As we drove along Highway 508, the picturesque route that skirts the edge of Calabogie Lake, my husband, Kevin, my 9-year-old son, Isaac, and I could see the tree-studded outline of Calabogie Peaks Ski Resort in the distance. My husband started laughing nervously and my son was speechless. You see, they were both born on the Prairies and the hilly Ottawa Valley’s landscape was unlike anything they’d ever seen. So knowing that we were headed to the 392 metre mountain for a day of family skiing — especially since we are all rookies — was a little nerve-wracking.
But our worries evaporated as soon as we checked in at the Adventure Centre, the hub of Calabogie Peaks’ ski operations. Families with young children milled around the brightly lit space and we were greeted by the Calabogie team with a smile as we collected our lift tickets and were directed to the rentals area. Save for the skis themselves, the rentals area is self-serve, which is super-efficient in my opinion. From entering your personal information at the computer kiosk, to selecting your boots, helmets and poles, skiers can easily find the gear that fits them best.
Where: Calabogie, Ontario
Who: Family of 3; two parents and child aged 9
Downhill skiing, skating, snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, adaptive skiing available for special needs athletes
Of course, as rookies we needed help getting fitted, and the patient rentals staff walked us through the process. It’s important to note that goggles aren’t available for rent and the helmets are bucket-style, so be sure to bring your own sunglasses and lightweight beanies or buffs.
Then it was time to hit the slopes!
With 32.4 hectares of skiiable terrain and a summit elevation of 392 metres, Calabogie Peaks boasts the best downhill skiing in Eastern Ontario. State-of-the-art snowmaking equipment (including tower cannons) gave Mother Nature a hand at the start of this challenging ski season. Rather than offer one or two runs with mediocre conditions in early December, Calabogie Peaks worked around the clock to whip the mountain into, well, peak condition and opened fully operational at the end of 2015.
After a few runs on Beginner’s Bowl and Progression (the bunny hills serviced by a newbie-friendly carpet lift), we made our way to the mountain itself. The efficient quad-chairs meant that we never waited in line for more than a few minutes (and wait times were shorter when the second chair lift started up). The ride to the top is breathtaking, with Calabogie Lake, the Madawaska River and a thousand acres of heavily treed Crown Land as your backdrop.
A map at the top of the hill outlines the 24 trails available at Calabogie Peaks, and so we headed in the direction clearly labelled “Easiest Way Down”. With only a few lessons under our belts, green run Ole K&P challenged us. The drops and curves were steep and sharp, but just when you think you’re about to bail, the run flattens out so you can catch your breath. Isaac and Kevin tumbled a few times from taking corners too fast, but I managed to stay upright from being overly cautious all the way to the bottom of the hill.
For cautious adults like my husband and myself, the beginner runs boosted our confidence as fledgling skiers. For confident children like my son (who despite his Prairie genetics, seems to be a natural), they offered enough of a challenge to keep him interested in speeding down, time and time again.
My only wish is that there was more signage on the trails. Isaac, thinking that he was headed down another beginner trail, almost ended up on a Black Diamond slope that wasn’t marked. And while we knew that there were a few more runs off Ole K&P that we wanted to explore, without signage we didn’t want to accidentally end up on a run beyond our skill set, so we stuck to the same run all day.
If you work up an appetite on the slopes, you have a few dining options available to you. Inside the Adventure Centre, you can tuck into homemade burgers, poutine, fries, sandwiches and canned drinks at the Mountain Cat Cafeteria or Black Donald’s Pub. I recommend taking the short walk to Canthooks Restaurant, located in Calabogie Resort. Canthooks — the name pays tribute to the region’s logging history — offers discerning diners fresh salads, flavourful sandwiches, and innovative burgers for lunch. If your ski adventure extends to the dinner hour, choose dishes like spicy jambalaya, Thai noodle bowls, AAA steaks, or pan-seared pickerel.
Calabogie Peaks offers a full range of winter activities for families: Skating on the pretty mountainside pond, a challenging terrain park for snowboarders, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The Manitou Trails wind their way around Calabogie Peaks and offer stunning scenic views (be prepared to work hard, these trails take you up the mountain!). Across the road from the resort is the trail head for the Madawaska Nordic Ski Club, where you’ll find 26 kilometers of impeccably groomed cross-country ski trails (daily permits are only $2). Snowshoes and cross-country skiing equipment can be rented at Calabogie Peaks.
With the Canadian Ski Council’s SnowPass, Grade 4s and 5s can ski at participating resorts for (almost) free all winter long. And if you’re not near Calabogie Peaks, but want to go on a family ski trip, go to Ski Canada to find a hill or mountain near you.
Our review was made possible thanks to Calabogie Peaks, who provided complimentary rentals, lift tickets, and lunch as part of their #MyDayAtCalabogie initiative. Thank you to the staff for their hospitality.