The year of 2011 may be remembered as the winter that wasn’t in many parts of North America, but for me it will be remembered as the year I perfected my skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding skills. I must admit I had to leave my home city of Toronto in order to do this, but when I did there was plenty of white covered winter land to be found. While some may not have been thinking of outdoor winter activities with the milder conditions, I was craving what was missing.
By the time January rolled around and I hadn’t even had a chance to lace on a pair of skates, I made it my mission to seek out snow. The first weekend of February I gathered a few friends and headed up to Wasaga Beach/Collingwood area in Ontario. While strolling across the frozen sand dunes along the Georgian Bay shoreline was a bit unusual, there was enough snow thirty minutes away at Blue Mountain. I was able to get in a half-day of Nordic skiing and snowshoeing around the Scenic Caves, as part of the annual Nordic Fest event. While the snow was a bit sluggish, the warmer weather made for pleasurable pursuits along the numerous trails. This is a great event for individuals of all ages and abilities, and the reduced prices and demo product testing makes it an ideal introduction to either sport for those curious to give it a whirl. The downhill skiing at Blue Mountain was also busier than I would have expected, leading me to believe I was not alone in my search for winter.
After my realization that there was snow to be found, my mission was quickly expanded. I heard about the new Porter Airlines service to Vermont, and since I had never been before I thought this would be the year to check things out. I went online to verify that in fact there was snow to be found, and all looked great. Although I didn’t bring my own skis with me, I noticed many on the sold out flight were checking their ski and snowboard gear at the counter. Prior to this non-stop one hour flight, the only alternative was to spend a day driving there and back, or flying via connecting cities that could take almost as long. An hour later I arrived in the capital city of Burlington where there was no snow! I was informed not to worry, there would be plenty of snow higher up in the mountains, which upon arriving in at Stowe Mountain Resort I found to be true.
The Porter flight arrives in the evening, allowing enough time to get settled in, have dinner at Solstice Restaurant and a couple drinks, plan out the next day’s activities, and get a good night’s sleep. Arriving after dark, I was unaware of what my morning view would entail. Opening the curtains to a picturesque landscape of snow-capped mountains brought an immediate smile to my face. I spent the best part of the day testing out the slopes and honing my skills. I was informed that a great place to have lunch was at the Cliff House Restaurant right at the tip of one of the highest ski lifts on the property. Both the views and the food were remarkable. Once done, there was the option of taking the chair lift back down or skiing down the highest mountain I would have ever attempted. Shortly later I could boast it was the highest mountain I descended!
Stowe Mountain Resort is a multi-million dollar property complete with a lodge, stand-alone chalets, fine dining establishments, onsite spa services and outdoor year-round heated pool, and a performing arts centre that attracts some big name artists to its intimate environs. While in Vermont I took it upon myself to check out a couple other mountains and properties in the vicinity. There are literally dozens all easily reachable within a 60 to 90 minute drive, and each has their own unique offerings. Pulling into the Sugarbush area, I noticed the mountains were just as grandiose as the ones over at Stowe, but the property seemed much more intimate and traditional lodge style. The oval shaped barn structure used as the dining room and bar area at Clay Brook Resort was a perfect spot to unwind and watch the sunset, or warm up beside the fireplace before heading off to bed.
Once again the slopes were spectacular with a good mix of beginner runs, and black diamond challenges. I decided to get up before sunrise and join the select few who are permitted to ski as part of the “first tracks” team each morning before the runs open to the general public. Arrangement can be made through the front desk for guests who stay on the property, and I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet and ski down one of the trails with extreme adventure skier John Egan. He works on staff at the resort as one of the many onsite ski instructors, and is well known for his tree skiing, cliff jumping, and backcountry ski mountaineering. While he’s happy to offer advice to those wanting to explore their inner urges on regions less groomed and without restrictions, he’s also available for private lessons of a more structured nature as well. An outdoor pool and hot tub area is a welcome retreat for any weary muscles, or there’s a regular shuttle service into the nearby village for dining and shopping.
