Gliding through the forest following the ski instructor, as we cross from the mountain shadows into a burst of sunlight and open slopes, brings a vivid spark of joy. This is winter at Marmot Basin ski resort, just outside the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park, Alberta. With most Canadians staying closer to home, an outdoor getaway exploring Canada’s magnificent natural areas can be a wonderful travel option this winter.
Jasper Marmot Basin
Skiing has always been a great sport for families because it allows you to spend time together. “Hopefully more people take it up this year,” says Marmot Basin business development manager, Roger Baydock. “This is a great year to take up skiing because it allows families to be together and enjoy outdoor recreation. At Jasper Marmot Basin, we have lots of slope space, and many areas for all abilities – anywhere from a learning environment, to the expert runs.”
Marmot Basin is known as a very family-friendly ski area. The way the resort and lifts are designed allows families – even if everyone skis or snowboards at different levels – to go up the same lift together. They might choose to take a different run down but can easily meet up at the bottom of the lift to go up again together.
“Skiing is an individual sport, but at the same time, you can share your experiences with the rest of your family. You can do it all together and learn, share and enjoy,” says Marmot Basin Snow School instructor, Zac Abrahamson.
Marmot Basin’s terrain is 60 per cent novice and intermediate, and 40 per cent expert and advanced. “There is something for everyone here,” Baydock says. “The diverse terrain at Marmot Basin is great for everyone. We have some great learner areas. We’ve got some very professional certified staff to teach people.”
Another major plus, he adds, is the convenience of parking and being able to ski almost right from your vehicle. You can easily return to your vehicle to pick up anything you might need, and “have lunch from the security of your own vehicle. Easy access to your vehicle from the beginning of the day right to the end is pretty rare with ski areas.”
Marmot Basin is much less crowded than many other Rockies resorts, Baydock notes, especially if you visit during the week, and generally, there is no waiting in line.
“We are spoiled – every day is a magic day here,” he says.
As far as access goes, Marmot Basin is located 20 km from Jasper townsite, “which has all the amenities you can hope for in a ski town, with a variety of accommodations and food services.”
Typically, it’s mostly Edmontonians who ski at Marmot Basin. Once Calgarians and other southern Albertans do make the trek here, they usually come back, Baydock says.
If you’ve never visited Marmot Basin, “we’d love to see (you) come up here. Maybe this is the year to do it. Make it a two- or three-day trip and take it all in.”
With the highest base elevation of any major ski resort in Canada, at 1,698 m (5,570 feet), winter typically comes early to Marmot Basin and stays until early May. This year, the resort anticipates its season will extend until Sunday, May 2, 2021.
“We make it very affordable for everyone to come skiing with the Marmot Escape Card,” Baydock says. When you purchase the Marmot Escape card ($79 plus GST) guests ages 13 – 79 can purchase a regular price, full-day lift ticket for half price every day at Marmot Basin and up to half price at eight other ski areas in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan. There are no blackouts. The Marmot Escape Card is available all season, online, in person at Marmot Basin, ski shops and the Alberta Motor Association. In addition, card owners’ children, ages 6 – 12, receive 20 per cent off the full-day junior ticket rate. Guests under age 6 and age 80 and up ski or snowboard for free.
All COVID-19 protocols are in place at Marmot Basin.
In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Jasper offers a variety of other winter activities:
You can go exploring on snowshoes. One of the most popular places for snowshoeing in Jasper is the Maligne Lake area, which typically enjoys consistently good snow.
And, for a true alpine experience, you can go snowshoeing at the top of the Jasper Skytram, seven km from Jasper, from late March through early May. “You can get to the very top of the mountain. It’s really exciting,” Baydock says.
And there is outdoor skating – “a great Canadian activity,” Baydock notes – on Mildred Lake at Jasper Park Lodge and at Pyramid Lake, by Pyramid Lake Resort.
