Jasper National Park in Winter
Winter is certainly a quiet time in Jasper National Park, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of things to do. Marmot Basin offers world-class alpine skiing; many snow-covered hiking trails are groomed for cross-country skiing; portions of Lac Beauvert and Pyramid Lake are cleared for skating; and Maligne Canyon is transformed into a magical, frozen world. Hotels reduce rates by 40 to 70 percent through winter, and some offer lodging and lift tickets for around $100 per person.
The skiing at Marmot Basin (780/852-3816 or 866/952-3816, www.skimarmot.com) is highly underrated. A huge injection of cash in recent years has meant even better facilities are offered, with the Canadian Rockies Express being the longest detachable quad in Alberta. Lifts now take skiers and boarders into Charlie’s Basin, a massive powder-filled bowl, and to the summit of Eagle Ridge, which accesses open bowls and lightly treed glades of two other mountain faces. Local Joe Weiss saw the potential for skiing in the basin in the 1920s and began bringing skiers up from the valley. A road was constructed from the highway in the early 1950s, and the first paying skiers were transported up to the slopes in a snowcat. The first lift, a 700-meter (2,300-foot) rope tow, was installed on the Paradise face in 1961, and the area has continued to expand ever since. Marmot Basin now has nine lifts servicing 680 hectares (1,675 acres) of terrain with a vertical rise of 900 meters (2,940 feet). The longest run is 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles). Marmot doesn’t get the crowds of the three alpine resorts in Banff National Park, so lift lines are uncommon. The season runs early December to late April. Lift tickets are adult $78, senior and child $64. (Throughout Jasper in January celebrations, adult tickets are just $52.) Rentals are available at the resort or in town at Totem Ski Shop (408 Connaught Dr., 780/852-3078).
For many people, traveling Jasper’s hiking trails on skis is just as exhilarating as on foot. An extensive network of 300 kilometers (185 miles) of summer hiking trails is designated for skiers, with around 100 kilometers (62 miles) groomed. The four main areas of trails are along Pyramid Lake Road, around Maligne Lake, in the Athabasca Falls area, and at Whistlers Campground. A booklet available at the park information center details each trail and its difficulty. Weather forecasts and avalanche-hazard reports are also posted here.
Rental packages are available from Source for Sports (406 Patricia St., 780/852-3654) and Totem Ski Shop (408 Connaught Dr., 780/852-3078).
Maligne Canyon Ice Walk
By late December, the torrent that is the Maligne River has frozen solid. Where it cascades down through Maligne Canyon, the river is temporarily stalled for the winter, creating remarkable formations through the deep limestone canyon. Jasper Adventure Centre (306 Connaught Dr., 780/852-5595) offers exciting three-hour guided tours into the depths of the canyon throughout winter, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. daily; adult $60, child $30.