Fun and adventure in Ontario

Date Posted: 05/03/2010

Lisa Young finds that Canada is a Mecca for top level, snow-filled group activities.

With all the coverage Canada is receiving as host to the Winter Olympic Games, ever thought of taking a group across the Atlantic for fun and adventure in the snow?

Deerhurst Resort is located in Huntsville, an easy two and a half hour drive (235 kilometres) north of Toronto. Huntsville is one of the largest towns in the popular resort area of Muskoka in Ontario, where pretty lakes and spectacular countryside make for an ideal bolthole.

Englishman Charles Waterhouse originally founded the resort in 1896; back then the only way to access the area was by steamboat along the lakes and rivers. Times have changed and road and rail links now lead to the resort, with Deerhurst also boasting its own landing strip. There are 425 suites and guest rooms, including self-catering accommodation, conference facilities, two ballrooms and exhibition spaces.

Deerhurst has its fair share of celebrity connections. Internationally acclaimed singing star Shania Twain launched her career at the resort and in June, the world will be focusing on Deerhurst as it hosts the G8 Summit of world leaders. The Olympic torch passed through Muskoka in December, on its way to Vancouver’s Winter Olympics.

Deerhurst overflows with snow-filled, soft-adventure sports, with everything from cross-country skiing, ice-skating on frozen ponds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobiling safaris, Hummer tours and horse riding in the snow, to ice fishing and indoor sports (tennis, swimming and gym facilities) to name just a few fantastic winter group activities.
Experienced staff are on hand to discuss the various sports available to groups and help people choose the most suitable activity for their fitness level.

All activities are based within easy reach of the resort and can be booked efficiently through the staff at the sports desk inside the main lodge. A minibus is available to transfer groups to their various activities.

Indulge in a classic Canadian past time and experience the exhilaration of ice-skating outside on a frozen lake or try a Hummer tour across the Canadian Shield. The bright yellow, environmentally friendly bespoke Hummer is fuelled by bio diesel recycled from the kitchens at Deerhurst and moves across frozen lakes and deep snow on snow tracks, similar to a small tank.

A novice at cross-country skiing, I took to the sport easily after a quick lesson. The narrow cross-country tracks meander around the resort and lead to the top of a hill. A spectacular snowy landscape greeted us, with rolling snow-covered hills, ice covered lakes, snow fields and frozen wooded terrain that glistened in the sunlight. Deerhurst resort sits right in the middle of this 800-acre winter wonderland.

Cross-country skiing is a suitable sport for all levels of fitness and you don’t need any prior experience. Once you get the hang of it (especially stopping), it is a fun activity and a brilliant work out which uses just about every muscle in your body and has been proven to be one of the most efficient calorie burning and cardio activities.
I skied through the winter setting, passing silent woods, frozen ponds and white-tailed deer searching for acorns and beech-nuts, which build up their body fat, helping them to survive the harsh winter.

A good tip... spread your activities out. Don’t run yourself ragged on the first day. Remember to mix your adventure with relaxation and enjoy the quiet moments too. End your day with a rejuvenating spa treatment, followed by a gourmet dinner at the resort’s superb Eclipse Restaurant, which uses fresh local ingredients. Its 300-bottle wine list has some of Ontario’s award-winning wines, including Icewine, a desert tipple produced from frozen grapes while still on the vine.

Another round of snow-filled activities awaited us at the Horseshoe Resort located near the town of Barrie, just one hour north of Toronto. Highlights at Horseshoe include downhill skiing, snowmobile safaris, snowshoeing and dog sledding.

Guests can indulge in a true Canadian experience called‘mushing’ or dog sledding, which I think makes for an ideal group activity. The two-man sleds are pulled through the snowy wilds by a team of four husky dogs. As soon as the dogs see the sled they become excited at the prospect of running through the snow; their excitement is expressed in a chorus of loud howls and intense barking. I was given a lesson in how to drive the dogs by standing on the back of the sled and using a foot break and voice commands to control the dogs. Then it was out into the silent wilds and open snowfields for some speedy dog sledding. It is a fantastic experience encompassing adventure, excitement and a closeness with nature.

Horseshoe boasts its very own ski slopes; it’s not the Rockies, but at 306 feet high there are 25 decent runs making it an ideal place for beginners, whether skiing or snowboarding. In addition there are 35 kilometres of cross-country and shoe-snowing trails to explore. The slopes open at 9am and close at 9pm (when it is dark) but you will find many of the runs are flood-lit for night skiing.

I found a Horseshoe highlight was group snowmobiling with Yamaha Riding Adventures. This guided tour teaches you how to drive your own snowmobile in a controlled environment. A valid driver’s license is needed for this activity and you’ll want to don a warm snowsuit, gloves, boots and helmets which are provided. Riders will go through a fun safety course before heading out with professional guides.

There is something for everyone at Horseshoe Resort including a relaxing afternoon at the Shizen Spa. A large menu of treatments includes Salt Glow and Massage, Rose Massage, signature facials, aromatherapy, and Ayurvedic treatments. Appropriate clothing is essential for all outdoor activities as temperatures can drop well below zero in this part of Canada during the winter, and the wind chill factor only adds to the cold. Do not forget to pack a warm winter coat, ski pants or waterproof trousers, hats, gloves, warm socks, thermal underwear and good outdoor, waterproof footwear. Dressing in layers is the best way to keep warm and a good pair of sunglasses will help reduce snow glare on sunny days.

Wherever I went in Ontario friendly people with warm smiles and polite demeanour greeted me.

Factfile

Flight time: 8 hours approx
Time difference: GMT - 5hr.
Currency: Canadian dollar.
Language: English.
Top tip: If you’re going on holiday to take part in winter sports, make sure you are properly covered with adequate travel insurance. Most standard policies will not cover you.
Getting there: Air Canada has more nonstop flights than any other carrier from London Heathrow to Toronto. Book through your preferred group tour operator, but general info is available at aircanada.com.

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