A young Australian guy jumps in.
“Thanks man. I overslept and missed the staff bus.”
“No problem, you been here all season?”
“Yeah it’s been a blast. Wow, we’ve had some great snow and today is going to be a good one too. There is never anyone on the hill mid-week, we do get the Edmonton crowd in at the weekend, but mid-week, the mountain feels like it’s there just for you. ”
I drop my hitcher off and, after watching him run into the small base station, I drive up to the slope side car park. No one stays on the mountain here, which is fantastic, as unlike in Europe the mountain is totally unspoilt by over development. The short drive to resort, from Jasper, is trouble free, with most Canadians driving with great care, unlike the loons you often meet in the Alps. If you don’t want to drive you can take the $7 shuttle bus from down town Jasper, where all the accommodation is. Jasper (named after a fur trader called Jasper Hawes, and busier in summer than winter) is only a small town, but has a great vibe going on, and offers up all the bars and restaurants you’ll need. In fact, Jasper is so integral to skiing here that people often refer to ‘skiing Jasper’ rather than saying the resort name of Marmot Basin.
Unlike many of the ski resorts in Alberta and BC, Marmot Basin is well away from any other ski hill, with Lake Louise - a truly stunning, 3 hour, 144 mile drive down the Icefields Parkway - being the closest of note. As such, Marmot Basin is often crowd free, making the little extra effort taken to get here well worthwhile. Being so far north and boasting the highest base elevation in Canada, Marmot Basin not only gets great reliable snow but can often claim Alberta’s longest season; running November to May. Another great asset is that the 1,675 acres of mountain is very varied, with a near equal quantity of beginner, intermediate and advanced terrain, thus keeping everyone happy.
I’d come to Marmot basin for the ‘hike to’ terrain, which is some of the best in Canada, and, rather than waste time, I’d decided to get a guide to show me around. After a couple of piste runs, presumably to have my abilities assessed, we dropped into the Eagle East bowl. A lot of Marmot Basin’s ski area is within trees, and Eagle East is no exception. A steep bowl with tight trees to shred, there is an almost limitless series of lines to take in this challenging double black diamond area. Keeping pace with my guide through the trees, we switched sides of the resort, which is easily done as the lifts run diagonally across the mountain rather than straight up, as is normally the case.
Jumping off the fast ‘Canadian Rockies Express’ quad chair, we rode the very steep powder field beneath it at a good speed. With my tree and powder snowboarding deemed up to scratch, we headed for our first short hike, via the Eagle Ridge chair.
A short but steep hike led us up to Cornice, which as the name suggests, needs a lot of avalanche monitoring. 15 minutes later, of heavy breathing and slouching against a very cold head wind, I stood above one of the many rock chutes on a large face. The slope was steep enough that when standing on the top, it curled out of view.
“You take first tracks and I’ll follow you down. Just watch out for the odd rock as sometime the wind can expose a few here,” came my advice, shouted over the strong wind.
Dropping in, I cut left to where the wind had loaded the snow against a rock band and let loose in the deep stuff. The rock chute didn’t last too long and I was soon on a wide open shallower face, traveling at speed and very content to be out of the cold ridge wind.
“The great thing about Marmot is that because of its natural bowl shape, there is always a face that will be sheltered from the wind and loaded with snow.”
Next we headed to the Knob Chair, and once unloaded, hiked for around 25 minutes up to the top of Marmot Peak. The views from here across Jasper National Park were fantastic and, as the wind had dropped, we spent a long time soaking them up, before taking on the huge steep and open bowl that is the Peak Run - which, when conditions are right, is a world class face.
Add the ‘hike to’ terrain to the fantastic tree skiing, the rock chutes, the perfect pistes and the lack of people, and you have a top resort; maybe not the most extreme, but very challenging and yet still able to offer perfectly pisted runs for intermediates and beginners. As such Marmot Basin and the town of Jasper should be on your ‘must ski’ list.
Edmonton is the closest city and airport, 4 hour transfers can be organised through Sun Dog Tours for $99 each way.