It was that end-of-season feeling – did I REALLY want to ski every day during my latest visit to the picturesque and feel-good Alberta ski resort of Marmot Basin? Or – at the risk of sounding a little ski-weary, did I want to see what else the local railway town of Jasper had to offer?
I wanted to get under the skin of Jasper. So often in a ski resort one thinks of little else but… well, skiing. So on this occasion, just for a change – although I did ski, honest – I thought I’d check out what else there was to do in glorious Jasper National Park.
Just getting here had been an inspiration. I’d come via Iceland which had broken the journey up to Edmonton really nicely. Now here I was in Jasper, when spring was just beginning to emerge (in spite of continuing snowfall allowing Marmot Basin to stay open till early May) and when bears were beginning to wake from their winter snooze.
So who better to help sniff out what the grizzlies would soon be munching than Art Jackson who runs Alpine Art Eco Tours. This guy knows his stuff. We combed the woods and forests for clues – luckily or unluckily we didn’t get to glimpse a bear: thanks to the availability of spawning salmon, Canadian grizzlies are even larger than their American counterparts!
We looked at plants and trees (some with trunks scarred by bear-claws) that provide them with as much as 80% or 90% of their nourishment. Plus the lairs of the odd, marmot-like ground squirrel they also munch from time to time.
We inspected Canadian buffaloberry shrubs (AKA soapberry), and learned that ants in rotting wood form another important part of a grizzly diet. As they emerge ravenous from hibernation, bears can chomp through 20,000 calories a day, sometimes doubling their weight soon after mid-summer.
Lingering on till after dark, in a “public wolf howl”, Art duly howled across a huge frozen lake to see if he could attract a wolfen response. He got owls – a Great Horned Owl in fact – but no howls. And then came the piece de resistance – and really you had to be there to enjoy the full sonic impact. Our group of would-be wolf spotters included Bernhard Schneider, General Manager of Jasper’s Mountain Park Lodges. Bernhard is Swiss, and yodels rather well. Completely unexpectedly, he unleashed a huge yodel across the lake, much to our amusement. But sadly there was no wolf yodel back.
Other things you can do in Jasper apart from ski: take a half day train excursion due west across Yellowhead pass, along the Fraser River, skirting the vast Moose Lake (seven miles long), past Mount Robson (at just over 13,000ft it’s the highest point in Canada) to the tiny community of Dunster.
Drive down the Icefields Parkway, a 140-mile stretch of truly spectacular road which links Jasper and Banff National Parks, with views of scores of spectacular peaks and the celebrated Columbia Icefield.
Do the Malign Canyon ice walk along the frozen riverbed beneath towering limestone walls through one of Canada’s longest cave systems.
As for the skiing at Marmot Basin – wow, I’d forgotten how good it is. The steep Eagle East runs were an eye-opener. Skiing Morning Glory and Hour Glass (just two of a dozen double blacks, including Face Shot, Terminator and Drop Zone) confirmed that no one can say Marmot doesn’t have something for everyone!
The resort was once known principally as a delightful small-to-medium sized area, which is ideal for families, but with little for hard-core skiers. Think again! The problem is that sometimes such reputations linger on even though they are no longer accurate. So forget Marmot’s “Nice ‘n’ easy” reputation – the easy slopes and the awe-inspiring National Park scenery is still there. But it has plenty of steep and deep too!
His “Ride the Steel Rails” train journey and the Maligne Canyon Icewalk can be booked with Sun Dog Tours.