To the north of the well-known Banff National Park is the quieter, wilder, Jasper National Park – home to the resort of Jasper and the ski area of Marmot Basin. I was lucky enough to spend some time exploring this area on my recent trip to Canada back in November. You can read more about my first 24 hours in Jasper in my earlier post. I’m pleased to say this little town has already added it to my list of places I’d love to go back to. For friendliness, straightforward small-town charm, immense natural beauty, a stay in Jasper is hard to beat. Reached from Banff via highway 93, known as the ‘The Icefields Parkway’, this is one drive you certainly won’t forget in a hurry. With huge chunky mountains like giants’ molars on either side, punctuated by eerie blue glacial ice, this is one of the most stunning drives in the world, making the 287km from Banff a pleasure to drive. Jasper National Park is actually larger in size than Banff National Park, covering an area greater than Banff, Yoho and Kootenay Parks combined. With more space and less development, the whole place feels a lot more wild and remote than Banff and Lake Louise. The only settlement in the National Park is the town of Jasper, which is about half the size of Banff in terms of population, with just 4,500 people living here during the winter season. With a small-town friendly atmosphere, this is a big contrast to the bright lights of Banff. Everyone in town knew who we were after just 24 hours in the resort, it’s that kind of place where news of new faces travels fast, and everybody knows everyone else. Jasper’s got the feel of a frontier town, with a windswept main street dotted with pick-up trucks and wooden fronted buildings, there’s even a totem pole in the centre of the town. The town sprung up due to the building of the railways across the Canadian Rockies, forging through to the Pacific coast. You’ll hear the dull ring of a train’s bell on the locomotive as it trundles through the town on its long journey, all adding to the atmosphere. ‘Wonderful by Nature’ is the strap-line of Jasper’s marketing literature, and I certainly can’t disagree. Walking through Jasper’s main street you are likely to come across the local wildlife as much as the local inhabitants. Encounters with big-horned sheep, moose and elk are common. And wolves have been spotted – though thankfully not very frequently. Talk of the town when we visited in November was of one resident’s dog that was snatched when out walking with his owner in the surrounding area. But then that’s part of the appeal. As any Jasperite will tell you, that’s why they love living here. “As soon as you step out of your front door, you’re part of the food chain”. And I have to say, this humbling yet thrilling thought appeals to me too, certainly putting things starkly into perspective.
Where to eat and drink in JasperBut it’s not all wilderness and survival tactics by any means. Jasper has plenty of places to eat in comfortable and luxurious surroundings. The majority of customers with Crystal Ski stay in Jasper on a room-only basis, venturing out on to main street for a meal or two during their stay. Breakfast at Papa George’s Restaurant is a must-do. This restaurant has become a Jasper tradition, having been here since 1925 and named after Jasper tourism pioneer Papa George Andrew. Have a wander about and look at some of the local art on the walls which is available to buy. And to eat? Nothing beats those traditional pancakes with Canadian maple syrup – simply heaven for breakfast. Although Jasper may be a small-town place, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place to party at night. Jasper Brewing Company brew their ales on site, and we can highly recommend a game of ‘flip cup’ or ‘beer pong’ as a method of making sure you get to sample plenty of the local brew (you can read more here). There’s also live music here at night – a great place to spend an evening in a typical Canadian style bar with the locals, ice hockey on the TV, beer in hand.
Skiing in Jasper – Marmot Basin
“For me, the best skiing can be accessed by taking the Eagle Ridge Chair and then heading down Sunset Boulevard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about an overcrowded street of LA but the amazing tree lined run that keeps the best powder in the resort, it’s ultimate bliss! And don’t worry if you find it too challenging, you can always catch up with the nearby blue run ‘Fresh Tracks’ or carry on into the ‘Diamond Glades’ for the more confident skiers and boarders. Have fun!”By far the biggest appeal of Marmot for families and mixed-ability groups is that it’s very difficult to get lost – as all the skiing is on one face of the mountain, with all runs eventually returning back to the main base by the Caribou Chalet. Families can set off for the day knowing that even if there is a difference of abilities, everyone will have plenty of choice on what to ski and board, and nobody will have a long journey back to base to meet up for lunch, or stop at one of the two chalets mid-mountain. Down at the Caribou Chalet is where you can find your ski rental in a huge depot. This is Canadian service at its best, with a speedy service, plenty of space, and knowledgeable staff. You can even leave your rental gear here overnight free of charge to save you taking it back down to Jasper which is a huge help (plus they dry your boots on their heated boot racks for you!)There is also a day care nursery (taking care of children from 19 months to six years of age), lift pass office and all the other facilities you’ll need for a day on the slopes. This includes the comfortable and friendly Charlie’s Lounge, Eagle Dining Room and Paradise Cafeteria, all built in an alpine log cabin style. We got treated to a delicious lunch here, with warming soups, huge tender pieces of chicken and tasty vegetables and salad – which all went down very well after a full morning of skiing. A word of advice – make sure you try the locally made cheesecake, it’s worth every single calorie!
With the entirety of Marmot Basin skiing being within the boundaries of Jasper National Park, there is a strong environmental ethos including recycling and sanitation, as well as strict controls prohibiting the on-site development of hotels and other dwellings. That has not stopped expansion of the mountain lift system however. Regulated to the same extent as a nuclear power station proposal, environmental and biodiversity studies have to be carried out before any expansion of the ski area is permitted. But even so, Marmot Basin have spent about $25 million Canadian on improvements to the area since 2003, including installing the longest express chairlift in the Canadian Rockies – the Canadian Rockies Express Quad Chair.