Haliburton’s Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride has it all and there much more to come

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Ontario winters are all about family, fun, and fresh air, and that’s exactly what I enjoyed this past weekend in Haliburton.

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The skiing was fantastic and the people were as warm and welcoming as a bluebird day. I spent two enjoyable days at Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride, staying at the historic, refreshed Sir Sam’s Inn and Water Spa, on the beautiful shores of Eagle Lake, both major employers and tourist attractions for the area.

One of the nicest families you’ll ever meet, the Bishops – Chris, JD, Steve and Angie – have just sold Sir Sam’s after 55 years of ownership.

“It was an emotional sale,” said son Chris. “We grew up here, helping my parents with the resort.”

But it was time for the family to move on after the passing of their parents a few years ago. The new owners, the Wilkson family – headed by likeable Toronto chartered accountant Doug Wilkinson – have been local cottagers and skiers the past 15 years.

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It was a quick transaction after Doug heard the property might be for sale.

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“It was a natural for my family to purchase the resort because we love it that much,” said Doug who has an ambitious vision along with impressive plans for the property which are already underway. I have renovated the main level of the chalet with a new restaurant, Rhubarb on the Hill. A popular dining name in the area where you are greeted by a host at the massive, tastefully done restaurant that still feels like a country chalet.
There’s new carpet, fresh paint, an expanded kitchen, more staff and my favorite, a sit-down bar overlooking the hills.

I’m happy to say, Ontario’s largest sun deck remains the same with picnic tables and Muskoka chairs to relax and soak-up the sun along with beverage stations still serving famous Sir Sams Caesars and local craft beer. For a quick snack and beverage there’s a new takeout window and BBQ shack near the front entrance. The chalet menu is fun, starting your day at 9 am with a “Sunrise on the Hill” breakfast then a great variety for lunch, including “Ski Hill” made soups, Sir Sam’s burgers and Warm Me Up Sam chilli with Coneybeare Beef. What I really like though, is that it’s also an Apres spot with lifts closing at 4:30 pm

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The 14 trails are spread over two connecting hills and incredible views of Eagle Lake with a great variety from beginner to advanced. There’s six lifts including an unusual covered carpet ride for beginners called the Time Tunnel. The snow is unlike any other, more natural snow with drier colder temperatures and less man-made snow. The Bishops’ call it Velvateen, it’s smooth and soft with effortless carving.

I enjoyed a few runs with Snow School Director, Mike Zapfe who made a great observation about the recent surge in skier interest.

“It’s all about social media, new skiers are posting photos and showing others how much fun they’re having,” he said.

I also enjoyed reminiscing on a ride in the Cat groomer with JD Bishop.
Doug Wilkinson is all about community and giving back,

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“This is just the start of the new Sir Sam’s with a busy ski season,” he said. “It’s fairly quiet in the summer months with mountain biking so I’m opening the chalet and property to the community for weddings, conferences and large celebrations.”

Doug also wants to welcome differently-abled skiers and those less fortunate.

He believes in community involvement and wants to work with local businesses to possibly partner on new projects. He’s also hinting at the possibility of a hotel down the road along with a hill-top viewing tower and incredible views of Eagle Lake.

“We’re just getting started with the best yet to come,” said Wilkinson.
If you’re looking for a cool spot to stay, I highly recommend Sir Sam’s Inn and Water Spa, a five-minute walk from the hills, another perfect spot for weddings looking over Eagle Lake.

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“It’s adults only, and with last seasons COVID shutdowns we got busy, refreshing the rooms, many with real wood burning fireplaces, balconies, perfect couples suites and two story lakeside cabins,” said marketing director Jon Massey.

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What I personally look forward to is their unique Water Spa in a large heated indoor pool. Enjoy the unique Hydra water circuit that takes roughly 45 minutes to complete followed by a massage in their spa.

The Inn’s general manager Steve Rowell says that along with the romantic atmosphere, executive chefs serve up daily specials and amazing local dishes. They also offer a special stay and play package that includes luxury accommodation, a full breakfast, gourmet dinner and a lift ticket for a perfect couples getaway or Valentines.

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As for Haliburton hospitality, it’s right from the heart. I needed a local charging station for my Newstalk Audi Etron Snowcruiser. The day before leaving, I called the local taxi company explaining my situation and quickly owner Martin Grant of Hyland Taxi took over, picking me up and giving me all the information I needed.
“I’ll do anything to help promote the area,” he said.

He led me to Curry Motors just outside of Haliburton where I was helped by the friendly general manager Bob Bullock.

Haliburton doesn’t have the flash of Muskoka but residents are OK with that. Both regions are equally beautiful, though Haliburton is quieter and full of unassuming famous musicians, professional athletes and celebrities.
I can’t wait to return knowing everything remains in very good hands with people like Doug Wilkinson, The Wilkinson Family, Jon Massey, Martin Grant, Steve Rowell, Mike Zapfe and of course the entire Bishop family, who will finally get to enjoy the fruits of their labour, skiing Sir Sams Ski and Bike… the resort they built.

Glenn Crouter is a ski reporter for Newstalk 1010, local Ambassador for the Canadian Ski Council and new podcaster with, Head to the Hills with Glenn Crouter and Dave Trafford heard Friday mornings on I Heart apps, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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