Thursday, March 01, 2018

Marmot Basin: A Ski Resort the Whole Family will Love in Jasper National Park

We recently traveled north to Jasper National Park so we could check out the Marmot Basin Ski Resort, my favourite hill back when I was much younger and living in Northern Alberta. I was excited to introduce my son to the first real mountain resort I skied at as a teenager, and to see if the hill was still as amazing as I'd remembered it to be for families.

Standing on top of the world at Marmot Basin Resort, Jasper National Park

An Adventurous Start to the Weekend

From Calgary, Jasper is normally approached via the Icefields Parkway in a 5 hour drive past Lake Louise and the Saskatchewan River Crossing. Unfortunately for us, the mountain parks had just received a large dump of snow before our trip, and the highway got closed for avalanche control on the Jasper side. 

With the Icefields Parkway closed, we were now looking at a 6.5 hour drive through Red Deer and Edson. And if you break the trip down by distance, we would now be driving 200 kilometres further (and definitely out of our way.)

Fortunately, my husband had arranged to take a half day off work for the long drive, but still, 600 kilometres is a long ways to drive for a two-night trip! (Especially since we really didn't know if they'd get the Icefields Parkway open for our return drive on Sunday, or if we'd be doing the extra long drive both ways.)

Driving the Icefields Parkway home from Jasper (thankfully it opened Sunday morning for our return drive)

Add very cold temperatures (Sunday morning was -36 C on the ski hill with wind chill,) and we really did think we were crazy for not bailing on the weekend.

Perseverance being a strong characteristic in our family, we drove the extra distance, we skied through the cold, and we still had a fantastic weekend. Next year we might wait until March though before attempting the long drive to Jasper.

You know it's cold when there's a sundog over the ski hill and ice crystals in the air

Three Initial Things that Stood out to Me about Marmot Basin

  1. Marmot Basin is just as beautiful as I'd remembered!

  2. "Old Road" and "Bunny Hop" are still there!! I'd remembered these two beginner runs from my childhood days at Jasper and was hoping they'd still be there (purely for nostalgia sake.) And I'm not alone either on this one; a friend found out I'd been to Marmot and her first question was whether Old Road was still there.

  3. The Parking is still super easy with ski in/out lots located off the School House beginner runs. I was sad to see that the cute little Caribou Chair had been retired though.

Introducing my son to his mom's favourite runs as a child

A Ski Resort the Whole Family Will Love (from newbies to extreme skiers)

Highlights for Beginners:

  • A true beginner chair, School House Chair, with two easy green runs off of it, access to the main lodge at the bottom, and conveniently located beside the parking lots for ski in/out access. And it replaced the old T-bar so beginners can  enjoy the slow beginner-friendly chairlift instead! My son loved the School House Rollers (a mini terrain park of sorts.)

  • There is a tiny magic carpet and bunny hill perfect for toddlers or the complete first timer.

  • "Old Road" off the Eagle Express Quad! Seriously, this might be one of the easiest green runs in the Canadian Rockies (resembling a wide road that I'd enjoy on my cross-country skis,) and there are awesome tree runs for the kids off this road as well (think mini luge tracks for short skis.)

  • Everything off the Eagle Express Quad. Bunny Hop, Old Road, Sleepy Hollow... - nothing scary about the names or the runs. These are some of the best green runs I've seen at a resort and gave me confidence when I was learning to ski as a kid.

  • There's an easy way off every chairlift at Marmot (even off the summit/Knob chair if you take the blue traverse,) and so the whole family can ski together. This means beginners aren't stuck skiing on the lower mountain while the rest of the family leaves them behind.

  • There is something for all abilities and preferences of skiing off each chairlift. We loved this as a family because we'd all ride up together and then split up to ski something fun or comfortable for each of us. My boys could go off to explore a black bump run, leaving me to make my way down a groomed run, all of us meeting again at the bottom of the chair to ride back up the mountain again.
What you'll find at the top of each chairlift at Jasper! Selection for all abilities

Highlights for "Advanced Beginner" and Intermediate Skiers:

  • Marmot has lots of groomed terrain (even on black advanced runs,) and I appreciated the lack of steep pitches I find at many ski hills. Most runs had a consistent grade throughout.

  • Groomed intermediate runs like "Fresh Tracks," "Paradise," or "Tranquilizer" would be green runs at many other resorts, giving the intermediate skier a very comfortable skiing experience. I could fly down these runs with complete confidence.

  • Groomed black runs, Highway 16 was my favourite and is pictured below, that would be a blue run at most other hills - again providing the intermediate skier with a positive ski experience. (I left the hill feeling like a superstar skier.)

  • I appreciated that there was an easy intermediate traverse off of the Knob Chair so I could follow my boys to the top of the mountain.

  • Runs at Marmot tend to be very wide, allowing for great turns and carving practice.

  • Lots of trees for kids to play in! My son loved the treed luge runs off "Old Road" and also had fun playing in the trees alongside most of the beginner runs.

  • Lots of easy bump runs for those wanting to take things up a notch and try playing around on low angled slopes. My son also loved the wide open bowls off the Knob Chair with their easy escape routes back onto the groomed traverse

Jasper has fabulous grooming and consistent grades on wide open runs 

Highlights for Advanced Skiers:

  • Trees everywhere! I couldn't keep my son out of them.

