Jasper is the gem of the Cana­dian Rock­ies

The Denver Post - - TRAVEL - By Alan Solomon

JASPER, AL­BERTA» About 25 years ago, when my hair was much darker and my wife’s hair color had achieved a per­fec­tion that will never change, we took a trip to Banff Na­tional Park. We stayed for sev­eral days and liked it, of course.

It be­ing our first time in Al­berta, we drove up to Lake Louise, about an hour north, had lunch at the famed Chateau Lake Louise, did a short hike along the equally famed Ac­tual Lake Louise, then headed north again on the glo­ri­ous Ice­fields Park­way to Jasper Na­tional Park.

There, at Jasper, we rented a mod­est cabin with great views of moun­tains and wa­ter and trees, sat on the front porch, gazed at the beauty sur­round­ing us, held hands, lis­tened to the quiet, hiked a lit­tle, stayed for just two nights … and re­al­ized we’d done this trip all wrong.

“I’ve heard it over and over and over again,” says Todd No­ble. “When they get to Jasper …”

OK, here’s the deal, and let’s make this clear: There’s noth­ing wrong with Banff Na­tional Park or the town of Banff within it. That park’s scenery is gor­geous. The cas­tle-like Banff Springs Ho­tel — a Fair­mont, like the lux­u­ri­ous Chateau to the north and the less­pala­tial Jasper Park Lodge far­ther up the road — is jus­ti­fi­ably cel­e­brated. You can dine well and shop well at Banff, and in win­ter, the ski­ing is first-rate. There’s a rea­son nearly 4 mil­lion va­ca­tion­ers va­ca­tion there an­nu­ally and good rea­sons many of them at least make a quick stop at Lake Louise.

And then, 180 miles north of Banff — if they think of it — there’s Jasper.

“And then,” No­ble says, “they get up here, and they go, ‘Holy smokes! We should’ve booked more time in Jasper!’ They get up to Jasper, and they just re­al­ize, ‘(mild curse word)!’ ”

Now un­der­stand, No­ble is gen­eral man­ager of the Jasper Sky­tram, which, at a rea­son­able cost, shut­tles peo­ple a few at a time 7,500 feet up Whistlers Moun­tain and back. So he has a vested in­ter­est.

But he’s right: mild curse word.

Mike Gere, like many peo­ple in a lot of sea­sonal tourist places, works a cou­ple of jobs in Jasper. When he isn’t do­ing free­lance pho­tog­ra­phy or pho­tog­ra­phy work­shops, he’s do­ing — well, this.

“It’s funny” says Gere, who, as he spoke, was calmly steer­ing a large rub­ber raft, a pas­sen­ger and a dog named Ginger among

rocks and swirls on the Athabasca River’s bouncy near-class II rapids, “be­cause my own story of com­ing to Jasper is like that.”

An Ot­tawa na­tive, he was in his teens when the fam­ily drove across Canada to the Rock­ies, found Banff crowded and rainy (the crowds were in­evitable; the rain was a fluke) and cut their planned week­long stay to three days. But Jasper …

“We had a re­ally nice camp­ground, creek run­ning through it, beautiful for­est, beautiful weather — we just loved ev­ery­thing about Jasper,” Gere says. “Jasper stuck in all of our heads so much that when my sis­ter and I moved out of the house, my mom moved here. A lit­tle while later, my sis­ter moved here.”

Then Gere, now 41, fol­lowed. And stayed. This is his 10th sea­son guid­ing for Jasper Raft Tours. “I just re­ally love it out here.”

Ev­ery­one, once they get out here, seems to love it. Yet Banff Na­tional Park, half the acreage of Jasper, draws twice as many vis­i­tors.

Part of it, ev­ery­one says, is con­ve­nience. The near­est in­ter­na­tional air­port to Banff (pop­u­la­tion 8,000), in Cal­gary, is only two hours away from that park. On the other hand, the in­ter­na­tional air­port near­est Jasper (pop­u­la­tion 5,000), in Ed­mon­ton, is a four-hour drive from Jasper; Jasper to Lake Louise is 144 miles.

The fact that most of those 144 miles are on the scenic moun­tain-lined Ice­fields Park­way is a good news-bad news propo­si­tion. The good news is the scenery. The bad news is the scenery.

