This post is also available in: German
In the words of Professor Farnsworth: Good news everyone! The ski season is here and the slopes at Marmot Basin in Jasper are ready to be tamed.
You should probably know that I’m not a very sporty person. Yes I admit it, I can be quite the couch potato at times, especially when the weather is less than stellar, or in the case of Canada, regularly somewhere in the -20°C area. Apart from dogsledding and getting to interact with some seriously adorable puppies, I also went skiing for two days at Marmot Basin in Jasper. Couchpotatoish as I am, someone mentions puppies or skiing and I’m going out there no matter the conditions or temperatures.
See, I LOVE skiing. Some even claim I was born with two wooden boards already strapped to my itsy bitsy feet. Exaggerated as this is, being Swiss and growing up right at the edge of the Alps did mean that I was put on skis as soon as I could walk and the passion has lasted.
So far though, I have been used to the incredibly groomed, pretty challenging high altitude runs of Switzerland. I was used to regularly dodging ice sheets and rocks popping up when the snow wasn’t plentiful that year and trying to avoid the crowds of locals and tourists alike that are bound to descend on the slopes as soon as it’s a nice day out. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to compare those experiences to skiing in Canada.
The first day on the mountain, it was snowing like crazy and it was freezing cold. But that day at Marmot Basin also turned everything I thought I knew about skiing upside down. Never have I ever seen so much snow, which was covering the slopes in over 80 cm of powdery fresh and untouched whiteness. Granted, there was currently a snow storm happening and that probably deterred quite a few people from hitting the slopes that day, but I’ve never before managed to be one of the firsts one down.
Which brings me to the second thing I learned that day: skiing in powder ins’t easy, but at least the falls are cushy.
As I pirouetted with one ski high in the air that showed I could have had a career in ballet and landed smack on my back, I decided that I had to revisit some of those how-to-ski-in-deep-snow lessons that I had learned as a kid, but never really applied all that much. In Switzerland, nice and deep powder snow is pretty much limited to dangerous off-piste skiing which I was never into.
Luckily, the lovely people at the Marmot Basin rental place had already equipped me with wide shaped skis and our guide Andi, who’s usually teaching ski school but had declared himself our guide to Marmot Basin for the day, had a few handy tips ready.
- Don’t ever ski alone and always have a buddy with you.
- Be aware of “tree wells”, which form big pits because the lower branches prevent snow from packing close to the tree. To me, this kind of sounded like the beginning of a horror movie. As I looked around at all the forested runs, I was glad that it was still a bit too early in the season for the danger of falling headlong into a tree hole. This is exactly why I like treeless countries such as Mongolia and Iceland so much, no such insanity as tree wells.
- Keep the skis on the same level and get used to the feeling of floating. I noticed that I needed to pay way more attention to my balance to make sure that one food didn’t sink deeper into the snow, causing the other foot to end up in the air and repeating my pirouette stunt from before. Even pressure all the way.
Check out the SkiLapse Brendan and I did up there:
My first day skiing eventually ended with some frozen extremities but some amazing new memories and experiences. After the snowstorm had cleared and the temperatures decided to drop even lower (seriously Canada?), we got the chance to ski again at Marmot Basin, this time in sunlight with a beautiful view of the Athabasca Valley and the mountain peaks spreading out below and around us. Most of the slopes had been groomed by then and I got to rush down the slopes at top speed this time. We explored most of the 84 ski trails and rode the ski lifts over and over again. Granted, some of them are old and probably could use some wind protectors and foot rests, but they did the job. Things aren’t hurried at Marmot Basin and that, combined with the lack of crowds, just is Marmot Basin’s charm.
Why you should go skiing at Marmot Basin this season
- Less tourists and less people in general: Marmot Basin isn’t located in the vicinity of any major cities. Calgary is about five and a half, Edmonton roughly four and a half hours away and there is no major airport in the area. These facts don’t make Jasper very attractive for day trippers and tourists just looking for a short stop along the way. Thus, at Marmot Basin, you get dedicated locals and those people who come to Jasper for longer than a day and intend to stay for a while to explore. In fact, Brian Rhodes from Marmot Basin’s marketing and sales team told me that the longest lines they ever get on a peak day are only five minutes long. On an average weekday, the only interaction you might have is with a tree. If you’re all for nature and against crowds, Marmot Basin is for you.
- Slopes for everyone: Marmot Basin is a bit more compact and smaller than other well known ski resorts in the Rockies, but that doesn’t mean you’re missing out on anything. Slopes range from green beginner runs to double diamond expert slopes, some are groomed, some go through trees, explore alpine bowls and for the crazy, there are all the jumps and rails.
- There is lots of powder snow: the Jasper area is known for receiving that nice dry snow, which is absolutely perfect for skiing. Get there the day after a snowstorm and you’ll enjoy empty slopes with the most beautiful powdery snow up to your knees.
- The wonderful birdseye view over Jasper National Park.
Where to rent ski and snowboard gear in Jasper
- Skis, boots, poles and helmets can be rented right at Marmot Basin. You can rent for several days and leave your gear overnight, which saves you from dragging it up the mountain every day. Having the rental place right next to the ski lift also allows you to exchange your gear quickly and efficiently if you notice something is wrong.
- Rent pants and jackets or buy anything else you might need for skiing at Jasper Source for Sports.
How to get to Marmot Basin from Jasper
- There is a shuttle running between the hotels in town and Marmot Basin, a service which costs $7 and picks you up right at your accommodation.
Where to stay in Jasper: great places to sleep
- Mountain Park Lodges – The Crimson: Newly renovated, the Crimson is perfect as the rooms are not only really nice and comfortable, but also offer a ton of plugins (for the electronics freaks among us), as well as a little kitchenette.
- Chateau Jasper: A fairly standard hotel in Jasper that has great value for the price. The rooms are a bit older but big and immaculate and there’s great wifi.
Where to eat: great places for foodies and beer lovers
- Evil Dave’s Grill: If the name hasn’t already convinced you, maybe the menu full of globally inspired “wicked food” will. The dishes have such creative names as Malicious Salmon, Hell’s Chicken and Malevolent Meatloaf. By the way, do you want that with some Unholy Water?
- Famoso Pizza: In a North American world where pizza usually equals more dough than anything else, Famoso is a nice Italian breather among all that thickness. Famoso offers authentic fire roasted Neapolitan Pizza famous for it’s thin crust made with the highly refined Caputo flour. The service is very unpretentious and ordering is simply done at the bar. I love the atmosphere in there.
- Jasper Brewing Co.: Are you up for some amazing local beer made of only the finest hops and malts and combined with pure, natural mountain water from the Rockies? If the answer is yes, the Jasper National Parks very own Brewing Company is waiting for you. Have a burger and beer with some friends and enjoy some sports game or another on one of the big TV’s.
- Papa George’s Restaurant: This is a great place dedicated to authentic Candian cuisine, complete with a cozy wooden interior and roaring fireplaces. Especially great for breakfast right before you hit the slopes.
- The Inn Restaurant at the Best Western: Who would have thought, right? But they have some wonderful food there. My tip: try the Buffalo Meatloaf filled with goat cheese and tomatoes.