It's not often one gets to wake up slowly at a ski resort. If the sounds of the early morning snow groomers don't wake you, your spouse, your kids, or others itching to score what skiers and snowboarders call "first tracks" usually will. Not so at Sir Sam's.
This sleepy little ski area in Ontario's Haliburton Highlands has the advantage of proximity to Sir Sam's Inn & Waterspa, a cozy, New-England-esque establishment on the remote shores of Eagle Lake, steps from the ski area with the same name.
Skiers at the couples' resort rise slowly to the sound of wood crackling in the fireplaces of their rooms or the smell of bacon or the chirp of winter birds. Pull back the drapes and they'll see the expanse of the lake, trees, snow, and perhaps a cross-country skier or someone snowshoeing on the trails. The lifts and the grooming machines on the ski hills out back are far enough away so as not to disturb. Taking a run or three on the slopes is tempting ... but not right away. The inn's bookshelves are stocked with novels and magazines, there are couches by the living room fire, the water-spa has an air lounger, deck fountains and a champagne grotto, and breakfast is being served in Two Fires dining room.
Once they get themselves outdoors, though, active couples will find a bunch adventures at the doorstep:
One of Ontario's few remaining family owned ski areas, Sir Sam's Ski & Bike (sirsams.com) was established by the Bishop family 48 years ago. Located between the towns of Carnarvon and Haliburton off Hwy. 118 East, the updated facility with fast lifts and smooth grooming retains its old-time feel. Sir Sam's has seven ski lifts, 14 fairly easy runs for alpine skiing and snowboarding, rental equipment and a chalet with huge windows and four fireplaces. The ski area's ace is a new covered surface lift that is simple to ride and protected from wind and snow. In short, Sir Sam's is a gentle place to learn how to ski or snowboard.
CROSS COUNTRY, SNOWSHOEING
Sir Sam's is also an all-round resort, with slopeside access to snowshoe and cross-country (XC) skiing trails. There are 100 km of trails maintained by the Haliburton Nordic Ski Association that are linked with the ski resort and the inn.
Sir Sam's second ace is its proximity to the unique Winterdance Dogsled Tours (winterdance.com), a 20-minute ride away on the wilderness edge of Algonquin Park. Tanya McCready and Hank DeBruin operate Ontario's only Iditarod and Yukon Quest kennel -- 150 happy Siberian huskies schooled in long-distance Alaskan sledding competitions. These dogs simply love to pull sleds.
Winterdance staff greets guests for half- and full-day tours. Once they've introduced them to enthusiastic pups (with names like Blitz, Zeus, Striker, Ellie May and Miss Jane), taught the fundamentals of driving a sled -- how to go, stop, slow down and stay warm -- and bundled everyone up with blankets and warmers for hands and toes, they're off. Tours snake through 2,000-plus private hectares of Haliburton forest, along frozen riverbanks and through stands of leafless hardwoods.
The silence is striking. While the huskies yelp and jump at the start of each journey, once on the path they fall silent. The most a musher hears is the swooshing sound of the sled at it glides through the snow. McCready says dogsledders commonly spot deer, moose and otter. Birds love to stop by the mushers' favourite campsite for a snack, where on full-day tours Winterdance staff cook up soup, burgers and pastries on an open fire.
All of these winter experiences -- dogsledding, snowshoeing, cross-country and alpine skiing -- are available individually, or in packages designed by Sir Sam's Inn. You'll also find information on Haliburton's winter offerings via Ontario Tourism's travel portal, ontariotravel.net.