With a history of attracting high numbers of British skiers and snowboarders Whistler, Sunshine, and Lake Louise remain the go to Canadian ski destinations for many UK wintersports fans. Scratch the service though and you can find some surprising ski gems in Western Canada's crown, with towns and resorts that offer experiences on and off the mountain that are both authentic and hard to find anywhere else in the world.
One notable example of this is Jasper, with its local ski area, Marmot Basin. Located just a few hours north of Banff, the drive from Calgary Airport takes you along the stunning Ice Fields Parkway - a 250km+ glacier filled winding highway, which has to be seen to be believed.
A UNESCO World Heritage site and first and foremost a working town free of pretence, Jasper's origins can be traced back to its fur trading days in the early eighteen hundreds. The fur trade has long gone, but a community of around 4,500 remains, surrounded by the glorious backdrop of Jasper National Park with its towering spruce and pine trees, icy glacial lakes, and wondering Elk & Caribou.
Winter in Jasper
Winter is low season in Jasper, so you're more likely to be rubbing shoulders with welcoming locals than highly strung tourists itching to get on the next lift. Lift lines are something of a rarity so on a powder day it takes a long time for the mountain to get tracked out. The resort is small by French mega-resort standards, but the sheer quality of varied and accessible terrain for all abilities more than makes up for it. Having the highest base elevation in Canada also means that you're more likely to be able to ski the full vertical on offer.
From resort base the aptly named Canadian Rockies Express chair whisks skiers and boarders to the top of the mountain in around 9 minutes. Once there, its time to choose from the multitude of options - trees, bumps, bowls, chutes, controlled off piste and terrain parks - you name it, it's all here. Many of the runs naturally filter down to mid-mountain Paradise Lodge and then on down to resort base. This gives groups and families the option of heading down in their own direction, safe in the knowledge that there's an easy meeting point somewhere on the mountain.
For those wanting a little more of an adventurous snow fix, Jasper serves up unlimited opportunities to ski and ride untouched powder. Rockaboo Mountain Adventures offer various options, with everything supplied and tailored to individual needs and skill levels. All you need to join one of their guided tours is a good general level of fitness, a sense of adventure and some experience of skiing or snowboarding in powder snow. Depending on your level you can expect anything from 3-6 powder filled runs on any given day, from steep and deep tree run to wide open powder bowls.
Away from the ski hill, there is plenty to see and do, from Ice Climbing at Maligne Canyon, to fat biking on the many trails, to relaxing in the natural Hot Springs.
While Jasper isn't famed for its Après ski, there are certainly enough watering holes of character to keep even a thirsty Brit happy. Everything is within walking distance and the traditional American grid pattern of the town makes navigation a cinch. The Dead Dog is worthy of note as the go to local's hangout. Much is said about the history behind the name, suffice to say that the locals will happily fill new visitors in! Just down the street the Jasper Brewing Company serves up an array of local brews and a hearty food menu. For something a little more up market head to Evil Dave's or Fiddle River for great food in a relaxed atmosphere.
Accommodation options in town are plentiful all winter long and the favourable exchange rate against the Canadian dollar gives us Brits more bang for our buck. The newly refurbished Chateaux and Crimson hotels are well appointed, not to mention only being a short walk from 'downtown'. Both offer good restaurants, with a Mountain Wellness day spa also available at the Chateau. A little further out of town is the outstanding Fairmont Park Lodge. The lodge has been through many changes in its near 100 year history, but the location on the shores of Lac Beauvert has always provided uninterrupted beauty. Today it is less a hotel and more of a luxury holiday camp, with charming cedar cabins dotted around the 700 acre property. These only serve to preserve the sense of understated quality and frees the resort of the kind of pretence found in many such 5 star properties. This setting also makes it that much easier to switch off, relax and unwind after a day exploring on and off the hill.
If you're looking for glitz and glamour and hundreds of miles of perfectly manicured pistes then perhaps Jasper isn't for you, but if you're looking for a genuine Canadian working town with history and heritage and some amazing skiing terrain then get yoursefl out to Jasper now - you won't regret it.
Direct flights with BA.com, AirCanada.com & Airtransat.com to Calgary starting at £450 return.
Flights to Edmonton with Iceland Air with stopover in Reykjavik
Sundog Tours offer scheduled or private winter transfers. sundogtours.com
Where to stay
5* Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge fairmont.com/jasper
3-4* Chateau Jasper mpljasper.com
The Crimson Jasper mpljasper.com
Where to eat & drink
Drink at the Dead Dog, Jasper Brewing Company & Whistlestop Pub
Eat at – Jasper Brewing Company, Evil Dave’s & Fiddle River
5 day adults pass - $424.50 (single day $95)
5 day child pass - $342 (under 5’s go free)
Longest run – 5.6km
7 lifts including 3 high speed quads
30% Novice – 30% Intermediate – 20% Advanced – 20% Expert
Groomed runs, trees, bumps, alpine bowls, chutes and two terrain parks.
Grid pattern and easy to navigate on foot.