Two weeks ago, we stuffed the minivan with snacks and snowsuits and left on a two-hour journey that would land us at Blue Mountain resort for a winter-themed family getaway. Could we entertain four kids and two grown ups (who don't ski) at a vacation destination known for wintertime skiing? We were going to find out.
JB and I both grew up in areas of Ontario where towering snowbanks were part of the landscape, Christmases were always white, and snow stuck around until spring. We each have fond memories of being excited by the sight of more falling snow (imagine!) Playing outside — no matter how cold the windchill got — was a welcome part of the winter season.
It's easy to lose that child-like wonder when you grow up and have places to be and responsibilities to meet. But maybe that's the best part about living somewhere with seasons — you adapt to the changes and learn how to make the best of each season as it comes. And as easy as it would be to give into hibernation each winter, we are doing the best we can to encourage our kids to appreciate the outdoors year-round.
Once we pulled into The Westin Trillium House, unloaded our bags, and parked in the underground parking lot, we were able to say goodbye to our minivan for the rest of the trip. Blue Mountain Village is completely pedestrian-friendly. We walked everywhere and the kids had a lot of freedom to roam. We noticed several families using toboggans and sleds to wander around with their snowsuit-clad toddlers and kids.
We walked into the village to check it out and stopped in at the Crock A Doodle shop to paint some pottery. I have very artistically-inclined kids, and it was the perfect (mellow) way to shake off the drive. Once we got them all settled with their chosen pieces, the grown ups snuck out and around the corner for some parent-sized Starbucks. All the pieces we painted were ready to be picked up (fired and glazed) the next afternoon.
After hanging out in our two-bedroom suite (complete with kitchen) for awhile to get ourselves unpacked and fight over beds, we made our way back into the village to catch a shuttle bus to dinner at the newly-renovated Pottery Restaurant. The menu offered great kids' options with generous portion sizes and a choice of salad or french fries (tip: half the kids order fries and the other half order salad. We divide the bounty by using the bread plates for a side salad). The adults were able to enjoy a few beverages (since we were catching another shuttle back to our hotel) and all of us were well-fuelled for some night swimming at Westin's outdoor pool.
The kids loved being able to swim outside in the dark, and the water was heated to the perfect temperature. There was a lot of giggling each time we had to streak from the pool to the hot tub in the snow! And everyone was tired enough to settle down (hello, Westin's Heavenly Beds!) without protest.
We set our alarms and piled on the outerwear to walk into the village for breakfast the next day. There are a lot of us and we wanted to be sure to get a table at the popular all-day breakfast joint, Sunset Grill, before the crowds started to show up. The kids filled themselves up with chocolate chip pancakes and fruit, while I did my best not to fall victim to the bottomless refills of coffee (knowing where we were headed next).
We took a shuttle over to the ski rental building where we were met by friendly and knowledgable staff that helped us get all our measurements sorted out. We wanted to do something outside that was geared to our large family, and we were thrilled to find out we could take a guided snowshoe hike. For those families who are interested in skiing, the Kids at Blue program looked amazing and the instructors could not be more supportive and encouraging (and oh my goodness, there is nothing more adorable than a gaggle of kids in ski goggles).There's also an amazing outdoor skating pond that offers rentals.
Snowshoeing was just as fun as I imagined it would be. But don't let that fool you, like it temporarily fooled me. Snowshoeing is a work out — especially when your guide takes you straight up a ski hill (aren't they meant for travelling in a downward direction?!). Our more athletic kids were able to keep up to the guide, but I had to stop several times to shovel handfuls of the fresh snow in my mouth. And JB got sidetracked by a dawdling six-year-old, who was also very focused on eating snow. But we made it to the top and stopped at a couple of look outs to take in the view of Collingwood and Georgian Bay below.
We were sweaty and well-exercised by the time we made it back to the bottom of the hill and more than ready to head back to the village for smoothies and BeaverTails as a reward. At that point, I separated from JB and the kids (who were able to pick up the instructions to a village scavenger hunt at the Information Kiosk) and headed to an appointment at the IWA Spa in the village.
