Marmot Basin opens new advanced terrain, plans Knob Chair replacement
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above: a ski patroller scouts the line into Marmot 2 right
Jasper, AB — On a recent March bluebird day, I stood on the narrow ridge line at the summit of Marmot 2, peering over the cornice into a 40-plus degree pitch.
For many years, this high alpine terrain remained closed and inaccessible to advanced skiers and snowboarders at Marmot Basin, in Jasper National Park. Something we could only dream about—until now.
As of March 2023, Marmot Basin has achieved a new feat that transforms how advanced skiers approach the mountain. For the first time in Marmot’s history, the ski area has opened Marmot 2 and a section of surrounding terrain which has been christened Marmot Cirque, adding to the black diamond and double diamond terrain within its domain.
“You ain’t in Kansas any more when you’re up there, this is big terrain, above treeline in the Canadian Rockies,” says Brian Rode, VP Marketing at Marmot Basin. “You’re not just skiing a manicured, cut run through the trees.”
We’re talking steep, high alpine bowls and chutes, punctuated by rock bands and regularly pocketed with untouched snow. Added to Tres Hombres, Eagle East, Upper Basin, Charlie’s Bowl and Cornice, the newly opened Marmot Cirque seriously ups the challenge for advanced skiers and boarders. And once the Knob Chair replacement is completed, currently projected for the 2023-24 season, it will be even easier to get into that terrain.
Being up on Marmot 2 that day, having traversed across the saddle, booted up around the remaining avalanche closure in the centre of the saddle, skied across the ridge line and up the final section to the peak, it felt momentous.
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“Felt pretty damn good,” deadpanned Kerry MacDonald. For Marmot’s longtime director of safety operations, and before that a patroller and avalanche technician, it was the culmination of nearly two decades for him.
“Looking at that terrain for over 20 years, where I would go and ski it, to finally getting up there and picking different lines because there are so many great lines to ski. Standing atop Marmot 2 centre fall line, looking all the way to the chalet, it’s just such a great view between your ski tips.”
Chronicling the history of this project in its entirety is one for the history books, but MacDonald sums it up.
“Peter Amann and his team first proposed it in 2003-04. The first step was getting Cornice open in 2005 and then a hut on the peak. We attempted to open M1 left in 2005 and again in 2007 but at the time it didn’t work out so we shifted gears.
“Once the Paradise opened, Tres made the most sense, so we stepped back from the cirque. After opening Tres in 2017, we looked back at the cirque again.
“For the last five years, we worked to develop our avalanche control strategy, manage the terrain, and start opening from M3 centre over, and then M1 left, the high traverse and the cat roads.”
And that’s the short version of what MacDonald describes as a three-phase plan that involved teams of avalanche technicians working on ski cutting, explosive and control work, and developing safety plans for terrain access and accident management, among other things.
But from a layperson’s perspective, what this all means is, new fun black diamond terrain to ski. So what can skiers and snowboarders expect?
“Really good fall line skiing from 200 - 500 metres long, open alpine, rocky terrain so lots of things to jump off, explore,” MacDonald describes.
As with other high alpine terrain in the Rockies, snow conditions will play a big role in how frequently the terrain is open and accessible, but now that it’s open, it is within the safety team’s mandate to manage the terrain.
“Just like the rest of our terrain, whether Tres or Knob, Cornice, Eagle’s East, Thunder Bowl, we have an assessment every morning, so terrain opens and closes based on ability, weather and conditions, and everything else.”
Meanwhile, says Rode, Marmot Basin is working closely with Parks Canada to assess environmental concerns and secure permitting to lay the groundwork to replace the old Knob Chair. The plan is to extend lower onto Basin Run and higher up the Knob, giving easier access to that higher alpine terrain, either traversing in or hiking.
For the immediate future, that leaves one simple step. If you’re an advanced skier or snowboarder and you haven't checked out the new terrain, you’ll want to go soon. Rope fencing and clearly marked gates make it clear where you’re able to safely access the terrain, so be sure to follow ski area direction.
Lastly, with all such terrain conditions can change quickly and the season is getting shorter by the day, so the time to get there is now.
When you go
Marmot Basin is in Jasper National Park, a less than four-hour drive from Edmonton via Hwy 16 or 4.5 hours from Calgary via the Icefields Parkway.
Marmot Basin lift passes
Marmot lift access operates on an RFID system, you can get tickets and reload them online. For repeated visits, Grab an Escape Card for discounts, or go all in on a season pass. Marmot is part of the Mountain Collective and the Powder Alliance, offering discounts and passes to other areas, as well as local Jasper hotels.
Each year in January, the town of Jasper celebrates Jasper in January, a two-week festival of community events, races, food tastings and a big street party! April 15, 2023 sees the debut of the Basin Ballet, a ski ballet competition in Jasper that is part of Jasper Pride. It's sure to be a wild time! Spring skiing in Jasper is some of the best with a season that runs until May 1, 2023.
More things to do in Jasper
From snowshoeing to cross-country to icewalks in Maligne Canyon, there's always more to do in Jasper beyond skiing and snowboarding alone.
Check out Tourism Jasper for info on activities, or continue exploring with more stories below!
More Jasper stories
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