Horseshoe Valley is reaching new peaks with the latest activity focusing above the ski hill.
The current sale of two timeshare properties on a combined 28 acres to a Toronto-based hospitality and development company brings hopes locally that it will help boost the local tourism industry by adding hotel or other accommodation.
Meanwhile, across the way along the Third Line between the Old Barrie Road and Horseshoe Valley Road, the Finnish-inspired Vettä Nordic Spa, which has been in development for the past few years, has announced a September opening.
“I think it will have a huge, huge impact on tourism,” Simcoe County tourism manager Kathryn Stephenson says of the spa founded by a Barrie engineer. “This region will be the place to go, there is just so much to do.”
Tourism is a billion-dollar annual industry for Simcoe County, attracting on average nine million visitors per year.
While some aspects of tourism have taken a big hit during the past year, others in this area have proven a big draw as people seek to get away without travelling far.
Simcoe County is known as an outdoor mecca that offers all sorts of year-round adventures, with the more passive activities such as hiking and cycling accessible right through the pandemic, Stephenson says.
The spa, as well as the potential use of the timeshares as commercial accommodation, she says, complements the area’s existing and natural attractions.
Vettä Nordic Spa founder and president Eric Harkonen is positioning his $20-million project on 26 acres to become a top Ontario tourist destination and world-class facility. He points to demand: Ontario has just two outdoor Nordic spas — the Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain in Grey County and Cedar Meadows Spa in Timmins — while Quebec has 52.
“The project started six years ago,” Harkonen told BarrieToday. “It took over two years to find a property. We found a gem of a spot. The drive up the Third Line off Horseshoe Valley Road is very serene.”
The fully serviced site sits across from the top of the ski hill and golf course, which draw in 400,000 people annually, with Hardwood Ski and Bike, Mount St. Louis Moonstone, other amenities and many all-year trails nearby and is in close proximity for day trippers from the Greater Toronto Area and beyond with easy access off Highway 400.
Harkonen — with a lifetime of exposure to backyard saunas “like every Finn” — has drawn from his heritage to develop his vision, which includes two large wood-burning saunas, two smaller electric saunas with relaxation chambers, six hot and cold pools with different temperatures, a quiet zone, a social zone, a farm-to-fork restaurant that seats 200 with two patios. There are also 12 massage rooms, two of which are for couples.
The Finnish experience begins with the design of the premises with the help of Barrie architect Ian Malcolm, who was trained in Helsinki. The main building features a curved wall with a striking peak.
Harkonen says attention was paid to every last detail from beginning to end. And although the inspiration and some of the materials were sourced from Finland, the effort is largely a local one with designers and engineers coming from the area, he says.
The social aspect is important in the authentic Finnish experience, where connecting with others is considered important, Harkonen added, as are healthy food offerings.
A big difference is that although 30 per cent of the facility is designated as a quiet area, there will be no 'hushers' in the main areas which are common in some Nordic spas.
“It’s all about the experience — the important thing is to unwind,” says Harkonen.
The first phase opening this fall will accommodate 350 people, but is only using 5.5 acres, leaving plenty of space for future expansion as the market demands, with the potential to triple its capacity in the future and going to phase two with a separate building as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, details of the future of the nearby timeshare properties haven't yet been announced.
Carriage Hills and Carriage Ridge timeshares have been going through a liquidation process for much of the past year. There were concerns over operations given that up to 25 per cent of more than 11,000 timeshare owners were in default and not paying fees.
Last week, a court approved the sale of both properties situated around Horseshoe’s ski and golf facilities to the Sunray Group. The sale is expected to close in 30 days.
According to its website, Sunray’s founder has made a career out of “finding under-utilized, well-located assets with upside opportunity.” It owns and operates 53 hotels across Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland, with other projects in development.
“The opening of new accommodations in conjunction with Horseshoe Resort and the new Vettä Nordic Spa will make the Horseshoe Valley region a four-season destination for visitors from around the world,” says Tourism Barrie’s executive director Kathleen Trainor.
“There is so much pent-up demand to go on vacation and the opening of the borders this fall, Horseshoe Valley will be the place to visit and of course a visit to Barrie for shopping, dining and great nightlife," she added.