Jasper National Park in the spring offers superb skiing, no lift queues and there’s all sorts of wildlife in the woods. Except for grizzlies. They’re still sleeping
IWAS AT THE GATE to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, paying my park entry fee when I noticed the sign: “A fed bear is a dead bear!” The lady behind the window noticed my perplexed look and explained that, incredibly, some people are indeed stupid enough to think a bear would enjoy their “peanut paste and jelly sandwich” and that it needed to be pointed out, that, no, they must not attempt to feed the bears.
I shook my head in disbelief, and tuttutted about a similar problem at home with our dingoes, and drove on to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.
This luxurious resort set on 300ha of parkland includes the Queen on its guest list. She, however, lucked out. You see she was there a few years ago, so she didn’t receive the same royal treatment I was bestowed by the hotel’s newest concierge – Jasper.
A shiny black lab, tail-wagging, old bone in his mouth, which he was sure I wanted and would treasure, made me feel like I was coming back home.
It was March, and skiing was first on my agenda.
Marmot Mountain Ski Resort, what a find. Superb spring skiing, fresh powder, no ice, not a breath of wind and no lift queues. I was in heaven, I couldn’t believe it, I practically had the mountain to myself and it was Spring Break!
Unlike here in Australia, I didn’t need to get up and out there at first light. So I indulged in long, leisurely breakfasts by the lake at the Fairmont, then, without rushing, took the 20-minute drive to the resort. I parked within a couple of metres of the runs and still got first tracks at 10am.
Exhausted after punishing my legs for a couple of days, I was keen to take a break and try something different.
I’d heard about the Ice Walk along the Maligne Canyon. Walking on ice? I’m up for that, I thought.
So, there I was, appropriately attired in spiked gum boots, climbing down a steep path on to a frozen river bed.
“Yep, definitely frozen,” the 12-yearold in front reassuringly declared. The words “mountain goat” and “very cold water if you fall in” were oddly forefront in my mind as I made my way upstream.
Soon though, I began to feel small and insignificant, the sides of the canyon were sheer ice in places, giant blobs of solid waterfall, frozen in time as it cascaded down from above.
Our guide Mike stopped to point out fossils from the time it was part of the ocean floor and unique formations, before he came to a sudden halt and said, “OK, that’s far enough, it’s starting to melt from here on”. I was OK with that decision as we slipped and slid our way back.
The next day I was eager to join the Maligne Valley Wildlife Discovery Tour. Bears, that’s what I wanted to see, Jasper National Park is full of them, grizzlies and black bears.
Unfortunately, I was about a month too early – they start coming out of hibernation with their new cubs around April. As a kid our guide would carry rocks in his pocket on the way to school, in case he needed to pelt them at a bear in the way.