Mar
24
2011

Skiing Marmot Basin in Jasper

Returning to her favourite “secret spot” after more than a decade away, Diana Coulter wonders if the secret’s out on Jasper National Park's Marmot Basin Ski Resort.

Perhaps, I should be honest from the start.

The truth is it’s tricky telling people about a spot that secretly, you hope will stay less travelled. To me, probably the best thing about Jasper and nearby Marmot Basin ski resort is that they’re still relatively unspoiled.

Keeping a Secret

Until recently, I was afraid this was no longer true. After years of loving the hush that blankets Marmot’s ski mountains in Jasper National Park north of Banff, I figured things must have changed.

My family had been overseas for almost a decade and I thought, surely, someone let the secret slip. Certainly in the past, I always did my best to preserve it. I kept quiet when folks from Eastern Canada or elsewhere sang the praises of Banff as they followed the throngs on ski pilgrimages there.

Instead, my husband and I would tip-toe out of our house (if that’s possible with children in tow) and head for the hills near Jasper.

Jasper National Park

Like many, we first learned about Marmot after moving to Edmonton. Back then, we were young single folk from Ontario, who only knew about Sunshine, Lake Louise, and maybe Nakiska. Somehow, Marmot was never mentioned. Then one day, we wandered that direction and were hooked.

Jasper is a quieter, gentler spot than many typical ski towns. There are still plenty of comfortable, even luxurious places, to stay, including its best-known resort, now called The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. (We loved this heritage hotel so much that we later married there beside one of its glacier-fed lakes.)

We also always appreciated the town’s variety of restaurants whenever we had a hankering for sushi, pizza, pasta or prime rib. It was all there, offered with generosity but not all the fanfare of pricier places.

Best of all, the ski experience at Marmot Basin was always more relaxed. No lineups for the lifts or parking lots. Plenty of untamed trails, glades, powder bowls, bumps and cruisers to explore. The snowfall didn’t disappoint either, with an average of about 400 cm per season.

Is the Secret Out?

So, it was with much trepidation that we returned, not only to show the children our old haunts, but also to check on their progress.

This time we travelled from Calgary, past Banff, along The Icefields Parkway, now recognized as one of the world’s most spectacular drives. (Really. Check countless travel guides. The drive offers priceless views of the Rocky Mountains, frosted lakes, glaciers and ambling wildlife.)

Jasper Maintains Altitude without the Attitude

As we pulled into town hours later, the main street was just as we remembered it: pleasantly rustic, yet elegant. Across the street, a train rumbled past on its cross-Canada trek. And a slow but steady snowfall blanketed everything.

Emerging from the warmth of small restaurants, eager skiers were staring up at the sky and clapping each other on the back, as if to celebrate their great find.

The next day on the hill was another perfect homecoming. With fresh snow nearly to our knees, who would complain? There were still no lift lines, but the resort had added the longest high-speed quad chairlift in the Canadian Rockies. The kids were thrilled to find a new ski and snowboarding terrain park.

At lunch, the fare seemed fancier at the upper chalet, where salmon, sushi and such dishes as chicken creole were offered alongside fries and such. But Marmot Basin’s current slogan summed it all up pretty well: “Altitude with no attitude.”

Later, we wandered among stately cabins at Jasper Park Lodge, pointed out our wedding site, and took a few turns around the skating oval on Lake Mildred before sipping hot chocolate by the bonfire there.

Quite honestly, it was all pretty much perfect, just as we remembered, and such a great relief. Because for us, much of Jasper’s charm is that it doesn’t change too much. But please, don’t tell anyone.

Photos courtesy of Marmot Basin
 

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