WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
While a blustery wind picks up and blows across the hill, I feel our chairlift sway from side to side. The biting gust assaults our bodies and blasts the grainy snow into the sky. I pull my balaclava up over my nose, adjust my goggles, and cinch my hood. My fiancé, Liz, who’s beside me on the lift, does the same. Below us, a threesome of skiers carve deep cuts into the corduroy. Our breath, visible in front of our faces, blows sideways in the wind. ‘You warm enough?’, I ask Liz – my voice muffled behind the layers. Liz nods. ‘And you?’, she queries. I nod back. In fact, I’m downright cozy. On this frigid day in late February. Up here on this lift. Exposed to the elements.
It’s truly amazing what a difference good quality gear makes.
And what opportunities it creates, too.
For fun in the great outdoors. With friends. Family. Indeed, ever since I got my little ones properly fitted with new skis and boots and helmets and goggles – and did the same for myself and Liz (and her kid too) – our winters have gone from tolerable to downright terrific. My go-to destination for kit? Guelph’s Paramount Skis Bikes Boards, of course. Because the staff are super knowledgeable (and downright rad) and the sweet gear they’ve got is always on point.
Like the get-ups that are keeping Liz and me toasty up here on this lift – including (for our torsos) Patagonia Cap base layers, Patagonia Better Sweater second layers, The North Face ThermoBall Eco Jacket (for me) and Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket (for Liz) third layers, and Arc’teryx shells (a Sabre AR for me and Beta Ar for Liz) to bring it all together. On our noggins: Smith insulated helmets with Airhole balaclavas. And goggles – Oakley (for me) and SPY+ Optics (for Liz). For our legs: Patagonia Cap base layers with The North Face bibs. And on our feet: K2 Disruption (me) and Anthem (her) skis with BFC (‘Built For Comfort’) boots. ‘Because at this infant stage in your ski journey,’ I recall Paramount’s Lee Ferneyhough telling us when he helped curate our gear just over a year ago, ‘comfortable boots are key.’ Sound advice, then. And sound advice now – my feet all toasty and content up here in the air at Caledon Ski Resort.
Liz and I are here at Caledon – together with my TOQUE Partner Cai and her wife, Sonia – as guests of Lee and his stepdad, Gord Wilson. Anticipating a fantastic experience at one of Ontario’s sweetest private clubs, of course. But also looking forward to talking with Gord and Lee – co-owners of Paramount – about where the business has come, and where it’s going. But talk, as they say, can wait. Or is it cheap? Whichever the case – these hills are calling, and we’re nearing the top of the lift.
‘Which run should we try?’, Liz asks as our chair crests the hill. To our immediate left: ‘Brimstone’ – a black diamond run. Further left still: ‘Philpott’s Folly’ – a slightly easier blue square. While Liz (with years of snowboarding out west under her belt) is keen for either route, I commit to the blue run. After all, black diamonds can wait until next week – or, more likely, next season – when I’m hoping to shred the gnar with a little more aplomb.
And so we turn left off the chair and glide past ‘Brimstone’ to the top of ‘Philpott’s Folly’. The view down into the valley and across the hills surrounding Caledon is nothing less than spectacular – and tinged (for me) with a warm pink through these Oakley goggles. ‘And now look a little further,’ suggests a voice behind me. It’s Lee – who’s just come off the lift with Gord and has joined Liz and me at the top of the run. I gaze toward the horizon. Spot a cityscape. Skyscrapers. Office towers. Condos. ‘That’s Toronto,’ Gord says. ‘On a really clear day, you can see the CN Tower.’ The juxtaposition between where we are (here, on these hills, in this quiet solitude) and where we’re looking (toward a hustling bustling metropolis) is striking. And also exactly why I’m prone to believe that what Gord and Lee are creating at Paramount is nothing less than a form of therapy; that is, a ticket to an alternative reality. The great outdoors. Away from city life, and from incessant screens, and social medias that divide more than they’ve ever brought closer together.