  • Lots of fresh ungroomed snow for those who don't like the grooming I'm always chasing

  • My husband loved the double black runs off Eagle East and said it was his favourite part of the hill

  • Great bowls that would be a dream in fresh powder!

  • Unlimited opportunities for fresh tracks on powder days if you're willing to climb for them. My boys climbed up the "Peak Run" off the top of the Knob Chair and then skied down into the bowl below. (And that's just one of the many runs that you can "bootpack" your way up if you're willing to earn fresh turns.)

  • The brand new "Tres Hombres" area off the Paradise Quad Chair - full of steep double black chutes

Below is the photo sequence of my boys climbing up and skiing down one of the "hike up" runs off the Knob Chair (with avalanche control but without chairlift access to the top.) - And there are many areas like this at Marmot Basin where you can climb higher from the top of the lifts to enjoy fresh tracks in avalanche controlled terrain.

Ready for some climbing!
My boys Bootpacking their way up the Peak Run

On top  and ready to ski down fresh powder to the bowl below

The descent down the bowl (and remember, there is no chairlift taking you up here)

And, for those who love Terrain Parks:

Marmot Basin has THREE Terrain Parks. That's right! And you can hit all three in one descent from the top of the Canadian Rockies Express Quad.

Terrain parks are natural kid magnets

Marmot in a Nutshell

The whole family can ski together on the entire mountain as long as you have confident advanced-beginner or intermediate skiers. You'll find variety at all levels off every lift.

An easy way down from the top of the mountain
Riding the Knob Chair to the Summit

Tips for Skiing Marmot Basin

Just a few tips to make your ski experience easier:

  • Arrive before 8:45am and make your way to one of the upper ski in/ski out parking lots off the School House Chair. There's NO need to use the bottom drop off zone. (It just gets congested and is way too busy.)

  • Carry a small backpack to the mid mountain lodge, hang it on a hook, and make that your home base for the day. Avoid the main base area (which gets very crowded and unpleasantly busy.)

  •  Avoid eating and drinking on the hill (which all ski families will know saves a LOT of money!) Pack lunches in your backpack that you'll leave at the mid mountain lodge, and bring your own packages of apple cider, hot chocolate, and even coffee if you can. Bring your own water bottles too and fill them in the lodge.

You can imagine how busy it was inside the main lodge at the bottom of the hill

The Mountain Town that Captured My Heart

Growing up in Northern Alberta, Jasper was our closest mountain town, and the one we visited the most for family getaways, ski trips, and summer vacations. It was only natural that I grew to love this town (and national park,) so much so that my husband and I actually got married in Jasper.

Now with a family of my own, we try to visit Jasper at least once or twice a year and it always feels like home. (And, some day we dream of retiring here.)

Marmot Basin has no accommodations on the ski hill, so if you plan a visit to Jasper you can expect to be lodging down in the Town, a short 20 km drive away. And while I normally love ski in/ski out accommodations, there's something to be said for spending the night in a quaint little ski town as well.

Adventure is everywhere in Jasper

Spend a few days in Jasper and you can expect the following:

Variety of accommodations for all budgets from hostels to motels, inns and lodges, and luxurious resorts

Most skiers will choose something in the middle here (of which Jasper has many options.)

We stayed at the Crimson Inn, a newly renovated property under the ownership of Mountain Park Lodges, and liked that it was located right on the main street, close to restaurants and stores. I was also appreciative that our room was quiet (no ski party noise,) and that there was a restaurant on site for a quick breakfast before heading out to the ski hill in the morning.

Plentiful options for dining

A few favourites that we've tried:

For Breakfast - Coco's Cafe is an awesome breakfast diner for fueling up before heading to the ski hill. It is also Vegetarian, Vegan, and Celiac friendly

For a Casual Lunch or Dinner - We love the Jasper Brewing Company, a family-friendly restaurant with a pub-type feel (and you can try the locally brewed beers while there!)

For Pizza - We just discovered Famoso and loved the Neapolitan style pizza there.

For Coffee - There's nothing better than the Bear's Paw Bakery (with the biggest assortment of baked goods I've ever seen at a coffee shop.)

Highly recommended for breakfast in Jasper

Options galore for a multi-sport winter adventure weekend! 

I'm still working on a "best of Jasper" winter edition story, but in the meantime, below are a few recommended winter activities near the Town of Jasper:

  • Skating on Pyramid Lake

  • Hiking frozen Maligne Canyon (and in winter you can hike down inside the canyon on a guided, or self-guided, ice walk)

  • Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking on the local town trails
For full information, please visit the Tourism Jasper website.

Hiking frozen Maligne Canyon

Additional Reading on our Adventures in Jasper

And for more information on the ski resort, please visit the Marmot Basin website directly.

Easy family-friendly skiing at Marmot Basin Ski Resort

Thank you to Tourism Jasper and to Marmot Basin for partnering with us to make this weekend happen. As always, all opinions in this story are my own.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tanya, Canada is one of my favorite countries. I and my wife usually visit there once a year. Your family adventure inspiring us to go there for skiing. What is your opinion?