Hidden Valley Highlands and Deerhurst Resort are Muskoka gems

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Finally, it’s safe to say that winter is here to stay.

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Biting cold nights down to -34C, biting cold days in the ski area no warmer than -15C. It brought back memories of hard packed snow cracking under every step. The snow tires spin, almost squeal from the cold in the parking lots too.

I really enjoyed a great ski weekend at Hidden Valley Highlands, Muskoka’s only ski resort just 15 minutes from Hunstville. It was a first on the weekend for incredible snow conditions combined with sunny Bluebird days. Everything looked warm and welcoming from the inside, but we had to wait and be patient Saturday morning with temperatures reaching the -35 frostbite danger zone.

I waited until 10am, leaving our Deerhurst headquarters for the two minute drive to Hidden Valley. It was well worth the wait and we enjoyed the hottest part of the day with glorious sunshine and brilliant blue skies. It was almost balmy after the brutal early morning temperatures. Here’s a quick tip for cold weather: wear a sweater neck warmer, about $15 at ski shops, which can act as an emergency face mask and extra neck protection in cold, windy weather.

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Hidden Valley is a family-friendly gem in Muskoka, just a two-hour drive from Toronto. General Manager of Hidden Valley Highlands and Muskoka Ski Club, Andrew Rusynyk is now in his seventh season and doing a fantastic job. Rusynyk balances a true semi-private club with revenue-generating day-trippers who can purchase a ticket any day of the week, which is unheard of for private clubs.

Another initiative offered by Rusynyk is a one-year trial subscription for your whole family. The cost of $500 is very reasonable and if you decide to join it is deducted from an initiation fee of $11,000 which can be spread over time. Rysynyk was very surprised to learn that 80% of trial members had never skied before but wanted to learn.

Hidden Valley has a storied past, dating back to 1965 with founding fathers Bill Waterhouse and Ed Seagram. The chalet is quaint, comfortable and a decent size compared to many other resorts. The atmosphere is cozy and the chalet’s kitchen is open plan with a very good selection of comfort food, especially their popular cheeseburger with fries.

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I really enjoy Hidden Valley for a number of reasons including the small lift lines, friendly staff, friendly skiers and everyone proud of the club and how it looks. There are 15 runs, challenging beginners to advanced skiers with four lifts. There are three linked hills for different levels of skier, all with individual chair lifts and fantastic views of snow capped Penn Lake.

Another reason for the Highlands’ success is marketing manager Courtney Payne, who grew up in Hidden Valley from the age of two with founding member grandparents. She describes herself as a lifer from Hidden Valley, a former instructor and racing coach with a degree in ski resort management. Hidden Valley is blessed to have both Andrew and Courtney for today and their bright future ahead of them.

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As far as accommodations go, we thoroughly enjoyed our weekend at Deerhurst Resort, celebrating its 165th anniversary. It spans 800 acres, 400 rooms and can accommodate 1,000 guests. Deerhurst is famous for launching the career of Shania Twain and hosting the G8 summit in 2010.

I was very impressed with Deerhurst’s list of family activities. There are cross country ski trails as you enter the property filled with families all having fun. There’s a good-sized outdoor skating rink, disc golf, fat biking, snowmobile trails, an indoor pool, and their famous full-service spa.

There is a wonderful variety of accommodations, from rooms to condos to chalets. In 1896, customers paid $3.56 a week, including three meals a day. It’s a little different today as I enjoyed my stay at the relatively new Lakeside 2 condos with amazing sunrise and sunset views over Sunset Bay on Lake Penn.

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The four-storey building fits perfectly into the beautiful landscape and surroundings of the chalet. Each unit is very clean, well maintained and quiet with balconies for fresh air at any time of the season. It was also nice to sit outside with a ski jacket and warm winter sun on your face.

Each unit has a small, well-equipped kitchen, a dining area perfect for family cooking, and a separate king-size bedroom. I dined in my room every night due to COVID restrictions, but have enjoyed a number of meals in the main dining rooms before.

Make a reservation in the beautiful Eclipse Dining Room with spectacular views, offering an excellent variety of meals and creative specials for the whole family. There’s also a new weekend fondue night where you’ll have lots of fun cooking for yourself.

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Marketing Director Laura Kennedy has been at Deerhurst since I can remember. He is one of the friendliest people in the resort, always there to help promote the resort. She has been a strong creative leader for over two decades and tells me the future remains bright with new owners, Freed Hotels and resorts of Ontario.

You may have read the name Freed in my previous articles, owning two other iconic properties in Horseshoe Valley and Muskoka Bay Resort.

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“Winter bookings are strong with spring and summer also warming up,” Kennedy said. “Book your holiday now to avoid disappointment.”

I also took a quick trip to Huntsville to support the local economy to see a large light show, “Eclipse Walk with Light” at the historic Rotary Village Station at Muskoka Heritage Place. Thousands of interactive lights illuminating trees and historic buildings, synced with sounds and music for the whole family.

The resort town of Deerhurst and Hidden Valley Highlands play an important role in the community as major employers and tourist attractions. They set a standard that many stations try to copy but few succeed. Highly recommend for both family vacations or romantic winter weekend getaways. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, you won’t be disappointed.

Glenn Crouter is Ski/Lifestyle Reporter for Newstalk 1010 and Local Ambassador for the Canadian Ski Council

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About Brad S. Fulton

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