I felt guilty (that JB wasn't with me) for about 10 seconds, before the ache in my calves and feet (I'm not used to walking around in snowshoes) let me give myself over to the most incredible hour. I started with the Beat The Ski Boot Blues leg and foot massage, and it was absolutely wonderful (and enjoyed alongside homemade chocolate and herbal tea). Just when I thought I couldn't be more relaxed, I was whisked upstairs for a first-time experience in the Gan-ban rock sauna. I love being any place that's warm, and this meditative experience was no exception. Check out my glow.
I managed to drift back to the hotel where I found the kids happily relaxing in preparation for our next adventure (tip: grab comic books and magazines from the book store, picture books from the library, and art supplies from home and pack them in a tote. Give the electronic devices a vacation, too).
We got into our bathing suits and robes again and headed down to the amazing PLUNGE! Aquatic Centre (tip: you can buy three hour or full-day passes and there's a discount if you buy four or more). This was a trip highlight for my swimmers. My kids love to be in the water and the added adventure of being at an indoor-outdoor water park was so much fun for them.
We enjoyed the basketball hoops, flotation devices, swinging rope drop, and the outdoor water slide (even my fearful kid was able to conquer her worries and go down it several times). All of the action happening against a snowy backdrop made it even more magical. The water was warm and the hot tub warmer. There were plenty of seats, an on-duty lifeguard, and lots of fun to be had on the pint-sized slides and fountains found indoors.
By the time we were dried off again, we were all starving. And our youngest was dragging her heels with hunger and exhaustion. Luckily, we only had a short elevator ride to dinner. We headed for the lobby of the Westin and into Oliver & Bonacini's for dinner. As soon as our wonderful server took in the sight of my little one with her head down on the table, she promised to speed up service and get her fed before she fell asleep for the night. We devoured two baskets of warm bread and then enjoyed one of the most delicious meals we've had in a long while. We even made it to dessert (once my kids saw S'mores on the menu it was a given).
We were up early again the next day, so we could treat ourselves to another hearty breakfast (tip: because Blue Mountain accommodations offer kitchenettes, you can save money by bringing your own breakfast foods. There are coffee machines and kettles in the rooms, too). We decided to go back to Oliver & Bonacini's for a hot breakfast (because we knew they have amazing Eggs Benedict, and we don't normally have time for that kind of decadence). Once again, the kids' menu was perfect for our crew, and we were happy to get some eggs into all of them before heading outside for our last day of adventure.
The Hike N' Tube adventure was so perfect for our family. The kids could pull the tubes to the top of the hill on their own and they whoooped and hollered down to the bottom over and over again. As for me and JB? Well, we did plenty of hollering, too (is there anything better than feeling like a kid again?). This activity is great for anyone age three and up (there were grandparents racing their grandkids, too). And passes are available for an hour of riding.
Just when we thought the fun couldn't be topped, we made our way over to the outdoor Ridge Runner Coaster which takes you on a speedy ride through the woods and over top of skiers as they speed down the hills. Children under age 13 ride with a responsible adult (meaning someone who knows when it's a good idea to apply the brakes). We would hear the "wheeeeee" from the observation deck on top of the ski chalet.
We could not have asked for a better winter getaway (that was within a very manageable driving distance to the Toronto-area) to help bring us out of the hibernation that can easily happen during winter. The activities we enjoyed at Blue Mountain were fun for every member of our family, which was really the best part of the trip; we were able to do everything together.
As we climbed back into our minivan and pulled away from the beautiful view, I heard a voice call out from the backseat, "Oh Mama, can we please come back again?" I turned to JB and said, "I was going to say the same thing."
Thank you to the wonderful and generous team at Blue Mountain for making this trip happen for my family. And thank you to all the vendors throughout the village who welcomed us so warmly.
Opinions and photos are my own.