En­joys a se­ri­ously cool ad­ven­ture in ma­jes­tic Al­berta

Harefield Gazette - - LEISURE -

Athe old feel­ings of ner­vous ex­cite­ment from my one atend­juom­n­ply come flood­ing back as I look down from the top of the Cana­dian Rock­ies with my heart in my mouth. I thought my days of liv­ing on the edge were over, but 25 years on from launch­ing my­self out of a plane, I pre­pare to ca­reer down Mar­mot Basin in the heart of the ma­jes­tic Jasper Na­tional Park, Al­berta.

This time, how­ever, I’m three times higher at more than 6,400 feet and I have my son, James, along­side me on his very first ski­ing trip.

At the time of my trip, I’m also shar­ing a rather big birth­day – both Mar­mot Basin and I are 50 years old. And, it has to be said, the old beauty is weath­er­ing bet­ter than me.

It’s hard not to sim­ply stand and stare at the thou­sands of miles of snow­capped pris­tine per­fec­tion that are laid out be­fore us on a cloud­less win­ter’s day. How­ever, ski in­struc­tor Stephane Wil­liams quickly brings me back to my senses and the three of us are off, glid­ing down the wide, open ex­panses with my heart pound­ing.

James is prov­ing a nat­u­ral, weav­ing this way and that be­fore carv­ing through the pine trees like a sea­soned pro, de­spite hav­ing only a few hours’ prac­tice at our lo­cal in­door ski cen­tre un­der his belt.

The dry, pow­dery snow that had fallen a week be­fore our ar­rival makes for some ter­rific fun. It is also a treat to jump on the Cana­dian Rock­ies Ex­press lift – the long­est high-speed chair lift in the Rock­ies – with­out hav­ing to queue at any stage in our week-long stay.

Mar­mot Basin may not carry the same glam­orous ap­peal of its more fa­mous Banff and Whistler cousins, but the nat­u­ral beauty of the place and lack of com­mer­cial trap­pings are part of the rea­son why almost two-thirds of Bri­tish skiers are re­peat cus­tomers here.

All the ski­ing starts and ends next to the nurs­ery slopes, mak­ing it an ideal place for fam­i­lies to en­joy the sport. And there’s lit­tle chance of get­ting lost, as I once did after go­ing down an un­fa­mil­iar run in the Ital­ian Dolomites two years pre­vi­ously.

It’s also pos­si­ble to come down from the sum­mit via a va­ri­ety of runs, from the eas­ier greens to the nau­se­ain­duc­ing dou­ble black di­a­mond runs, so fam­i­lies of mixed abil­i­ties can go up on the high speed quad lifts to­gether, choose one of the 86 slopes to travel down and then meet up at the bot­tom.

Most skiers stay in Jasper, a quaint, friendly town 20 min­utes from the slopes. It is, in fact, vir­tu­ally the only place to lay one’s head in a na­tional park the size of the Nether­lands.

Jasper is re­puted to have half the vis­i­tors of Banff, but with four times the wildlife, and I can see what they mean.

From our base at the renowned Fair­mont Lodge we see elk, coy­ote, big-horned sheep, stags and the friendli­est red squir­rels you could wish to meet. Dur­ing the sum­mer months, black bears roam around the town, at­tracted by the smell of sausages on out­door bar­be­cues, and there are also said to be around 1,000 griz­zlies in the park, as well as wolf packs. How­ever, at­tacks on hu­mans are ex­tremely rare.

The wildlife is fiercely pro­tected, with penal­ties for hunt­ing se­vere, so we have to head west into Bri­tish Colom­bia – an hour-and-a-half drive and one time zone away – to ex­pe­ri­ence that iconic pas­time of win­ter sports, dog-sled­ding.

Any op­por­tu­nity to travel through the jaw-drop­ping scenery along Yel­low­head Pass should be snaf­fled up. Our time passes by in a flash, even with a short stop to take in the beauty of Mount Rob­son, the high­est moun­tain in the Rock­ies. Sun­dog Tours guide Kevin Has­son re­gales tales of how the re­gion had once been more like the wild West than a sleepy back­wa­ter, with reg­u­lar cow­boy shoot-outs. It’s fit­ting that our dog sled trip should be called Moon­shin­ers of Whiskey Creek, although the clos­est we get to a shot of the hard stuff is a warm­ing cup of ap­ple cider over an open camp­fire.

Our ex­citable pack of six huskies sweep us deep into the heart of the spec­tac­u­lar Vale­mount coun­try­side. It’s another first for James and he rel­ishes the ex­pe­ri­ence, while I’m happy to bury my­self in the sled’s sleep­ing bag as tem­per­a­tures dip to a toe-curl­ing -30°C.

For­tu­nately, it isn’t quite so cold for another of our ad­ven­tures with Sun­dog, the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk Tour.

Ev­ery win­ter, the fast-flow­ing rivers of the Maligne Val­ley, a short dis­tance from Jasper town cen­tre, quickly freeze over to leave beau­ti­ful ice for­ma­tions, frozen wa­ter­falls and ice caves.

Guide Joan Dil­lon leads our group of heav­ily wrapped-up vis­i­tors along the two-mile val­ley – the deep­est ac­ces­si­ble canyon in the na­tional park – and ex­plains the causes of the rugged karst to­pog­ra­phy and the ef­fects of glacial ero­sion.

By the end, we have worked up quite an ap­petite, although back in Jasper we are rather spoilt for choice. We have al­ready sam­pled the de­lights of Papa George’s and Lou Lou’s Pizze­ria, not to men­tion the fab­u­lous break­fasts at Fair­mont Lodge, so we make our way to the Jasper Brew­ing Company.

It turns out to be one of the best de­ci­sions of the hol­i­day, with de­li­cious beer-bat­tered fish and chips washed down by ales that have been brewed in the pub’s base­ment.

After all the fresh air and ex­er­cise, I sleep like the prover­bial log that night – and dream of re­turn­ing with the rest of the Wilt­shire clan to this heav­enly part of the world.

Chris Wilt­shire was a guest of Travel Al­berta. Visit www. trav­e­lal­berta.co.uk for in­for­ma­tion on the des­ti­na­tion.

Ski In­de­pen­dence (www. ski-i.com; 0131 516 4005) of­fers seven-night hol­i­days to Jasper from £1,197pp (two shar­ing), in­clud­ing flights from London to Ed­mon­ton, car hire and ac­com­mo­da­tion at Fair­mont Jasper Park Lodge.

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