Pyramid Lake Resort, Jasper
Alpine cosiness meets upscale style and modern comfort at Pyramid Lake Resort, overlooking Pyramid Lake’s shores, just six km north of Jasper townsite. This is an absolutely spectacular location, and it feels like your own private lakeside getaway. The guest chalets are a short way up the hillside at the forest’s edge, and parking is convenient. (Please note there will be steps to negotiate). Rooms feature all the amenities to ensure a comfortable stay, including a river rock fireplace to snuggle up beside when you’re winding down after the day’s adventures. Pet-friendly rooms are available.
All COVID-19 protocols are in place at Pyramid Lake Resort. Currently, the resort restaurant, The Pines, is open on weekends – breakfast Saturday and Sunday, and dinner Friday and Saturday. Another option: Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen will deliver.
The Pyramid Lake Resort gift shop offers snacks and souvenirs for purchase, including s’mores kits, which you can enjoy at the lakeside firepit; and complimentary coffee, tea, hot chocolate and muffins.
Pyramid Lake Resort is offering the following incentives for travellers (Winter 2021):
- FREE breakfast for Albertans (Saturdays and Sundays for up to two adults);
- Stay 4 + nights and save 20%;
- Marmot Basin season pass and Marmot Basin Escape Cardholders save 20%.
Being close to nature is a huge bonus when you stay at Pyramid Lake Resort, with activities available right outside your front door. There is skating on the lake, with skate, snowshoe and fat bike rentals available.
A five-minute drive down the road is Pyramid Lake Island. You can walk to the island on a boardwalk, and revel in the views of Pyramid Mountain and the surrounding peaks. This is also a great place for star watching (Jasper is the world’s second-largest Dark Sky Preserve). The Pyramid Lake area also offers cross-country skiing, which is a great way to experience Jasper National Park’s beauty. And as Baydock notes, “Nordic skiing is a sport you can do as a family.”
The Jasper area offers a variety of cross-country ski trails. South of town, towards Marmot Basin, the 3.5-km (one way) track-set and groomed trail to Leach Lake is another good cross-country ski destination. Rated moderate, this is a very gentle uphill track through a peaceful forest that opens up to serene views of the lake and snowy mountains. The gradual downhill makes the return trip quick and fun.
Check https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/jasper/activ/activ-experience/sentiers-trails/etat-sentiers-trail-conditions for trail conditions.
If you aren’t into skiing, the Maligne Canyon Icewalk is very family-friendly and a wonderful, unique winter activity when you’re visiting Jasper.
Finally, what makes Jasper special is the wildlife – you have a good chance of spotting wildlife close to town. We saw several groups of elk, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in and around Jasper townsite on our trip.
Hinton Nordic Centre – William A. Switzer Provincial Park
The winter fun continues even beyond Jasper National Park. Head east to William A. Switzer Provincial Park, about an hour’s drive east of Jasper townsite. The Hinton Nordic Centre, a volunteer-maintained facility operated by the Hinton Nordic Skiers, with 35 km of track-set trails groomed for classic and skate skiing, is located at William A. Switzer Provincial Park’s south end, off Highway 40 and Athabasca Tower Road. Site of the 2015 North American and Canadian Biathlon Championships, the Hinton Nordic Centre offers a delightful mix of easy, moderate and more challenging terrain, with trails winding through rolling hills.
An added bonus: no crowds. It’s almost like you have the place to yourself on many of the trails.
Day passes are $10 per person; children ages 11 and younger ski for free.
There’s also a small tobogganing hill near the main lodge. Use of the tobogganing hill is by donation.
From Calgary, head to Hinton via Edmonton; and to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway, which offers magnificent scenery the entire way. Check the weather and road reports before you go, at https://511.alberta.ca/#:Alerts and https://weather.gc.ca/city/pages/ab-70_metric_e.html
The writer was a guest of Marmot Basin and Pyramid Lake Resort. They did not review or approve this article.