12 March 2017

Kind of blue

When I tell people I learnt to ski in Canada, they immediately say: "Cool! Whistler? Banff? Quebec?" Er, no. Ontario, actually, that mainly low-lying province that's livened up considerably by the Niagara Escarpment slicing through it. It's thanks to this escarpment that you can do some skiing, even if the altitudes don't go above 500m. Still, what else is there to do during the long, seemingly endless Canadian winter?

I hadn't skied in Canada for more than 30 years, having since skied in most of Europe's top resorts. But in the same season when I'd skied in Zermatt and Megève, I was off to Blue Mountain. Never heard of it? Well, it's Canada's third-busiest resort (after Whistler and Mont-Tremblant, in case you were wondering). Since I was last there more than three decades ago, it's been bought by Intrawest and expanded out of all recognition. There's now a "village", a greatly extended ski area of 42 runs and faster lifts. In spite of all the trappings, you can't ignore the fact that its top elevation is only 452m and its longest run is 1.6km. This was definitely going to be small fry, I thought, and kept my expectations as low as the altitude.

It didn't help that I chose what was possibly the busiest day of the year to visit: a bank holiday weekend in February. What looked like the entire population of Toronto had driven the two hours up north towards Collingwood and dumped itself in the resort. That meant queues. Queues for lift tickets, which were bearable. And queues for equipment rental, which were mental. You queued for a temperamental iPad to fill in your requirements, then queued for your boots, then the skis and helmet. At least 90 minutes later, I was finally able to face my first queue for the chairlift.

But the sun was out. And there was fresh snow. And there was a stall in the village selling poutine. (That was lunch sorted.) Once you reach the summit, you're greeted with the somewhat surreal sight of Georgian Bay down below. I'd skied overlooking Alpine lakes before, but none the size of this sprawling offshoot of the Great Lakes. Yes, the runs were a bit on the short side, so we meandered our way down, taking our time with lots of big loopy turns. No need to rush into another queue.

In the end, it turned out to be a hugely enjoyable day out. There's a good amount of varied terrain, as well as a snowpark and some mogul fields if you have any knees left. My main quibble was the price. For two people, day passes and equipment rental came to just over £170. A similar day out at one of Intrawest's French outposts, Flaine, would have been £50 cheaper, and you'd get slopes at 2,500m and views of Mont Blanc. If I were to go again (and I might), I'd book passes online, where it's cheaper, and I'd try one of the off-site rental shops to save both a bit of cash and my sanity. 

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