Alberta Canada: Jasper National Park / Marmot Basin

TJ: The last weekend of November, we took our most consecutive number of days off ever and voyaged beyond the border to Alberta, Canada for a 5-day getaway. Because it was such a long trip, we’ve broken it up into a couple of posts, first starting with a stop at Jasper National Park.

Dara: I’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Calgary for a while to visit my friend Pam so when a Scott’s Cheap Flights deal popped-up for Western Canada back in March we started to plan this trip.

TJ: Though we were lucky in the purchasing of the flights, our actual trip there was a nightmare! Our checked-baggage never arrived, and it contained all of the ski gear we brought. Jackets, pants, gloves, helmet, boots, everything…

Dara: And because Jasper’s a 4-hour drive from the airport, we couldn’t wait around in the city for out bag (that wasn’t slated to arrive until the next day). So after a lot of time spent at the Delta baggage services counter, we had to leave the airport ski gear-less with Delta’s promise that we’d be reimbursed for any rentals that were necessary for the trip.

From there, we picked up an Enterprise rent-a-car and though we asked for a car with snow tires in case of storms, they guy at the counter looked at us like we were crazy and said we didn’t need them. And as foreigners who hadn’t seen snow in months, we trusted him and after a quick pit stop for Vietnamese at Saigon Red Sky, we started off on our drive.

It was a beautiful sunset drive on Canada’s majestic Highway 1, up into the mountains past Calgary and through Banff National Park. But as soon as we turned off Highway 1 and onto Highway 93 (now in pitch black), we realized that the little Hyundai we rented definitely needed snow tires.

I’m not sure if the man from Enterprise just conveniently forgot the part of the trip in which the wind would be gusting snow across our car with less than 20ft of visibility through ominous cliffs without cell service, but it was absolutely terrifying.

A word for the wise – make sure to get gas in Lake Louise if you’re heading to Jasper in the winter. There is absolutely nothing in the 3 hours between Lake Louise and Jasper in the winter.

Luckily, there was some comfort in just seeing the insanely beautiful and enormous mountains, and after an hour or so of praying while driving, we finally made it to the town of Jasper, situated high in the Canadian Rockies.

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The town of Jasper is a cute and cozy mountain town, much smaller and less tourist-focused than Banff.

Our first stop was Jasper Brewing Company for a late dinner and much needed drink. The beer and food were amazing, and it was very Canadian to be surrounded by locals watching hockey matches. It felt like the perfect introduction to finally making it into the city.

Jasper’s downtown has a few other food options as, well – including a Chinese restaurant aptly titled Cantonese Restaurant and more upscale fare such as Syrahs of Jasper. A few years back, I passed through Jasper on a road trip with my college roommate in the summer, and we ate at the Chinese restaurant. It was pretty good, especially for a Chinese place this far out in the middle of nowhere, Canada! 

They have a very cute movie theater, a few tiny gift shops as well, and a couple ski shops. 

After eating at the brewery, we headed to our Airbnb, stopping to look at the night sky on the way. 

Jasper is so far North that the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis, can regularly be seen in the night sky. It’s hard to plan a trip around seeing the Northern Lights, but if you’re in Jasper, or any other extreme North or South location, there are several excellent websites, like this one, that track the percent chance of an Aurora in the following 3 or so days, and many helpful apps

Unfortunately for us, the KP Index for the night we stayed in Jasper went down from a predicted 4, to 1.75, and we did not get to see an Aurora (it was also cloudy, so we might have been out of luck regardless). However, Auroras can commonly be seen from not only Jasper, but also Banff and even Calgary if they’re strong enough! 

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The next day we headed to  at Totem ski shop Totem Ski Shop to rent ski jackets and pants, then went straight to Marmot Basin, where I taught Dara how to ski (her first time!).

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TJ’s been skiing forever. 

Since I was about 5 or 6 – and it’s one of my favorite things to do! I even taught skiing to little kids, and adults in private lessons, at Kirkwood in CA in my high school years, so I’m used to teaching skiing, and being very very patient. Marmot Basin, the closest resort to Jasper, happens to be an excellent mountain for both beginners and experts. We chose it because it’s less crowded than the Banff resorts, and because I love large mountains with lots of terrain to explore. And also it’s the highest base elevation in Canada! So that’s cool. 

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And we’re going skiing around New Years this year with TJ’s family, so it was good to have a lesson before that! We got passes and rentals using Liftopia, which has excellent deals for ski resorts all over the world. 

That morning, we got our rentals, then had breakfast at the Starbucks in the Marmot Basin lodge.

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We started off on the “magic carpet,” which is basically a moving walkway up a tiny hill for first-timers. Only a few hours later, Dara went on her first run down the beginner chairlift with me, before lunch! 

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The chairlift kinda scares me…

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But she did great! We had lunch down at the main lodge (there’s also a lodge with food halfway up the mountain). After lunch, Dara was rocking it. By the end of the day, we were taking runs on the intermediate Eagle Ridge chair. 

And the last run I only fell once! 

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After that, she stopped a bit early, as it was getting cold and started snowing, and I took some solo runs down from the top, ending the day on a high note. The parking lots are very smartly connected to the ski runs at Marmot Basin, so I was able to ski down to the car, and drive it down to meet Dara at the lodge. 

All in all, we had an amazing day at Jasper. 

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If you’re going, we highly recommend going in the winter to ski. There are plenty more activities there that we did not get to – including ice climbing (for the adventurous), glacier exploring, helicopter tours, and more. It’s also a great place to visit in the summer for activities like hiking, white water rafting, and more. 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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