After a few runs the four of us take off down the hill (Lee going devilishly fast on his snowboard, the rest of us following on skis) toward Caledon’s Main Lodge where we’re meeting Cai and Sonia – who’ve been honing their skills on ‘Eaton’s Annex’ (a green run that’s perfect for learning) – for lunch, conversation, and a few Elora Brewing Company cold ones we’ve brought along to the hill. ‘Because Caledon is a private club,’ Lee told us a few days prior, ‘it’s got its perks – including the fact that members are allowed to bring wine and beer to designated spots on the hill.’ And because Liz just happens to be General Manager at Elora, we’re able to take advantage of this provision nicely. Serendipitous, indeed.
Before long, we’re all seated on Muskoka chairs around an outdoor fire that overlooks a good part of the resort. Cai and I grab boxes of poutine and sandwiches for everyone, while Liz hands out tall cans of Elora brew – including TOQUE’s annual collab with the brewery, ‘Friends Forever’, a New England-style pale ale that packs a juicy punch. I’m keen to hear all about Paramount’s history, back to when the shop was founded in 1993 by Gord and then-partner Ken Embree in Harvard Plaza. (Then they specialized in everything from racquet sports to camping gear to competitive swimming, before narrowing their focus solely to biking, skiing, and snowboarding endeavours.) However, Gord and Lee are less interested in discussing the past than in exploring more existential things, like how Paramount is, ultimately, about nurturing community and, in turn, creating memories.
As Lee notes: ‘While it’s true that, on the surface, we’re in the business of selling quality skiing, snowboarding, and cycling gear, I firmly believe that we’re really in the business of bringing people together.’ I’m intrigued. Lee elaborates: ‘There aren’t many sports that can be thoroughly enjoyed by two, three, four generations of the same family all at once. Skiing, snowboarding, and biking are lifelong endeavors, and – when strung together – can be enjoyed through the entire year.’ Gord chimes in: ‘Since I initially founded Paramount back in the nineties, I’ve literally fitted with gear customers whose great-grandkids are now being kitted out at the store. It’s meaningful for us to know that we’re helping facilitate and foster family time together.’
I couldn’t agree more – considering how Paramount has almost singlehandedly created an opportunity for my young kids and me (along with Liz and her tyke) to spend full days together outdoors. Not to mention how skiing has reignited regular sibling time with my older brother and his wife, who have begun regularly driving in from their uptown digs near Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to meet us at Blue Mountain (near Collingwood) or Chicopee (in Kitchener) for days on the hill. And while the truck can get a bit cramped packed with adults and kiddos and all the food and drinks and equipment (and hand and feet warmers) essential for a full day at Blue, for instance, my Thule Motion XT XL ski box – courtesy of, who else, Paramount – ensures that there’s room to spare.
And, of course, Paramount doesn’t limit itself to winter activities. Skiing is where my mind’s at here, in front of this fire, with good peeps and good drinks on Caledon’s impressive patio; but Paramount is also a full-service bike shop for less snowy endeavours (or, if you’re a winter fat biker like Liz and me, for snowy endeavours too). And with over five thousand square feet of space, the shop can accommodate showrooms for both winter and summer sports gear alongside separate service areas for skis, snowboards, and bikes. No off-season for Lee and Gord, then. Just sweet therapy all year round.
While I down the last bit of my ‘Friends Forever’, I scan my environs. From my Muskoka chair I can watch the closest lift bring eager skiers and snowboarders to the top of ‘Eaton’s Annex’. A bit further afield I am able to catch glimpses of Caledon members darting down steeper runs. But I choose to focus my attention on the folks right in front of me: Lee and Gord – a father-son team who’ve been brought closer (and bring others closer, too) by the sports they love. Cai and Sonia – a married couple who are loving learning new things together. And Liz and me – parents of young kids who are consolidating family traditions with every ski trip.
‘Wanna hit the hills for a few more runs?’, Lee asks the group as he stands and stretches his legs. I grab my helmet and goggles, pop them onto my head, pull my balaclava over my nose, and nod. I’m cozy in this gear. With these friends. On these hills. I might even be ready for that black diamond.
After all, opportunity awaits.
PARAMOUNT SPORTS – SKIS, BIKES, BOARDS
30 ARROW RD, GUELPH