“From Lake Louise to Jasper, straight shot — 2 ½-hour drive,” No­ble says. He tells peo­ple to al­low a whole day. They think he’s nuts. He’s not. “Be­cause you’re go­ing to be stop­ping ev­ery other kilo­me­ter to take pic­tures and see the sights and take it in. It’s a day well spent.”

One of the stops surely would be the Columbia Ice­field, the mother of eight glaciers (though not one it­self ), about 65 miles south of Jasper town. Bruce Free­man, long ago from Philadel­phia, has been haul­ing peo­ple on hu­mon­gous ve­hi­cles to the edge of the ice field, and ex­plain­ing ice sci­ence to them, for a decade.

The ice field, mar­velous as it is, and its glacial off­spring are not do­ing well.

“In the last five years, we’ve re­ally no­ticed the dif­fer­ence,” Free­man says. “We’re hav­ing these beautiful days, which are ab­so­lutely hor­ri­ble for the glaciers. The sun is heat­ing up all this rock.”

Could it be …

“There are nat­u­ral cy­cles,” he says, cor­rectly an­tic­i­pat­ing the rest of the ques­tion, “but we’re cer­tainly not help­ing by what we’re do­ing. The only thing we can con­trol is our own con­sump­tion of fos­sil fu­els.”

And as long as we were in the neigh­bor­hood, we stopped at the Glacier Sky­walk (www.brew­ster.ca; tick­ets are sold as a combo with a ride on the hu­mon­gous ice field ve­hi­cle), a mostly steel path­way mirac­u­lously in­vis­i­ble (al­most) from the park­way. It fea­tures a chance to lie flat on your tummy on some­thing clear and look straight down into Sun­wapta Val­ley.

Back to­ward town, there are mo­tor­cy­cle tours. “Bears love the sound of the mo­tors, es­pe­cially Har­ley mo­tors,” says guide/biker Rob Lo­gan (www.jasper­mo­tor­cy­cle­tours.com). And there are hikes, guided and un­guided: Paula Beauchamp (www.walk­sntalks.com) has been lead­ing guests through Maligne Canyon, one of the park’s bet­ter walks, and on other trails since 1995.

And there’s that Jasper Sky­tram, which may sound like just another off­sea­son ski lift — or a du­pli­cate of Banff’s Gon­dola — but is nei­ther.

“Once you get to the top with the Banff Gon­dola, you’re at the top,” says No­ble. “But with the tram, you can get off the board­walk and ac­cess a nat­u­ral alpine hik­ing trail on the sum­mit — another 600-foot ver­ti­cal gain. The sense of ac­com­plish­ment that most peo­ple get is amaz­ing, you know?”

So like Banff, Jasper has, well, stuff. And moun­tains and wa­ter­falls and trails and wilder­ness and lakes and rental ca­noes and, of course, bears and elk and bighorn sheep and other crit­ters. These are na­tional parks in the Cana­dian Rock­ies.

But there’s a dif­fer­ence. Beauchamp, the trail guide, knows Banff well but grew up in Jasper, and here she stays.

“In the late ’80s, our gov­ern­ment put a (build­ing) mora­to­rium on all the towns in na­tional parks, but Banff had al­ready ex­ploded,” she says. “Banff has be­come re­ally, re­ally busy.”

Jasper? No ex­plo­sion. Still mel­low, rel­a­tively un­rushed.

“It’s one of the Rock­ies’ bestkept se­crets,” says Gere, the river guide. “Don’t tell any­body.”

Well, OK, but I’ll tell ev­ery­body this: A framed color photo of my wife and me in Jasper, near that cabin, has been atop our bed­room dresser for about 25 years.

We look at it a lot.

Alan Solomon, Chicago Tri­bune

Horse­shoe Lake, in Jasper Na­tional Park, is a fa­vorite of swim­mers and a wide va­ri­ety of pad­dlers at its placid waters in Al­berta.

Pho­tos by Alan Solomon, Chicago Tri­bune

The Ice­fields Park­way, 144 miles of mag­nif­i­cence that con­nects Jasper with Lake Louise, has been called one of the world’s great drives.

Oars­man Mike Gere of Jasper Raft Tours — with faith­ful dog Ginger rid­ing point — guides his craft through the swift current of the Athabasca River.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.