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A cottage for all seasons

Sloane Cox, her husband Mark Munshaw and son Lincoln, 7, enjoy summers at the Bala cottage owned by Munshaw’s family.

But when they decided to buy a vacation home of their own, they looked not to cottage country in the Muskokas but instead to Collingwood and its ski hills. Cox and Munshaw are among Ontarians choosing second abodes in ski country — and not simply because of the slopes.

Cox’s family loves to ski and has been going to Collingwood for three years and she says the town — with its vibrant downtown, growing culinary and craft beer scene and many activities — has become “like a second home to us.”

“We love being there all four seasons,” says Cox. “You don’t get four seasons at Bala, as the cottage is water-access only. We can get to Collingwood from our home in Burlington in two hours door-to-door and it’s not the same heavy traffic as heading to the Muskokas.”

Their townhouse purchase closes in May and Cox anticipates they’ll spend much of the summer there and most weekends in winter. Her husband is a teacher and has summers off; her job as a vice president of human resources allows her the flexibility to work some of the time from home.

For just under $ 350,000 including upgrades, the family bought a new 1,326-square-foot townhome in McPherson Homes’ Blue Fairway for a fraction of the cost of the $ 1-million-plus cost of a waterfront retreat in prime cottage country. Their townhouse at Blue Fairway will overlook the Cranberry golf course and is just minutes from both the ski slopes and downtown Collingwood.

Collingwood realtor Christine Taylor has noticed growing interest in vacation properties from buyers coming from the Toronto area. “A family from the GTA recently purchased a two-storey, 3,000-square-foot home in a waterfront development here,” Taylor says. “The parents like fishing and the son, who is in his early 30s, likes snowboarding so the parents will use it in summer and the son will use it in winter.”

Real-estate prices in the area have gone up 11 per cent in the last year, says Taylor who adds she’s seeing multiple offers for the first time in the decade she’s been selling real estate. Prices range from $ 200,000 for a 950-square-foot condo to $ 1-million-plus properties with stunning views of Nottawasaga Bay and the ski hills. Taylor recently sold an $ 850,000 home to a 30-something couple who live in a condo in Toronto but will use it as a weekend place to give their young daughter a yard and other kids to play with on her street.

Jennifer McNally, 34, an urban planner who lives in downtown Toronto, grew up enjoying ski weekends. Her family, who lived in Carlisle, near Hamilton, bought a vacation home just over two hours away in small-town Ellicottville, N.Y. Like Collingwood, Ellicottville has grown into a four-season destination with restaurants, boutique shops, microbreweries, festivals and year-round activities.

“My parents raised four kids skiing and snowboarding, and it was all possible because it was accessible to us as a middle-class family,” she says. McNally and her father Chris, who has 40 years’ experience in the civil engineering and construction business, decided to develop their own project.

“We wanted to offer an alternative to ludicrously expensive apartments and found a plot of land on the northeast side of town that’s a five- to seven-minute walk to shops and restaurants,” says McNally. “As an urban planner, that was important to me — to be able to walk to shops and be part of the community. And it’s less than a 10-minute drive to the ski hill slopes.”

Their project, Glen Burn Trail, will have 37 townhomes priced from $ 250,000 (U.S.) (about $ 335,000 Canadian) for 1,500 square feet and a high standard of finishes.

“Ellicottville has always had an appeal for Canadians and Americans,” says McNally. “Our buyers have reflected that. We have buyers from Richmond Hill and another from midtown Toronto.” (Thirty per cent of real estate in Ellicottville is owned by Canadians).

She says some of the buyers so far (nine units are built and six have been sold) are initially attracted by skiing, but soon appreciate the four-season advantages.

“They can’t believe how much is going on,” she says. “The chamber of commerce puts on events in summer and fall, there’s a Sky High adventure park and mountain coaster and you’re 20 minutes from Allegheny States Park. There are paddleboarding lessons, kayaking and canoeing.”

In Collingwood, though Cox’s family loves to ski, she says they also appreciate the off-season attractions. “This year, we got into mountain biking, we do a lot of hiking and we go to the beach. And the restaurants and shops aren’t as crowded.”


Considerations before you buy