I spent last Friday night in a pub. Life in Toronto isn’t so different from that in London.
Although, admittedly I’ve never rocked up to a UK drinking hole armed with a pair of skis and poles.
My accoutrements attracted quite a bit of attention from The Oxley’s genteel patrons, some of whom seemed to be under the impression that I’d literally skied to the door. After all, it was -13C and gusts of snow were flurrying horizontally across the windows.
When I explained that my statement accessories had, in fact, been in a nearby workshop getting primed for an actual downhill ski trip the following day, on an actual mountain, my Canadian drinking buddies looked even more perplexed. “You’re going skiing in Blue Mountain?”
The biggest ski hill in this part of Ontario – all 1,483 feet of it – sometimes seems to be a source of embarrassment to locals, who jealously eye up the rugged mountain ranges out west and the picturesque, snow-sure villages further north.
With a maximum vertical of 720 feet, Blue Mountain’s very much the pygmy species of the Canadian ski kingdom. This doesn’t put me off; pygmies are among my favourite types of animal, and – as a Brit – small, cramped environments make me feel right at home.
But, having skied in the Alps, Pyrenees, the Andes and Dubai (in an air conditioned shopping mall – sorry ecowarriers) – not forgetting Milton Keynes – would Blue Mountain be a bit of a disappointment?
Well, here are a few things you don’t always hear about Blue Mountain:
1. There’s a great view of Georgian Bay from the top. On a cold day, when the lake’s totally frozen over, it’s rather pretty.
2. Everyone will tell you that the queues for the chairlifts can be numbingly long. BUT they often fail to mention that, despite the crowds, tougher pistes can be totally deserted. Well, that was the case on the day we went, anyway. Head for the black runs for the most solitude.
3. You’re better off avoiding the busy, kiddy, cafe at South Base Lodge, near to where coach trippers are dropped off and ski schools gather. There are better eating and drinking options at Grand Central Lodge, based at the end of a couple of blue runs, which also has more of a cosy “resort” feel to it. The huge pulled pork sandwiches and burritos at Rusty’s will set you up for a thigh-burning afternoon sesh.
4. The conditions are fab after a week of the white stuff. Maybe that goes without saying, but a 1.5m snow depth at base camp ain’t bad for a titchy hill.
5. The International Ski Federation’s Snowboard Cross World Cup is being held at Blue Mountain in 2013 for the second year in a row – one of only two stops scheduled in Canada. You can catch the action there this weekend.
In summary, it’s clearly no Mont Blanc or Banff but, in optimum conditions, city-dwelling snowbunnies will have a fun day trip. Having your own kit, pre-booking lift passes via your ski club and heading away from the busiest slopes will enhance the whole experience by minimising queuing times.
And some things they do tell you (but I’ll repeat here anyway just FYI):
- There are 36 trails, ranging from green to double diamond black runs
- Fifteen lifts carry skiers and snowboarders up and down the mountain
- A day’s lift pass (9am-4.30pm) costs $59, including tax. Night skiing (4.30pm-10pm) costs $45. Or it’s $69 for a day & night pass
- You can rent equipment from the South Base Lodge
- The drive takes around two hours from Toronto