A weekend getaway guide to Blue Mountain
Blue Mountain is a place that's undergone profound change over the last decade or so. Childhood memories of an under-developed but over-populated ski hill don't match the bustling full-service resort that now sits under the eponymous mountain. Much of this intensified development is the result of Intrawest's purchase of a 50 per cent stake in the resort back in 1999. Of the most notable changes over this period was the creation of Alpine-styled village at the base of the mountain (which is still really more of a hill) modeled after those that you'll find at Whistler and Mount Tremblant.
I'm not typically much of a fan of these cookie-cutter, highly corporatized spaces, but after a making a trip up to the resort earlier this summer (full disclosure: much of my visit was comped), the convenience of having an array of dining and entertainment options on hand without the need to hop in a car was undeniable.
We've already done a getaway guide to the nearby town of Collingwood, but the self-enclosed nature of Blue Mountain Resort means that visitors may not be inclined to take the 10 minute drive into town (I went once to hit up the LCBO). I'd venture that this is particularly the case for those with young families and those looking to fill their day with sports-related activities, almost all of which involve the mountain in some capacity or another.
Here's a summer getaway guide to Blue Mountain and what the resort has to offer (obviously I've left the whole skiing part out).
While the Blue Mountain Inn and adjoining condos — both of which predate the Intrawest purchase — show their age, the newer hotels that surround the Village are more up to date. While I'd stop short of classifying the accommodations as luxurious (relative term, anyway), it'd be fair to say that a place like the Westin Trillium House (where we stayed) meets a nice balance between functionality and pampering. Composed mostly of suites, the addition of kitchen facilities is handy for longer trips when you don't want to dine out for every meal, and the decor is understated enough that it's not at risk of becoming dated anytime soon.
From a cost standpoint, the newer lodging options aren't cheap. Weekend room rates at the Trillium start at $250 and go up from there as you require more space. That can make for an expensive weekend when you throw in daily activities and meals, but compared to Muskoka-based resorts, for example, the cost is on par.
Dining & Entertainment
There's lots to choose from here, though certain restaurants and bars are obviously more popular than others. Toward that end, the Oliver & Bonacini Cafe is something of a centre of attention. On our visit, the restaurant was populated with numerous large groups, the most memorable of which were two bachelorette parities decked out in the requisite neon accessories. The food was, as is the case at all of the O & B restaurants, prepared well but not enough get a couple of snobs fawning over it. I had steak (slightly over-cooked), my partner had the ribs (adequately tender but drowning in barbecue sauce), and it was like a comment on my grade 10 report card: above satisfactory but lacking the ability to astound.
On our second night we headed over the Pottery, an older restaurant located at the Blue Mountain Inn. Despite the 1980s-like chalet decor, this was actually the better meal of the two. What else do you order at a place like this on Sunday night but prime rib? This came to table medium rare as ordered and was accompanied by one of the better Yorkshire puddings I've had. Although it was a bit of ghost town, that gave me the sense that perhaps this place has become something of a hidden gem (if you can get over the decor).
Other dining options at Blue Mountain include the C&A Steak Company (good but not cheap), Fire Hall Pizza Co., Twist Martini & Wine Lounge, Kaytoo Restaurant & Bar (which proved a late night hub during our stay), and a host of others listed off here.
If you're going to go to Blue Mountain, this should be the reason why. You can find resorts with nicer accommodations and more exquisite dining options within a two hour drive of Toronto, but you'd be hard pressed to find a place where there's more to do. It's not really possible to list off all of these activities here, but I'll mention a few that I think are worth pursuing:
Mountain Biking: Designed with the downhill crew in mind more than XC riders, this is about as legitimate as it gets in Ontario. Friends tell me that the trails have become less challenging over the years as a more populist (read: safe) approach has been taken to the course, but that this is still one of the premiere destinations for the sport within a reasonable drive of Toronto. And there's no need to go uphill! That's what the gondola is for. The trip up takes less than five minutes.
Hiking: If you're into working up a sweat, there are loads of well-maintained hiking trails across the mountain. If you want the view from the top of the mountain without having to work for it, hop on the gondola and enjoy (that's what we did). Best time to do the latter: early sunset when there's still enough light to shoot decent photos of the world below.
Adventure Amusement Sports: Okay, I just made that term up, but it seems to capture some of the recreational options you'll find tied into the mountain. I'm thinking of the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster, which is pretty much a roller coaster down the mountain that allows you to control your speed (yup, this is quite fun) and the brand new high ropes course. The latter will take you almost 20 metres above the ground, which is itself already elevated thanks to the mountain. There's also a less elaborate ropes course a little lower on the mountain that's easier to navigate for pure beginners and kids.
One caveat: this high ropes course is quite challenging physically, so it might not be the best to try after an indulgent night of food and drink. It's also relatively expensive, so you don't want to go and then bail 30 minutes later.
Scandinave Spa: If you maxed yourself out the night before, you could spend sometime at the Cascade putting course or take a trip to the spa. While there are two on site, the best one is a short drive away. I practically had to be dragged to Scandinave, but once I'd done the first cycle of a hot bath and cold plunge, I soon became almost stoner-relaxed. I didn't really know what to expect upon arrival, but this ended up being the highlight of the trip. It's a beautiful setting and the facilities are in pristine shape. At $48, it's worth every penny, especially considering you'll probably want to stay for about three hours.
If you want to dial up the relaxation another notch, there are a variety of massage services of offer as well, but the regular facilities were more than enough for me (my partner did indulge in a massage and had good things to say about the experience).
In addition to what's listed above, the resort also features a golf and tennis facilities (Monterra) and multiple swimming pools and hot tubs (both indoor and outdoor).
Other stuff to do:
Scenic Caves: Not affiliated with Blue Mountain Resort, but located on the top of Blue Mountain, Scenic Caves Adventures might not be a place for those who suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of heights, but the suspension bridge, zip-line course, and the caves themselves are all pretty great.
Cycling: Along with mountain biking, the area around Blue Mountain is great for roadies who want to test their mettle on the truly hilly terrain that Ontario has in such short supply. If you're feeling brave, you can try to make it up Scenic Caves drive (I made it, but with a couple of clip-outs). If you're feeling really brave, you can ride back down.
Activity Central: Through affiliations with local businesses, Blue Mountain offers quite a few off-site activities that you can arrange through the resort. Think ATV tours, rock climbing, a shuttle to the beach, etc. A full list can be found here.