Next, I was off to Smugglers’ Notch, appropriately named for an area that was a route used to smuggle alcohol in from Canada during the American prohibition days. It’s actually a fifteen minute drive from Stowe over “the notch”, but in winter this section of the road is closed so it takes about an hour to loop around the mountain instead of through it. I was told this section of the road was the most beautiful to see, so I was a bit disappointed to not have the opportunity. However, arriving at Smugglers’ I was pleased to learn that the resort offered a wide variety of activities beyond skiing and boarding, including an evening guided snowmobile ride up and over the pass. Riding along this snow-covered section of roadway beneath the moonlight was definitely an experience to remember. Other activities include tubing, skating, year-round zip lining, and separate indoor activity centres for toddler, youth and teens. I realized why this resort continues to be named America’s best value family fun resort year-after-year.
On my last day in the snowy state of Vermont, I headed north toward the Quebec border and stopped in at Jay Peak Resort, a favourite of those from la belle province. This year the talk here is as much about the splash as it is about the slopes. The recently opened Pump House Indoor Waterpark features multiple slides that you can twist and turn your way through on inner tubes or without, a kid's play area, the Big River for floating and Big Fall for climbing, as well as indoor and outdoor hot tubs for relaxing. Two of the more popular attractions are the Aqua Loop, which is a free fall slide where the floor opens beneath and you drop 60 feet per second before being shot out the end of the tube at the other end. The other is a Double Surf Wave, where one can try their best to try and remain standing on a surf board in the simulated waves, or do what I did and attempt the somewhat easier lying down boogie board body surfing technique. There’s also full facility lockers and change rooms, snack bar, arcade, and surf shop onsite. The accommodations were recently upgraded as well, and the slopes seemed to be equally as busy as the splash pads.
All in all, I achieved what I set out to do, which was to surround myself in snow. So while many places seemed to have avoided winter altogether, I can guarantee you that there is snow to be found and it will remain until at least the end of March and beyond. Actually, some of the best skiing and snowboarding can be done in the spring, under the warmth of sunrays. The majority of resorts have a slew of activities planned for March Break, and many offer spring specials on accommodations and lift tickets. On my return Porter flight back, I once again touched town at Billy Bishop Toronto Centre Airport in the heart of downtown Toronto, and was pleasantly surprised to find a couple centimeters of snow had fallen during my absence. I took that as a sign of sorts, and hoped it wouldn’t be the last of the snow this year.
Blue Mountain - www.bluemountain.ca
Scenic Caves - www.sceniccaves.com
Nordic Fest - www.getouttheremag.com/nordicfest.php
Vermont Tourism - www.vermontvacation.com
Stowe Mountain Resort - www.stowe.com
Sugarbush - www.sugarbush.com
Snugglers Notch - www.smuggs.com
Jay Peak - www.jaypeakresort.com
Porter Airlines – www.flyporter.ca, www.skivermont.com/love-winter/news-notes/flyporter
Watch for the Porter Escapes vacation division to be launched early this year.
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Freelance journalist based in Toronto (Canada), with a focus on adventure, ecotourism, lifestyle, entertainment and historical angles. He has been writing for over 15 years for trade and consumer publications, both online and print. In addition he has worked with many tour operators and tourist boards to assist with marketing and promotional initiatives. He also has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. Writing style ranges from real life accounts from a personal perspective to a more professional corporate approach. Bryen welcomes the opportunity to work with publications or organizations that seek a progressive view on current topics. Available for feature destination articles, regular columnist, and contract assignments. Past travel destinations include Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Caribbean, South Pacific and most parts of North America, including Alaska, Yukon and the North West Territories. Bryen can also be heard regularly on CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto and Sirius Radio on the internet. www.bryendunn.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: adventure, eco-tourism, lifestyle, entertainment, quirky, unknown, undiscovered, new