Blue Mountain Resort…wow, you sure have grown up!
Blue Mountain Resort, located on the shores of Georgian Bay just outside Collingwood, Ontario was historically known as one of the best places to ski in Ontario but not much beyond that. With the highest vertical in Central Ontario it was a popular ski destination, but with limited facilities at the base, there were very few reasons to stay once you were done for the day.
Summertime at Blue back then was even less inspiring. Despite the presence of a small waterpark, the legendary Great Slide Ride – the concrete luge run that hurtled people down the hill on a rolling sled and the Monterra Golf Course, one always had the sense that there was so much more potential at Blue than had been realized.
Well after having just spent a glorious late September weekend there with my family I think it’s safe to say that the Blue Mountain Resort of today is finally living up to its true potential!
In 1999, Intrawest Corporation purchased a 50% stake and in the years since, Blue Mountain has gradually transformed itself into a spectacular year round family destination resort. It’s combination of luxurious accommodations, business and conference facilities, dining, shopping and an ever expanding list of adventure style activities has turned it into a major draw for the approximately 6 to 7 million people located within a 3 hour drive. When I recently received an invite to bring my entire family up for a weekend at Blue to see how things have evolved, I easily jumped at the chance.
Upon arrival at the main village, we met up with Collin Matanowitsch, my contact at Blue and checked into our 2 bedroom suite at The Grand Georgian. When Collin handed us our itinerary for the weekend, it became abundantly clear that we wouldn’t be sitting for long as there was so much to see and experience. What was immediately clear was that Blue Mountain had evolved far beyond what it was when I was young, and that there are now more activities and experiences to participate in than you possibly could do in one visit.
With very few exceptions, fall activities at Blue Mountain basically mirror what’s available during the summer. When trying to plan out what to do, the best place to start would be Activity Central which is located right in the pedestrian village. Activity Central promotes itself as a One Stop Adventure Shop for the entire Blue Mountain area. From here you can co-ordinate a wide range of activities including many that are not owned by Blue. Everything from ATV and Hummer rides to golfing, fishing, spa’s and even Zip Lining can be arranged through Activity Central.
On Saturday, we spent time dockside at the man-made pond in the village where a variety of activities like paddle boating, beach volleyball and even catch and release fishing are available. My boys had never been fishing before so we enjoyed the chance to try our luck at catching one of the reported 1500 fish that the pond is stocked with.
We also spent a few hours on Saturday up on top of the mountain at Scenic Caves Nature Adventures. The facility offers a variety of attractions for families including a walking path of about 1.5 KM’s that takes you into some caves both large and very small. While the traversing through caves is a visually stunning experience, we learned that its rocky and uneven terrain may not be the best option for 2 year olds. One of the highlights though of the cave walk was standing at Signal Point, the highest point of the Niagara Escarpment and supposedly where on a clear day some 10,000 square kilometres of geography are visible.
We also enjoyed the opportunity to walk along Ontario’s longest suspension bridge located at the Scenic Caves and the kids really enjoyed a chance to try their Gemstone Mining attraction where kids sift a pre-bagged collection of sand and gems through a running water trough to discover real gems inside.
On Sunday we began our day by splitting up. I headed off to play a round of golf over at Monterra, while my wife took the kids to enjoy some craft time over at Crock a Doodle Pottery.
Monterra Golf is a classic resort style course, in that it’s challenging yet playable for all skill levels. Measuring 6,581 yards, the Par 72 course is a links style design that snakes its way out from the village and then back again. There is plenty of great scenery while on Monterra and it’s also worth noting that in 2000 the course received its Audubon certification, designating it as a course that works to protect its natural environment and surrounding habitats.
While I had a great round on a picture perfect fall day at Monterra, my wife and kids were busy painting custom pottery over at Crock a Doodle Pottery. The kids all loved making their craft designs and couldn’t wait to get them back after they were baked and dried.
Of all the activities, perhaps the one we were all most excited about and eager to experience was their newest attraction – Ontario’s only mountain coaster called Ridge Runner. One of only 150 Alpine Coasters world-wide and one of only 2 in Canada (Mont Saint Sauveur in Quebec being the other), Ridge Runner takes one or two people at a time up a 475 metre long incline to a vertical of some 133 metres (436 feet) and then hurtles them down over 1 Kilometre of track, through the woods at up to 42 km/h. While it may harken back memories of the old Great Slide Ride for some, there really is very little to compare. While my daughter was too small to participate, everyone else in my family had more than one occasion to try it out and each of us came back with the same conclusion – it’s awesome!
The one drawback to Ridge Runner in my opinion is the cost. The attraction is priced per run and prices can vary depending on how many runs one buys and whether someone is a driver or passenger. However the bottom line is that for a large family like mine, one can easily spend close to what we would at a full amusement park if we let ourselves. Keep this in mind when trying it out and look for the best values possible.
We finished our activities with a leisurely ride up their summer gondola. Normally a six passenger chair for skiers in the winter, the lift is converted to an open air gondola in the summer for people and mountain bikers to head to the top. With great scenery and great weather it was the perfect way to end our activities for the weekend.
With so much to do at Blue Mountain, big appetites are guaranteed. It’s a good thing then that Blue has dozens of dining options available to choose from.
Our lunch on Saturday was spent at Copper Blues Bar and Grill. It’s one of the original new restaurants that was built with the redevelopment and is located right in front of the main village square. It offered just the right combination of classic and innovative adult fare with a diverse and appealing kids menu for all of us to enjoy.
Dinner on Saturday was spent at 3 Guys and a Stove which was also located in the main village. The restaurant is owned by Chef Jeff Suddaby of Food Network Canada fame and their menu focuses extensively on healthier menu options that are sourced locally. Everything was delicious and my wife and I were especially pleased with some of the unique kids menu items like their banana boat or their cheese and apple plate. These are kid friendly and healthy which is a big win in our books!
Our breakfast and dinner on Sunday took place at The Pottery Restaurant located in the Blue Mountain Inn. Once upon a time it was the only game in town being that the Inn opened in 1981. However with the increase of dining options now available, the restaurant has worked hard to re-vamp their menu while still keeping the casual atmosphere it was well known for. Restaurant Manager Rissa Sawh has brought a real enthusiasm to her goal of re-vamping the menu. She’s done a good job with the menu offering good balance for adults and a wide offering for kids, but perhaps her positive attitude and pride in the ongoing results is what I noticed and appreciated most.
If you haven’t been to Blue Mountain before, or if you haven’t been in some time, now would absolutely be a good time to do so. October offers brilliant scenery and great value along with a village that perhaps has more elbow room and less crowds than in the summer or winter. There are over 1000 accommodation units available of all sorts and can meet the needs of all families. My one bit of advice though would be to use their website to plan your itinerary ahead of time if you can, since with so many options the best laid out plans will net you the best overall experience.
NOTE: All costs relating to accommodations, food and activities were covered by Blue Mountain Resort.