WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘We’re getting close,’ I announce to Cai as we round another bend and turn from paved highway down a hilly dirt road. I always get excited when we get to this part of the trip. And, usually, a bit jittery too. Indeed, wintery conditions up around The Blue Mountains can leave these narrow unpaved roads sketchy, to say the least. But today I feel confident enough to punch the gas and ride the next few kilometres of undulating countryside with aplomb.
After all, Cai and I are touring up to Blue Mountain Resort in a Subaru Forester. The Sport edition. Brand new (with fewer than a hundred clicks). With blacked out grill. Neon orange-highlighted ground kit. Eighteen-inch alloys. And, of course, Subie’s legendary full-time symmetrical all-wheel-drive which keeps it stuck to the road. Loaded with skis on the roof and a fat bike on the Thule rear rack, this Forester (courtesy our great friends at Pfaff Subaru in Guelph) is like some sort of peripatetic Swiss Army knife.
Always poised for adventure.
It’s early March. Late morning. And Cai and I are bombing toward the Collingwood area – looking forward to a couple days of skiing, biking, and good times. The perfect antidote for a winter that has left us cabin feverish and stir-crazy – and, like everyone else, seeking some sense of normalcy. Ah, normalcy: the once-familiar state of affairs that we realize, when we arrive in Collingwood proper and turn into the parking lot of our fave local brewpub, Northwinds, isn’t close to returning.
‘The place looks closed,’ Cai remarks dejectedly, noting the empty lot and darkened windows. We park the Forester and beeline for the front door with hope in our hearts.It opens but, once we step inside, the news isn’t good. ‘We’re in lockdown again,’ notes the Northwinds staff who greets us once we’ve entered. ‘Since this morning,’ she adds. ‘All we’ve got open is our bottle shop,’ she continues – motioning to a small area that’s been set up for take-out cans.
While Cai begins diligently collecting an assortment of beers from the fridge for the coming days – ‘Rainmaker’ IPA, ‘Downdraft’ Pilsner, ‘Milk Run’ Coffee Stout, ‘Foggy Shores’ NEIPA – my mind races to how a lockdown might affect our trip. Closed slopes. A shuttered ski village. The two of us stuck in our condo with little to do but down these Northwinds brews – staring forlornly at empty peaks and immobilized lifts from our indoor perch. ‘Better grab some more,’ I tell her, despondently.
And then – an encouraging word overrides our shrunken expectations. ‘You can always go for lunch at our sister location – in the village at Blue Mountain.’ Almost out the door, I draw to a halt: ‘But I thought you just said the area’s in lockdown?’ Her reply: ‘Ya, Collingwood’s in lockdown since this morning. But the resort [just five kilometres down the road] is in green. Open for business.’ I stare bewilderedly at her. She adds with a shrug: ‘Different counties, I guess.’
Normalcy be damned. Time to celebrate serendipity.
Once we arrive at the resort and drop our things at our temporary condo (a cozy two- bedroom unit with living room, kitchenette, second-storey loft, two twin beds, two full baths, outdoor balcony, and views of the slopes), we hustle straight to the village. The next few hours are a whirl of activity. Lunch at Northwinds in the village. (Must-have items: the duck fat fries, rib dinner, smash burger, and taco salad. And to drink – ‘Foggy Shores’ NEIPA for the win.) Evening cocktails, charcuterie and more at Twist. (The negronis are on-point). Shopping for plaid and treats for our partners at The North Face store. (The SmartWool sample sale was a nice surprise.) And, of course, multiple trips to the hill for some good ol’ fashioned downhill fun.
The Green hill, to be clear. Because, when it comes to skiing, Cai and I are novices. Neophytes. But what we lack in skill we make up for in enthusiasm. And sweet duds, too. (Shout out to Lee at Paramount Sports in Guelph for pretty much our entire wardrobes.)
At the end of this first day, Cai and I arrive back at our condo and sleep like babies. A perfect combination of physical activity, fresh air, and great food and drink (a bit of ‘après’, as the locals like to call it) tends to do that to a person – as does a vacation where COVID seems to at least take a bit of a back seat to life. Indeed, the resort’s (socially-distanced) populated village streets, boutiques with (masked) in-store shoppers, and culinary establishments accommodating more than a mere ten diners seems to help alleviate the insomnia a pandemic-filled world is prone to bring about. And so I sleep.
The next morning, Cai is eager to begin the day with a car ride to the neighbouring town of Thornbury. ‘There’s a killer coffee shop,’ she announces, ‘and Thornbury Craft Cider and Beer is worth a visit, too.’ Nothing wrong with that.
It takes only about fifteen minutes to travel from the resort to Thornbury (with gorgeous views of neighbouring ski hills to the left and Georgian Bayto the right along the way), and before long Cai andI are sipping americanos and enjoying fantastic donuts from Good Grief Coffee Roasters. For us, though – as branders of restaurants, cafés, and craft breweries – it’s really the branding of the place that has us fall in love with it. Besides the iconic name of the business, there’s the fantastic logo (featuring a smiling nun in habit), bright pink palette (including on walls and tiled coffee bar), and take-out cups replete with pink lids atop cups stamped with images of skiers and nuns. ‘Wish this was one of our clients,’ I hear Cai mumble to herself as we make our way out the door. Amen.
Next up: Thornbury Craft Cider and Brewery fora flight in one of the four outdoor see-through heated ‘igloos’ the place has set up outside themain red brick building. It’s an ingenious solutionto the pandemic issue, really. You reserve an ‘igloo’ for a particular time, order through the zippered entrance, and have drinks served by the awesome staff. ‘Just like the ones we reserved at Grain & Grit in Hamilton,’ Cai notes as we take our seats inside the little cocoon and sample a few of the place’s craft brews. Our unanimous fave: Thornbury’s barrel-aged Baltic porter – the brewery’s award-winning porter aged for a year in french oak wine barrels. Flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, toffee, jammy plum, and even toasted pumpernickel dance in our mouths as we discuss what’s up for the rest of our afternoon: more of the same.
Skiing. Eating. Drinking. Repeat. By the end of this – our second day – I’m comfortable skiing Blue Mountain’s ‘Happy Valley’ route, and Cai’s moved from ‘Easy Rider’ to ‘Undergrad’ to ‘Graduate’. Small steps, I know. But giant leaps in the grand scheme of our collective skiing experience.
Cai and I end our last evening in The Blue Mountains together (I will be leaving with the Subaru in the morning while Cai’s wife, Sonia, will be taking my place at the condo for another night) sipping cans of Northwinds, regaling each other with epic tales of ski successes, and enjoying the warmth fromthe electric fireplace. The following morning, I pack my things, mount my skis to the roof and fat bike (which I’d intended to use at 3 Stage but never got the chance) to the rear rack of the Forester, and bid Cai adieu.
On the drive back to Guelph, I’m in a great mood. The sunny morning. Rolling dirt roads. And memories of the past two days in these – The Blue Mountains.
It’s amazing what a bit of ‘après’ will do for a man’s soul.