Wildlife take advantage of the Decoigne trails, so keep an eye out for all the tracks among the ski and snowshoe tracks.
While Marmot Basin is the main player in the park, it’s not the only reason winter users are drawn to Jasper.
Over the years there has been much effort to enhance the softer side of winter: Nordic skiing. A collaboration of Parks Canada (PC) staff and local cross-country skiing experts has resulted in the addition of the new Decoigne cross-country area. In 2014 money has been put into improving maps, signage and grooming for all 70 km of Nordic skiing in Jasper National Park (JNP).
The new winter hub of Decoigne sprang up somewhat hastily from a promise last year by PC following the much-anticipated Caribou Recovery decision. To compromise for the delayed opening of Portal Creek and other areas affected by winter back county caribou closures, Decoigne was resurrected as a new Nordic node.
To be clear, this is not a replacement for the Maligne Valley. Over yonder, the awe-inspiring area that offers unparalleled winter experiences is the subject of much discussion vis-a-vis the Maligne Valley Plan. Despite some wishful thinking that the alpine above Decoigne can be utilized for backcountry skiing, the cold reality is that its daunting distances, challenging terrain and inaccessibility would traumatize even the hardiest of skiers. However, while the unattainable alpine above will likely languish, the Decoigne area itself is a wonderfully serene addition to cross-country skiing in JNP.
Photo courtesy Parks Canada
Driving into Decoigne feels like stepping back into time. It is an area of the park that has seen many changes over the last 200 years.
Clunking over two lumpy railway tracks and along the spruce-lined road takes the skier to a parking lot with a warming hut and fire pit. Once called Dominion Prairie, the Decoigne area is a narrow corridor sandwiched between two mountains.
These peaks have been silent witnesses to early peoples’ movements — intrepid explorers, fur traders and railway surveyors all struggled to find a passage through the Rocky Mountains.
The great western silence is often punctuated with the clackity clack of railway cars and busy truck groans from Highway 16, but the soft slurping of the Miette River and the wind passing through the trees mellows and muffles the industrial noise.
Cross-country skiing at Decoigne is an uncomplicated pleasure. There is not a whole lot of glitz, glam nor gadgets, and that is exactly what Mayor Ireland confirmed, "I’m recovering from knee surgery and Decoigne is a perfect, no messing around, grab the skis and go”.
Parks Canada is attempting to create more winter-use hubs where a variety of winter options are available for all levels and abilities. Decogine’s main “spokes” follow either old railway beds or the corridor cleared for the pipeline for a combined distance of approx. 20 km.
Cheryl, a fit, local mom told me, “Decoigne is very handy when time is short and I feel like going for a quick blast on my skate skis”.
This new ski hub is shared with a plethora of wildlife, which, being savvy winter users themselves, are already using the trails as an easy route through the tight pass. Evidenced by the tracks they leave in the snow, the who’s who of the wildlife scene regularly enjoy their nocturnal Jasper lifestyles once the skiers have packed up for the day.
If wide-open mountain views, big skies and challenging terrain is more attune to your wax kit, then the other winter hubs of Pyramid, Athabasca Falls and the Meeting of the Waters might be more appealing to you.
But if you see yourself paralleling the Miette River as the sun dips into the western mountains, Decoigne’s scenic, simple and serene terrain might be the cross-country cruise for you.
For more stories and detail on Jasper check out our SnowSeekers' destination page.
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