A daddy-daughter team unfold their Canadian vacation—and life—like a map, understanding they can’t always refold them the same way.
Sometimes, my daughter Bella and I don’t worry about who is teacher and who is student. Sometimes she does. A scenic two-hour drive from Toronto lies Ontario’s Blue Mountains. Before rolling into this idyllic mountainside village, you encounter antique Collingwood, a handsome town on Georgian Bay (which feeds into Lake Huron). Champlain, the first Euro explorer to map this freshwater haven in 1615, called it “the calm sea.” Calm prevailed inside Collingwood’s Loblaws grocery store until Bella asked “How’s the sushi in Canada?” I’d been picturing spare ribs.
Rolling toward the The Westin Trillium House at the base of Blue Mountain is not short on grand first impressions: a majestic inn set on an ice-skating pond with ski slopes for a backyard. Your first detachment from all things real-world is waving bye-bye to your car for your entire stay after parking it underground. A 228-room tribute to the historic Georgian Bay lodges that rim Georgian Bay, the quarter-mile-wide grand structure is a four-season destination. Pet-friendly, the massive hotel bases its guest experience around the six pillars of well-being. The hotel includes spacious suites, a year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tubs, and is just steps away from the Blue Mountain Village.
Our suite had a private loft, kitchen, balcony with view of the village, three flat-screen TVs, and was bigger than our New York apartments. The Heavenly Bed and Sleep-Well lavender balm guaranteed a good night’s rest. The next morning, while I rinsed a pair of quick-drying travel socks in our bathtub, Bella waltzed by and murmured, “Weird.”
The resort has two sprawling adjacent outdoor pool areas. One is an all-access pool flanked by rock gardens and two hot tubs. The other is the Plunge Aquatic Center, which has an indoor/outdoor pool and a plunge pool equipped with a rope swing and a diving platform. This watery zone also has two hot tubs and a sea of enticements for toddlers and teens. One of my highlights during our week in the Great White North was playing basketball with Bella waist-deep in one of the Aquatic Center pools, even though she beat me in several foul-shot competitions. From here and most of the rest of the resort, you’re always in view of the enticing ski slopes that will eventually call to you.
The Blue Mountain alpine ski resort is Canada’s third-busiest after B.C.’s Whistler Blackcomb and Quebec’s Mont Tremblant. It has 16 mostly high-speed, six-pack, wide-body chairlifts that feed 42 runs and three freestyle terrains. There are awesome views of Georgian Bay from perches on every slope. The parade of parallel lifts along the upthrust known as the Niagara Escarpment serve dozens of interconnected trails that make lift-switching easy. We didn’t wait in one lift line, day or night. Even if you don’t ski at night (the night lighting is superb), the illuminated slopes create a fantasy-land background that makes any photo shot in the base village a masterpiece.
Blue Mountain Village is a great place to catch a ski-village coma—in any season—where you forget you even own a car. This cobblestoned ski-center hamlet borrowed the best aspects of the time-tested base villages at Whistler and Tremblant. A central fire pit brings people together. Any necessity or vice is steps away, including ice-skating on Mill Pond. Other options include…
The easygoing Copper Blues Bar & Grill has two indoor dining areas, one with an angled copper-wrapped bar. The lobster bisque (with lemon crème fraiche) segues nicely into an army of steak and seafood delights. All entrees come with suggested wine pairings. Health-kick? Try the pear and gorgonzola salad (field greens, pecans, white balsamic vinaigrette). When things warm up, the seasonal garage doors open up onto the huge wraparound patio and the party kicks up a notch.
Crock A Doodle is paint-your-own pottery studio doubling as an artsy public house. Bella painted a pucker mug (lips protruding from a coffee cup) which was glazed overnight in their kiln and turned out “Much better,” than Bella anticipated. Life is a blank canvas; what we choose to do with it is art—so, next, we beelined for an adrenaline rush…
The base of Blue Mountain’s Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster is a ¾-mile corkscrewing and zigzagging cart glide on an elevated track. You reach speeds of 35 mph and control acceleration with an optional manual hand-brake—“or not,” added Bella. Thrilling in any season, the short but sweet descending ride in the woods is worth the exhilaration. I hadn’t heard Bella holler with joy like this since we dogsledded in Alberta.
