Matthew DeJong is the owner of Winding Road Productions specializing in feature films, documentaries and video game production. Through his travel writing, he encourages young families to conquer their fears and explore the world with their children.
As vacationers flock to Canada’s largest city, they are usually treated to a host of metropolitan delights. Toronto’s CN Tower, The Rogers Centre, and The Hockey Hall of Fame are all unique experiences designed for the mass enthusiast.
However, if you and your kids begin to experience some urban ennui, your respite might not be over the mountain; it might be the mountain itself – Blue Mountain to be exact.
Czechoslovakian Jozo Weider had a dream of building a world-class ski resort similar to those scattered throughout war-torn Europe in 1941. Resettling his family between the rippling waters of Georgian Bay and the base of Blue Mountain, he would create what has become the third busiest ski destination in the country.
But Stacy Manning, Marketing Director of Blue Mountain’s premier hotel, The Westin Trillium, claims that Blue Mountain’s only weakness is perhaps that “people think of it as a winter destination.” Indeed, at almost three quarters of a million skiers per season, many people might not realize that it is, according to Manning, “a multi-dimensional summer getaway.”
I have to admit, the thought of inhabiting a ski resort in the middle of summer with my two kids, 2 and 5, left my wife and I wondering how many Disney videos it would take to make it through the week. But, in actuality, Belle and Cinderella remained quite neglected.
What to Do at Blue Mountain
Arriving in the rain, we found that not even inclement weather could prevent us from a fun-filled first day. Wandering through the Village at Blue, you almost have to check your map that you didn’t land in a Swiss mountain oasis.
Weider’s original vision, frustrated by the enormous cost, included such a sprawling village boasting an impressive array of upscale boutiques, restaurants and novelty stores. Thanks to the resources and experience of Intrawest, which specializes in resort sales and owns 50 percent of Blue Mountain, they have mastered the perfect cocktail of events, luxury chalets and refreshing outlets to create what locals call “the village vibe.” This core energy, dotted by restaurants like the Kaytoo Restaurant and Bar (we recommend the ribs), pumps life into the community and throughout the mountains.
Full of year-round entertainers, the village even appeals to kids, by treating them to free movie nights under the stars. To my surprise, as I was strolling along the cobblestones listening to a soundtrack of laughter and play while children negotiated a human-sized chess board, I ran into an acquaintance and his wife who stopped at the village for a few hours on their way through Collingwood simply to accent their own vacation.
And the excitement continued the next morning. Our kids were treated to Plunge!, a first-class, year-round aquatic playground whose convenient design seemed to unfold with the novice wader and finish with expert swimmer in mind. The water park started inside with climbers, soft spraying geysers and ankle-deep water for my 2-year-old to splash around. Then, after wading past the permanently populated cascading mushroom, the fun stretched outside to a water slide, hot tubs, and a separate section of deep water experiences for those needing their thrill-seeking fix. At a rate of $42 per day for a family of four, just about any parent could achieve instant hero status.
Our next adventure took us up the mountain itself. With a year-round low-cost lift ticket, it is easy to afford one of the best views in Ontario – a crystal-blue bay and a bountiful thicket of trees that made me realize that autumn around these parts must be spectacular. At the top of the mountain are endless trails, organized by skill level, which would engage anyone from a teen interested in extreme biking to seniors celebrating their 50th anniversary.
“That’s what Blue Mountain is,” says Manning, whose hotel specializes in the concept of renewal. “Whether you want an active family vacation or be the only person on a trail … whatever renewal means to you, you will find it here.”
Indeed, if you want the small, private beach experience you will find it not far from the village. However, for high waves and extreme water sports, 20 minutes east is the largest fresh-water beach in the world: Wasaga. And, if you enjoy small-town antiquing, towns like Thornbury might just prove to have that unique find. Romantic, candlelit dinners? Try the Oliver and Bonacini Café Grill with taste bud-teasing Italian and American entrees. If you’d rather catch a game and a beer with some friends pub-style, kick back at Windy O’Neill’s Irish Pub. But if late-night partying is your thing, you might want to frequent a night club like Skool, or perhaps enjoy the refined cliental at the Twist Martini & Wine Lounge.
Our family found renewal in the most unlikely of places: Mill Pond, a small lake at the base of Blue Mountain filled with paddle boats and canoes, and teeming with frogs and small fish populated for an afternoon of catch and release. Both of my children shrieked with laughter as we purchased child-sized nets and escorted scores of minnows and a half-dozen frogs into portable, plastic fish tanks. My 5-year-old convinced us that these “water-pets” would love a sleep-over, and in the morning she released them back into the marsh beside the sprawling, winding deck as they “probably missed their friends.”
As we drove away from one of the most relaxing, rejuvenating vacations in years, no small task for parents of young children, we wondered one thing about our time at Blue Mountain: When it comes to summer vacations, why isn’t everyone flocking to the slopes to celebrate the heat of summer?
And parents make sure you leave those Disney videos in the van.
To keep up with Matt and his travels, you can find him on Twitter: @DeJongMatt.
Featured Image: Georgian Bay (Shutterstock.com)