Jan. 24, 2014
A long time ago, a Top 5 winter activity list in the Jasper area would have looked something like this:
5. Trapping small animals
4. Making a fire
3. Drying meat
1. Not dying
Even shortly after the Canadian government rolled into the Athabasca valley via locomotive with development on the brain, I couldnt imagine a Top 5 contained much more than the following:
Growing a warm beard
Not losing ones horse
In these softer times, however, our winter activities have evolved. Thanks to modern developments such as electricity, gas-powered automobiles and carbon fibre ski poles, the list of things to do to keep warm in a Rockies winter is vast. Here are my top picks for 2014:
1. Get the skinny on fat biking
Those fat tires will take you through almost anything.
Its true, biking in winter is no longer just for hipster messengers and those with DUIs. The recent spate in pedaling through powder has been ushered in by new technology, namely, wide-arse tires. Supported by custom frames and hubs, these fat tires are ridden at ultra low pressure8 psi compared to summertimes 35to effectively spread the riders weight out on the snow, not unlike a polar bears paw.
Trails around Jasper happen to be particularly suited to this new trend. Jaspers broad, U-shaped valleys have lots of options which arent too steep and an avid walking community means trails get packed down after each snowfall, effectively grooming the snow bikers playground.
Hop on a fat bike and see what everyones smiling about. Bikes available for rent at Freewheel Cycle or Jasper Source for Sports.
2. Take a walk through chandelier alley
Sure, youve seen Maligne Canyon in the summer, but have you checked it out during the winter? The canyon, a 10,000 year-old-limestone gorge, has been cut by the raging torrents of glacier melt, but in the winter the flow slows to a trickle. Its this trapping of time which makes the frozen formations so fascinating.
Photo by Nicole Gaboury
Sparkling waterfalls, echoing caverns, stoic stalactites and angelic ice formations are constantly re-created. In the case of the Queen of Maligne, the canyons pièce de résistance, icicles can be formed at an incredible rate of three metres per day.
Its best to hire a guide for the frozen foray into Maligne Canyon. Not only will they hook you up with the proper gearincluding the all-important ice cleatsbut also their interpretation of the icy palace will leave you with chills. For a guided adventure, contact Maligne Adventures or SunDog Tours.
3. Magical vistas, mega fitness
Just look at the smile on her face. Who would choose aerobics classes over this?
Is there a more aerobic winter workout than Nordic skiing? Maybe dog sleddingif youre the one being mushed, that is.
The bonus with the full-body sweat you get with Nordic skiing or cross-country skiing is that unlike hitting the gym, its actually fun. Even on relatively modest slopes, such as the slight undulations at Wabasso Campground or the swooping swerves near Moab Lake (on the Meeting of the Waters trail), you can get going pretty fast.
The scenery is always stellar, with options that take you alternatively along rivers (Athabasca Falls Loop), through open meadows (Whistlers Campground) or next to picturesque lakes (Pyramid Lake Fire Road).
If youre up for the ultimate uphill penance and pitchy payoff, test your threshold by ascending either the Pyramid or Geraldine Lakes fire roads. These adrenaline-pumping routes give new meaning to the term cross-country. Check the Parks Canada trail report for the freshest groomers. And go for a guided ski with Walks n Talks Jasper.
4. The best game you can play
It's the good old hockey game.
If its utter Canadiana youre after, why not put on your toque, your favourite bunny-hug, lace up a pair of blades and go for a skate on a frozen lake, eh?
Of all of Jaspers wonderous winter scenes, the sweetestfor this wistful writer, at leastmight be that of a game of pick-up shinny at sunset. Both Pyramid Lake and Mildred Lake, near the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, have great skating facilitiesincluding a rink for potential players and a plowed loop for those just wanting to do a lap.
Its a great place to hot-dog with your buddies or have a hot chocolate with your mom. Just remember the unwritten rule: no raising the puck while your girlfriends in net!
5. Ski (and hike) Marmot Basin
Why do many people make their homes in Jasper during the winter? Its not solely for the nightlife (with apologies to the many purveyors of our awesome nightlife)! From November until April, much of the community is connected by one question: Hows the hill? The hill, of course, is the ever historic and often unheralded Marmot Basin, celebrating 50 years of snow sliding this year.
The thing about Marmot isnt the fact that you can practically have the hill to yourself on a weekday (even the weekends are dead compared to most other resorts in Alberta or B.C.), nor is it that the hill boasts the highest base in Canadasurely an advantage during these climate-change-altered seasons.
Photo by Bob Covey
What makes me proud to call Marmot Basin my home stomping grounds is the high preponderance of hike-accessed terrain. There is always a fresh line to be had, if you are willing to work for it. Be it the Peak, Cornice, Thunderbowl or Caribou Knoll, if ski patrol has removed their avalanche closures, these are the first places Im checking out once the lift-accessed snow has been skied. The turns always feel better when theyre earned and during winter in Jasper, theres no place more exhilarating than at the top of a boot pack, anticipating your line.
For more stories and detail on Jasper check out our SnowSeekers' destination page.