Article by Laurie Stephens, photos by Kristie & Brenden Woods
Gazing down at sparkling water splashing over slate rock in
a deep ravine, I stop to catch my breath. I am halfway up the aptly named
Cascade Trail at Blue Mountain Resort, and the setting is serene. Surrounded by
green foliage, I breathe in cool air infused with the smells of nature. Birds
twitter over the hypnotic burble of the stream.
All of this beauty is tucked between two ski runs that are now golden with summer grass - a lush oasis in the middle of a ski resort, and one of the best-kept secrets of the area.
Whether it is 8 a.m. or 2 in the afternoon, a weekday or a weekend, hiking the Cascade Trail - one of four hiking trails at Blue Mountain Resort - is a great way to unwind while raising your heart rate.
This trail is no small feat of engineering. Stone slabs and cedar log steps line the path up the ascent, and every once in a while the trail weaves out of the forest onto the side of a ski run, where I catch breathtaking views of The Blue Mountains area and Georgian Bay.
Wooden bridges for downhill mountain bikers cross over the trail at two points on the climb, and I watch as some riders complete a switchback turn at a breakneck speed before clattering over the wooden planks and jumping into the air at end of the bridge.
As I recover my wind, two very fit women in their 50s make their way toward me, climbing with purpose. Sue Friebel and Heather Alma are "regulars" - Collingwood residents who feel fortunate to have such a treasure so close to home and take advantage of it whenever they can.
"It's so good for the soul," exclaims Alma.
Both women use the trail for workouts year-round, even snowshoeing up its length in the winter. Sometimes it's just the two of them; other times they hike with their kids.
"You're outside, you're getting fresh air, exercise," says Friebel. "We both cycle, we both hike, we love the outdoors. It gives us a balance."
The four hiking trails at Blue Mountain rise about 700 feet up to the top of the Escarpment with varying degrees of difficulty. Cascade and Straight Up are the steepest, while Village Way switches back and forth in a more gentle climb. Another called The Grind is a multi-use trail that zigzags up the southern-most perimeter of the resort.
Visitors can choose to hike up and down the mountain on any of the trails or take advantage of a free gondola ride down that starts at 10 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. in the summer and 6 p.m. after Labour Day. The official hiking season runs from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving, seven days a week.
Mike Towers, Blue Mountain's manager of bike and terrain parks, says the resort's current trail system began with the construction of the Cascade route in 2009. Village Way had already existed, but the other routes were added to build hiking capacity.
"We'd had mountain bike trails for close to 20 years and then we noticed an influx in pedestrian visits, so we built some hiking trails," says Towers, 38, a 10-year employee of the resort. "Blue Mountain saw an opportunity, after seeing the number of people who were using the gondola to go up the mountain, to give them another avenue to get down, as opposed to just coming down on the gondola. Or, you can hike up and take a gondola down."
Towers' crew of 10 perform weekly inspections and
maintenance work on the four hiking trails, 16 downhill bike trails and 15
kilometres of cross-country mountain biking or multi-use trails. This work
typically involves removing deadfall on the trail, fixing the cedar logs or
rock steps if theyâ€™ve come loose, and simply making sure the trail is safe.
"Locals as well as a lot of the staff members on the resort use the trail too, and they all report back to us if anything is in urgent need of repair," he says.
One of the more popular routes is the Cascade-Village Way loop. Hikers can start their climb at the bottom of either trail, and once at the top, walk along a section of the historic Bruce Trail, taking in panoramic views from the top of the Escarpment. During peak tourist season, about 300 to 400 use it daily. Mid-week, it's very popular with the locals and specifically new mothers who are hiking with their children in front carriers or their backpack carriers, says Towers.
"But for the most part, itâ€™s a whole gamut of people. No limitations."