“Anyone could love it here.” — Bella on Canada’s Blue Mountains
Royal Majesty, an espresso bar bakery, serves up pink-frosted “Homer” doughnuts and out-of-this-world healthy plant-based smoothies: Just say “nuts ’n chocolate smoothie” (peanut butter, banana, almond milk, dark cacao, honey).
An enthusiastic server in a fire department uniform approached us inside the pond-side Firehall Pizza Co. and asked if we wanted to “Fire it up?” Bella inhaled her Margherita pizza while I attacked their Cajun-spiced “big easy” burger. The turtle cheesecake got a standing ovation, which was duly noted by the ski-bums seated along the 12-seat bar beneath the authentic ladder and hose paraphernalia. This reasonably priced hangout is gluten- and allergen-conscious.
Rusty’s at Blue is where you’ll get your rock ‘n roll saloon fix…and earth-shaking pork spare ribs (St. Louis-cut side ribs smoked over apple/hickory, glazed with Texas-pineapple rib candy). If we knew that the 12-bone rib rack could feed three people we’d have skipped the slowly smoked and “fairy dusted” chicken wings (nah, bring ‘em on). You can literally ski right up into this rollicking tavern atmosphere.
We never made it to a sushi restaurant. I will be reminded of this for another decade. It wasn’t until I put the car (and reality) in drive that I realized the otherworldly getaway quality of all things in this corner of Ontario. More than a wonderful daddy-daughter getaway, this place confirmed: Don’t let your mind forget what your heart has felt. The merry Westin Trillium House also allowed me to discover that Bella still sings in the shower.
Visit Blue Mountain for a direct connect to Ontario’s au natural vacation escape. En route from the USA, if you bypass Toronto (you shouldn’t) Blue Mountain/Collingwood is only 70 miles north of Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Connecting via Toronto
Toronto is likely your access point to Blue Mountain Resort, and there’s no reason to rush past this world-class city. Even the basics, like getting around, are a breeze here. Compared to NYC’s braggadocio, Toronto’s low-stress mass transit experience is much quieter, as there’s barely a murmur on subways and buses. It’s simply civilized. A local friend put it like this: Britain had one son (the USA) and two daughters (Canada and Australia), suggesting that Canada is less restless and boyish like the States. He also pointed out that the Canadian wit—they’ve shipped many famous comedians into U.S. fame—is a byproduct of Canada being culturally halfway to Britain.
Tip: The Toronto CityPass turns its “best of” into a bargain.
The hitlist of things-to-do in Toronto is endless. Here are a few suggestions…
Accessed via a stroll through the gorgeous University of Toronto campus, Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum is now tied with my other all-time favorite, Stockholm’s Vasa Ship museum. The modern four-story gem houses footwear from the ages spanning from prehistoric Otzi Alps-man duds, Anasazi, 19th Century Dutch skates, and an Apollo space boot. The “Star Turns” exhibit (“Footprints on the World Stage”) exhibit features Indira Ghandi’s simple black pumps, Churchill’s Portuguese-style boots that were gifted to him on a Canadian visit, the Dali Lama’s flip-flops (made by Bata), and Don Draper’s vintage black derby shoes. Other current exhibitions are “Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century” (show-stopping but uncomfy and hazardous), “Traditional Arctic Footwear” (reindeer vogue), and “Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels” (Glam is timeless, from Louis XIV to KISS; don’t tell the cowboys!). There’s even a heavy footwear to weigh down prisoner’s display.
Fact: Every shoe tells a story (“A man is what his wife makes him,” per an Inuit saying in the “Arctic Footwear” exhibition).
I couldn’t bribe Bella (even with a sushi offer) out of the Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park. En masse jumping for joy with options include an open jump free-for-all sea of trampolines, a sky-slam basketball dunk, two dodge-ball tramps, and a foam pit.
Where to stay
Stay at the Chelsea Hotel, a centrally located 1,590 room establishment—Canada’s largest—that features a penthouse pool, Jacuzzi and gym. There’s a Family Fun Zone—a family pool with downtown Toronto’s only indoor waterslide, Kid Centre, and Club 33 Teen Lounge. Guests can “Show their Key and Save” with many attractions in the city.
Getting there—and around Toronto
From Toronto Pearson International Airport, the UP Express train takes only 25 minutes and $12 each way per adult to Union Station. From there, the very efficient subway connect to all points; all day riding is $12.50, while individual rides are $3.25.
For more: Visit See Toronto Now for more inspiration.
Even more: The Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games (July 16-23, 2017) are expected to be the largest sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous Peoples in North America.