Some people say they hate winter. I say it’s all about expectations. If you’re a warm weather type who looks at winter as a timeout between your summer fun, it’s understandable that this winter—more than any in recent memory—is driving you mad. Perhaps then, this is an opportunity to try out some outdoor winter activities to help you embrace the conditions and find some joy this cold, snowy season.
Recently, we headed up to Collingwood, Ontario, for a few days at the Westin Trillium House in the Village at Blue Mountain to check out some of the exciting winter activities the area has to offer.
Stomp That Snow
For our first adventure, we went for a 90-minute guided snowshoe outing with Free Spirit Tours through the Kolapore Uplands Wilderness Trails. Our guide for the day, Jim, picked up our group from the Village at Blue Mountain in one of the company vans for the 20-minute drive out to the small parking lot and trail head. After some brief introductions, Jim provided us with an educational primer on the geological wonders of the Niagara Escarpment and the local climate, as well as some of the wildlife we might spot on our hike.
The trail network itself boasts over 50km of trails, with terrain varying from open fields, to steep rock climbs, to the quiet solitude of healthy coniferous and deciduous forests. In the summer months, Kolapore can be busy with hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers. During the winter months however, snowshoers and cross-country skiers have the area to themselves.
Although we opted to bring our own equipment, the use of high-quality Canadian-made snowshoes are included in the tour package. For those who haven’t strapped on a set of snowshoes in the past few years, the new breed of flake packers are typically constructed from a light weight aluminum tube frame with a rubber or plastic membrane stretched between the frame tubes. A pivoting footplate with crampon-style serrated teeth on the bottom ensures traction should you encounter slippery conditions under foot.
After leaving the parking lot, we started up a gradual climb, which ended with a steep, rocky section that took us to the top of the escarpment. Snow conditions this year have been ideal so we couldn’t really tell what we were walking over most of the time, but we stopped short when we noticed a large split in the forest floor beside our trail. It turns out this was just one of the many crevices and caves that make this area popular with spelunkers all year long. Jim told us the crevices are also used by emergency rescue workers in their training. The rest of the trek was a peaceful meander through the forest with one childish member of our group (okay, it was me) taking the time to stomp out his initials in some virgin powder before heading back to the van for a cup of warm apple cider.
While a good level of fitness is helpful, it is not required. Parts of the Kolapore trails can be technically and physically challenging, but with so much varied terrain available, your guide can tailor a route to match the abilities of your group. And honestly, just wandering into the bush a short distance and standing in one spot taking in the beauty and tranquility of the forest is reason enough to go.
While we didn’t see much wildlife on the trails due to the frigid temperatures (there was evidence of recent wild turkey, porcupine, and woodpecker activity), we did get treated to some spectacular views of Grey County from our vantage point high on the cliffs of the escarpment.
Head for the Hills
It had been a couple of years since I strapped on a set of skis, but after a brief chat with the friendly folks in the rental shop I was standing outside with a nice-looking set of planks on my feet, staring up the hill at Blue Mountain asking myself the all important question, “Will I bite it trying to get on or off the chairlift?” Thankfully, most of the lifts at Blue are of the newer generation that slow down to let you get on without hacking the back of your knees, and without threatening to decapitate you as you step off.
With the addition of six new trails at the south end, called The Orchard, Blue Mountain now offers 42 distinct trails ranging from beginner to double-black diamond, two terrain parks, and a superpipe. A full selection of rental gear for snowboarding and skiing is available (right down to goggles), as well as top-rate, friendly instructors to help out those new to hurtling down slopes.
After a few easy runs to find my legs, I was feeling confident enough to pound through some moguls, and take a cruise through the glades. Being midweek, and with the wind chill somewhere in the -30s, I pretty much had the place to myself and could venture wherever I wanted, never having to wait more than a minute or two in a lift line.
After supper, a friend joined me for something that most of the big resorts out West don’t offer: night skiing. I’ve always loved skiing at night. Besides there being fewer people to contend with, it is also much easier to make out the contours of the hill and the snow conditions—there is no such thing as “flat light” at night. When we had satiated our appetites for speed, we returned the rentals, gathered our goods from the on site lockers, and made the short hike back to the Westin Trillium House.
Skate Like No One Is Watching
Walking from the Westin Trillium House over to the Village, you will walk around the Blue Mountain Mill Pond. In the summer time, this is home to some ducks, and is often spotted with people paddling around in canoes. In the winter, the pond is transformed into a giant ice rink that is cleaned and flooded daily, inviting you to lace up a pair of skates and glide around under the watchful eye of the mountain.
A short walk from the hotel you will find the rental hut, where you can get set up with a pair of skates (and a helmet if required), and be on the ice in no time. While there are benches outside for changing from boots to blades, we opted to go into the heated hut to make the switch.
Despite a few pressure cracks in the surface, the ice condition was very good. We had the pond to ourselves for most of our session, in part, no doubt, because of the frigid temperatures. We even found a few traffic cones and set up an impromptu slalom course that was good for some laughs.
For beginners, there are some plastic walkers available to help keep you upright while you make your first strides, and with so much real estate available to skate on, you won’t feel like you are in the way of the pros as they cruise across ice.
Reflections of our Visit to Blue Mountain Resort
With so many different activities to choose from in the area, you could keep yourself busy for a long time trying to accomplish them all. In the end, we managed to make peace with winter for a while, and remembered how much better a mug of hot chocolate tastes when you are curled up in front of a fire after a long day outdoors.
Note: We were guests of Blue Mountain Resorts and Free Spirit Tours. The opinions expressed, positive and/or negative, are entirely that of the author and are not a reflection of the compensation received.