Switching Gears

A handful of resourceful Ontario resorts adapted marvelously to unseasonably mild weather during the December holiday season.

Playing shuffleboard at Fern Resort.

Playing shuffleboard at Fern Resort.

In business, if life serves up a lemon, make lemonade. During the recent December holiday season, a number of Ontario resorts made lemonade when the weather gods handed them a gigantic lemon, in the form of unseasonably mild, spring-like temperatures.

At Blue Mountain Resort, in Blue Mountains, the team responded by opening its three ziplines and by making its Ridge Runner gravity-fed rollercoaster operational.

To its credit, the resort communicated proactively with incoming guests, in case they wanted to modify their stays, said director of sales Mark Rich. Customers appreciated the communication and the fact that the property offered alternative options that helped them enjoy their stay. The resort’s lodging numbers from Dec. 18 to Jan. 2 were “very solid,” he said.

Moreover, the resort relaxed its cancellation policy to same-day. If a guest cancelled, he/she received a 365-day credit (on all prepaid deposits) to return to Blue Mountain. Guests with pre-booked ski packages wishing to continue with their visit to Blue Mountain were allowed to remove lift tickets with full credit while retaining the discounted accommodation rate. Online travel agencies’ booking cancellation policies, however, were maintained, since “the purchase was coordinated through a third party,” said Rich. 

Sleigh ride at  Elmhirst Resort.

Sleigh ride at Elmhirst Resort.

Guest feedback for the resort’s relaxed booking policies “was very positive, with the vast majority of guests appreciating the company’s recognition of these unusual weather conditions. As of today (late January), many guests have rebooked or returned to enjoy winter at Blue Mountain.”

Fern Resort, a 105-room property just outside Orillia, offered shuffleboard and mini-putt; family hikes on its wooded trails; and opened its covered, outdoor pavilion housing three trampolines, said president Mark Downing. Some guests played the resort’s regulation golf course (after asking permission), with particularly hardy souls even donning bathing suits on Christmas Eve to take a quick dip in Lake Couchiching.

Occupancy for this holiday season was up 15 per cent year-over-year, according to Downing, a fact he said is more attributable to the low Canadian dollar.

Blue Mountain Resort's Ridge Runner.

Blue Mountain Resort's Ridge Runner.

At Bayview Wildwood Resort, just north of Orillia, the team got creative. Instead of the regularly scheduled snowman building competition, the property offered an arts ’n’ crafts version employing rice-filled socks, elastics and felt pieces, said guest services manager Jason Stanton. The planned winter games morphed into “winter-ish games,” held near the ski shop, featuring guest activities such as carrying marshmallows (on a spoon) from the ski shop to the bar, and roasting marshmallows over an open fire. “Guests loved it,” said Stanton.

In addition, Bayview Wildwood made bicycles available, as well as horseshoes and bocce balls (for tournaments). Stanton said the resort experienced its best December holiday season since 2010, which he attributed to the low dollar, closure of some Ontario resorts (due to the mild weather) and the fact that Bayview Wildwood “had something to offer guests.”

“The mild weather was a mixed blessing, since people expect winter during the holidays,” said Ben Samann, general manager of Viamede Resort, on Stoney Lake, in the Kawarthas. Nevertheless, the property adapted, offering its brand new 1,000-square-foot indoor pool (offering a swim-out to the outside) that opened Dec. 29. But the most popular was the dog walks offered with Ben’s two seven-year-old golden retrievers, Toby and Daisy. Guests, he said, clamored to take the dogs for walks on the property’s wooded trails, and the steady demand kept the perambulating pooches very busy indeed.

Walks on wooded trails, pony rides, barn tours and horse-drawn wagon and sleigh rides (on the resort’s roads) were featured at Elmhirst Resort, in Keene, Ont., said general manager Greg Elmhirst. Guests took kite-flying lessons, held on the resort’s seaplane runway. Indoors, at the 14-seat cellar table, the resort presented wine tastings culled from the property’s 100-plus vintages. 

All of the resort’s recreation activities were well received, said Elmhirst, supporting his contention that resort business is event-driven rather than weather-dependent.