Mountain and you’ll see the multicultural diversity that has come to be one of the definitions of the Greater Toronto Area. That atmosphere creates a welcoming experience for many people who are new to the country and want to begin to explore the Canadian outdoor lifestyle.
MORE ABOUT BLUE MOUNTAIN
Location: 108 Jozo Weider Boulevard, Blue Mountains, ON (see map below)
Directions: From Toronto, take Highway 400 North and exit onto Highway 26, heading west toward Stayner. Stay on 26 for about 30 minutes, going through Collingwood, and turning left when you see the signs for the resort. You can also take Airport Road North, which offers a more scenic, country drive, and connects with 26. Blue Mountain is 160 km from Toronto and can be reached in 90 minutes without traffic.
Where to stay: The Westin Trillium House hotel is a family-friendly spot with spacious rooms, full kitchens, an Oliver & Bonacini restaurant on the premises, and big, comfortable beds. Visit the hotel’s website or call 1-866-837-4192 for a reservation. The hotel currently has a promotion for bookings made prior to Canada Day.
Upcoming: The Village has its Grand Opening for 2012 this coming weekend, June 29-July 1.