Story by Mark Stevens
COLLINGWOOD, ONTARIO — I’m hanging out on the balcony of my suite at the Westin Trillium House in Blue Mountain Village near Collingwood, watching the sun fall behind the hills of Ontario’s biggest ski resort.
A river of light shines on those hills, flowing down their slopes to the village, slopes where even now hardy souls ski into the evening.
As day dies I gaze across the snow-covered millpond, taking in shops, brewpubs and restaurants: from Greek and Italian to Firehall Pizza Co., a family-friendly eatery featuring some of Southern Ontario’s best pizza (and great burgers).
Paths circle the millpond, snaking past the Westin’s outdoor hot tub where steam rises like a disembodied spirit, paths illuminated by trees draped in whimsical lights – blue, purple, ivory.
A few minutes later, leaving our hotel on a quest for dinner, my friend, Dave, and I negotiate those selfsame paths.
“Looks like a winter wonderland,” I say.
Our experiences over the next few days here bear out this assessment – Blue Mountain’s definitely ‘wonderland’ material – but during our brief ‘staycation’ I make an even more important discovery.
Come March Break they take it up a few notches. A lot of notches.
That’s when they lay out, like a medieval banquet, a wealth of family-friendly activities, events and attractions sure to satisfy – whether you schuss the slopes or not.
Think March Break munificence.
Don’t get me wrong: Blue Mountain’s a blast year-round, particularly when winter arrives, even before you slap on the board (or boards).
Go mountaintop skating through the trees or splash around at Plunge, an indoor-outdoor water park. Fly down the hill on Ridge Runner, a heart-pumping rollercoaster, or slide down the snow at Hike’n’Tube.
Bond with your inner artist at Crockadoodle Pottery: pick out your favourite piece of pottery, paint away, then pick up the finished glazed masterpiece next day. “It’s hugely popular with families,” says Blue Mountain Village’s Meghan Harwood.
Or just prowl the village. Get a candy fix (sixty kinds of saltwater taffy) at Happy Valley Candy Store, some mouth-watering fudge at Olde Stanton Store (“kids love the Bubblegum one the most,” says fudge maker Marilyn.) Do poutine or nosh a Beavertail then lust after the latest offerings at Jack and Maddie: A Toy Store.
Then there’s March Break munificence.
“You wouldn’t believe the activities, events and attractions we’ve planned for the Break,” says Harwood.
Special activities range from live outdoor concerts (featuring artists including Sofia Blu on the Coca-Cola Village Stage in the Village’s Event Plaza) to Birds of Prey Shows.
Marvel at the prestidigitations of magician Sawyer Bullock, be mesmerized by hypnotist Buzz Collins, and channel your inner Mozart at a drum circle led by Bamtastic Drumming. Dance the afternoon away at a DJ party.
And you haven’t even hit the hills yet. Try saying “Blue Mountain munificence” without saying “mountain”.
Halfway through my first day on the slopes, flying down a green run called “Gord’s Groove,” I stop to give my thighs a break. At 1.6 kilometres, this run is the longest Blue Mountain trail.
An unblemished white blanket embraces the hill. In the background, Georgian Bay lounges beneath her ivory coat. In the foreground, the boughs of pines droop with the weight of new snow.
I look downhill: nobody. Uphill: nobody.
Hmm. Skiing munificence too.
No big surprise there. Blue Mountain boasts 43 runs and 11 lifts, including 30 trails available for night-skiing. With a vertical of 200 + metres and runs ranging from slopes with friendly names like Happy Valley and Enchanted Forest to double-blacks appropriately named Calamity Lane or Avalanche, there’s enough to keep the serious skier or boarder interested while the rest of the fam gets hands-on hill skills or the royal treatment.
At a counter guarding “Kids at Blue” at the South Base Lodge a long-time staffer named Beverly shares the available programmes should you wish to shed the kids for a bit.
She points through a door with a sign that says “Parent-Free Zone” as she outlines the options. “Great ski and snowboard programmes for three-to-twelve-year-olds. There’s a Tiny Tot programme featuring a 45-minute private lesson. You can add day care options on weekends. It’s open to guests right through March Break as long as you book it in advance.” And if you contact “Kids at Blue” three or fours days in advance, depending on staffing availability, a babysitter will come to your room so you can sample some of the more adult allures like the martinis at Twist, the microbrew flights at the brand-new NorthWinds, or the live music at M.J. Byrne Irish Pub.
Bringing the teens? Two terrain parks here and there’s even an intensive March Break immersive camp where they can work on freestyle ski or snowboard skills.
Blue also offers a comprehensive Newbie programme. This service includes rentals, access to beginner lifts and even a drop-in learning circuit in a designated zone near Grand Central Lodge.
“Something for everyone here at Blue Mountain,” Blue Mountain Village staffer Meghan Harwood told me back on my first day at the resort.
Now, on the evening of the last day here I remember – and confirm – those words.
We’re doing a last village stroll. Dinner done, we’re heading back to the Westin for a well-deserved outdoor hot tub. The snow’s falling in lilting white feathers; festive lights twinkle in the night.
We pass an art gallery, a sports shop, four more restaurants: two upscale, two family-friendly.
I’m pontificating on all the attractions and activities here when my friend interrupts.
“Munificence?” he says. “More like ‘magnificence’.”
Maybe he’s on to something.
‘Toe-may-toe’ or ‘toe-mah-toe’? ‘Munificence’ or ‘magnificence’? It really doesn’t matter.
Because a Blue Mountain getaway is both a winter wonderland and a March Break must-do.
And it’s downright munificent.
A VIEW OF BLUE
The village site also assists with accommodations. Can’t go wrong with our choice – elegant one-bedroom suite with kitchenette at the Westin Trillium House ; great location and fabulous year-round hot tub and outdoor pool.
Family friendly dining is easy here – from Kaytoo’s kid’s menu to the killer pizzas at Firehall Pizza Co. but one must-do is actually in Collingwood itself. TheSmoke (705-293-5522 /498 First Street) is one of the best barbecue spots in Ontario. I used to call it a carnivore’s delight (still true) but they’ve also got a few vegetarian options. Don’t miss it. Dad will be thrilled.