How to keep your hair on in the hot tub

14th October 2005 at 01:00
The windchill feels like minus 24C, but with cosy log cabins, ski trails, stunning scenery and Canadian culture, Renata Rubnikowicz felt right at home in Newfoundland

We are the closest to Europe in spirit and in fact, " said Cathy, my Newfoundland neighbour at dinner. We were eating at Strawberry Hill, the most sophisticated restaurant at the new Humber Valley Resort at Deer Lake in Newfoundland.

"Of course, we have more moose than people," she added, immediately undermining her argument. "We have a culture here of which we're very proud. We realise where we've come from and it's you."

In fact, Newfoundland did not become part of Canada until 1949. I discovered this at the Newfoundland Emporium in Corner Brook, the province's second city. This is not so much a shop as a museum where you can buy most of the displays. It's a wonderful place to chat, buy homemade partridgeberry and bakeapple jam, and discover the texture of a traditional tarred sou'wester.

In truth, I was not that far from home. It's a five-hour flight from Gatwick and the time difference is just three hours. When we arrived at Deer Lake airport, they had just moved the fire engine out of the shed that's also used for passport control. New airport buildings are being built, just as the Humber Valley Resort itself is growing, but what's there already is delightful, welcoming and works just fine.

We stayed in a splendidly comfortable timber house set in two and a half acres of woods with a view of the mountains, the lake - and no one else.

With every mod con, a double-height living room, open fire and a picture window big enough for a cathedral, we might have been tempted to stay in.

But a five-minute bus ride took us to Marble Mountain.

As well as 34 trails for Alpine skiing, the mountain offers snowboarding on the largest terrain park and half-pipe in Atlantic Canada. The teaching, as so often in Canada, is excellent and encouraging, and there is a well-run creche at the foot of the mountain where small children can watch their parents hurtling down the piste. Wrap up warm: on our visit temperatures dropped to minus 7C, which with windchill feels more like minus 24C.

On the far side of town, overlooking Gros Morne National Park and the estuary of the Humber River, is Blow Me Down, a world-class cross-country ski park, where we met locals walking their dogs between the trees on the illuminated trails. It felt like we met everyone else in town later that evening at an ice hockey game in Corner Brook, a noisy local derby at which passions ran high and the players crashed into, and occasionally over, the sides of the rink. This is about as exciting as local nightlife gets; although there are pubs and clubs, it's not a place for glamorous apres-ski.

We tried some stick and puck action ourselves the next day, on a large frozen pond where the ice was thick enough not only to support several wobbly skaters but also a fiery brazier for toasting marshmallows.

One morning we tried snowshoeing with David, Humber Valley's resident activities leader and nature expert, who told us he has children as young as three building igloos. Another afternoon, we buzzed through the trees on snowmobiles, slaloming and slithering at a frightening speed.

David was also gangleader of the best activity of the week - a sledding afternoon on a long, wide, steep, virgin slope not far from our house. In summer, this is one of the fairways of the 18-hole golf course hidden among the trees, but in winter, covered with soft snow, it was perfect for whooshing down headfirst and getting a faceful of snowflakes.

There is only one way to finish a day like that: in the hot tub on the deck outside your own chalet, watching fat flakes of snow drop into the steamy water while sipping a glass of Canadian sparkling white. Of course, you have to keep your ski hat on - it stops your hair from freezing.

Barwell Leisure flies a weekly charter flight on Astraeus Airlines direct from Gatwick to Deer Lake, Newfoundland and offers seven-night packages to Humber Valley Resort from pound;439 per person plus taxes (pound;54pp) this winter. The price includes direct return flights, complimentary Bucks Fizz on departure, in-flight meal and snack service, free carriage of ski equipment and self-catering accommodation in a luxury chalet. Equipment hire is also available at the Activities Centre at Humber Valley and can be arranged at the time of booking. Details: 020 8 786 3071; information: and from the Canadian Tourism Commission: 0207 389 9983;

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