Nestled up on the Niagara Escarpment just outside of Duntroon, Highlands Nordic bodes a winter wonderland of bountiful nature and beautiful views of Georgian Bay.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the family-owned cross country ski resort has grown to operate all year long. In the spring and fall, Highlands offers outdoor educational programs for school groups, with day camp programs for children running throughout the summer. In the winter, the resort has expanded to include snowshoeing, fat biking and both skate and classic cross country skiing trails.
“It’s become about encouraging people to find something they love doing outside, and then getting out and doing it,” said Kelly Sinclair, part owner and operator of Highlands Nordic.
Growing up, Sinclair was always outside. Her father and grandfather founded Highlands Nordic in the late 1980s as a place to celebrate and embrace winter.
“My sister and I grew up skiing, it has always been a part of our lives. Whether it was hiking or helping with the work, we were always doing something outside. Looking back, it was a lot of fun growing up like that,” said Sinclair.
But despite being on skis since she was little, it wasn’t until she was in high school that Sinclair really took to the sport.
“It was just one of those things, I thought just because my parents were into something, it didn’t mean I had to be. But then I started doing it more, and from then on I was hooked,” laughed Sinclair.
The resort has since been inherited by Sinclair and her mother, Pat Elson, and is currently run by her and her husband, Chanse Dionne.
Highlands showcases an expansive network of trails, with 24-km of cross country skiing, 7-km of snowshoeing and 8-km of fat biking trails winding over the Niagara Escarpment.
“Cross country skiing was my dad’s passion,” said Sinclair. “He wanted to get people out on snow and experience it, no matter what. Whether you were trying it for your first time, doing it for fun or racing competitively, he just wanted to create a place where people could come out and ski.”
The trails wind through picturesque forests, opening up to reveal breathtaking views of the lowlands area and Wasaga Beach in the distance. New this year, Highlands has introduced a 3km dog-friendly ski trail named Teal’s Tango, after the family’s beloved dog — the unofficial mascot of Highlands Nordic.
“Our main goal is really just to have people get out and enjoy the outdoors. My biggest pet peeve is when someone says they hate winter, but they don’t do anything in the winter” said Sinclair.
“It doesn’t have to be skiing or snowshoeing, but find something you like to do outside in the winter and I can tell you, you’re going to start liking it a whole lot more, but you have to make a little bit of effort,” she continued. “There’s no doubt sometimes there isn’t the best weather, but as the saying goes, there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.”
Despite the Sinclair family’s adoration of winter, the weather remains the resort’s biggest challenge. A few short weeks ago, the resort received almost 60cm of snow, but after a few warm and rainy days they are almost back to square one.
“That’s honestly the hardest part about all of this. Our staff is great, our facility is great and the people who come out to ski are great, the only thing that makes our job hard is the weather,” she said. “When we have good weather, it’s easy.”
Sinclair and her husband have spent endless days blowing sticks of the trails and grooming through muddy conditions.
“We work pretty hard to keep a positive outlook on it all. We can only do so much when it comes to the weather so you just have to roll with it sometimes.”
Highlands Nordic’s facilities include an 8,000 square foot cafeteria with baked goods, homemade soup and grilled cheese (a family speciality) as well as hot chocolate to help you warm up after your outdoor adventure.
The pro shop offers ski lessons and rentals for anyone from 4 years to 104-years-old. All you need to do is bundle up and show up, and Sinclair and her team will take care of the rest. The resort has also partnered with Kamikaze Bikes to offer fat bike rentals.
“We’re the local nordic experts. To us, our main job is introducing people to the sport and sharing our knowledge so that people are able to learn more and enjoy it more. We want to make everyone fall in love with winter again.”