Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Winter Road Trip! North to Jasper National Park

I grew up in Northern Alberta and Jasper was our closest mountain destination for ski weekends and family getaways.  Living in Southern Alberta now, it's always a special treat for me when I get to return to Jasper and I love introducing my son to the places that were special to me when I was a child.

We recently spent three nights in Jasper and I was reminded that Jasper is an ultimate adventure destination in winter. We tried ice climbing, hiked an incredible canyon full of ice and frozen waterfalls, and spent a day on the slopes at Marmot Basin. I'm pretty sure we each gained 5 pounds as well eating at all the phenomenal restaurants in town.

Holy Guacamole indeed! Winter in Jasper is an exciting adventure!

Maligne Canyon is an icy winter wonderland!


North to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway

The town of Jasper is located 400 km north of Calgary or 360 km straight west from Edmonton.  In summer, it's pretty easy to access Jasper from Calgary via the Icefields Parkway (a highway that connects Lake Louise and the Town of Jasper) but in winter this road is always snow covered, often closed for avalanche control, and requires special attention.

We still make the trek once every winter or two from Calgary and love driving the Icefields Parkway for the incredible scenery, but winter tires are mandatory between November 1st and April 1st, and you'll want to check road reports before heading out. (and before returning!)

As a cautionary tale, we easily made it to Jasper for our recent trip, but didn't check road reports for the Parkway before leaving Sunday. We went for a nice hike, assuming the highway would be open because conditions hadn't changed since our arrival, and then discovered after that we'd missed the last chance to drive home that way by 10 minutes. The road was closed for avalanche control and we had to take the long way home via Rocky Mountain House and Highway 22. 

The route from Calgary to Jasper can be seen here on Google Maps.

More information on driving the Icefields Parkway can be found here on the Parks Canada Icefields Parkway Travel Guide.  

There's a great map and winter brochure that can be downloaded from the Parks Canada site too.

The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic highways in Canada!


Highlights for quick stops along the way to Jasper:

  • Stop at Bow Lake to take photos on the frozen lake. (Stay away from the slopes along the edges of the lake and stick to the middle of the lake. Do not hike past the end of the lake where you'll be in avalanche danger if you start climbing up the summer hiking trail.) 

  • Stop at Bow Summit and hike the closed road to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint. (The viewpoint is closed for 2021. When it's open you need snowshoes or cross-country skis to reach the viewpoint. Do not hike beyond the viewpoint or you'll be in avalanche terrain.)

  • Stop at the Columbia Icefields Centre and hike to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. (Snowshoes are necessary and do not walk on the glacier.)

  • Stop at Tangle Falls to look up at the frozen waterfalls. (Ice cleats or spikes are required to approach the frozen waterfall. Beware of falling ice and give ice climbers space.)

  • Stop at Athabasca Falls and enjoy a short well maintained trail to the falls. (Winter boots are required.)
Hiking to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier on a bluebird day

Tangle Falls is a great stop along the Icefields Parkway


Cabin Life in Jasper


Everybody loves a cozy cabin with a real wood burning fireplace. That's the mountain dream for accommodations, right?

While there are many lodging choices for cabins if you visit Jasper in the summer, options are much more limited in winter. Fortunately, we got to spend three nights at the Bear Hill Lodge on our recent trip to Jasper, where you'll find the only cabins in town open year round.

One of the chalet cabins at Bear Hill Lodge in the Town of Jasper 


We stayed in a Chalet Room which had a queen bed for my husband and I, and a single bed for our son. We enjoyed the wood burning fireplace with cozy chairs and a small table where we ate breakfast in the morning or read books in the evening. Wood was available for purchase at the front desk as well which was appreciated since we hadn't thought to pack any.

Our room didn't have a kitchen, but we did have a small fridge and coffee maker. Other studio rooms and cabins did have kitchens though if that would be useful for your family. We were taking a complete break from cooking and either ate out or picked up food to bring back to our cabin.

You can see the full collection of lodging options at Bear Hill Lodge here. You'll find a variety of options from small romantic cottages to 2-story suites or fully equipped heritage cabins with kitchens, 


Inside our cozy chalet room at Bear Hill Loge 


Family-friendly Ice Climbing Adventure


We had an introductory ice climbing tour booked for us with Rockaboo Mountain Adventures and it will definitely be a highlight of 2021! Our entire family was able to participate and it was the perfect way to celebrate my son's recent 12th birthday.

Youth ages 12 and up are able to join the "Experience Ice Climbing" tour and so it was an amazing way to help our son say hello to bigger and greater adventures.

Family-friendly ice climbing in Jasper National Park (This is my 12 year old!)


Rockaboo provided everything we needed to try ice climbing and no previous experience was required.

You can read all about our adventure here in my newly published story: 


Ice climbing at Tangle Falls in Jasper National Park - a terrifyingly awesome experience!


Hitting the Slopes at Marmot Basin Resort


Marmot Basin Resort was the first real ski resort I visited as a teenager and I remember cruising down the mellow green runs with names like "Bunny Hop" and "Old Road." We've visited Marmot Basin twice now with our son and it's been fun introducing him to my home hill. 

My son definitely skis better than I did when I was his age though and while I was coasting down "Sleepy Hollow" in my younger days, he's dropping into the Tres Hombres chutes and skiing the double blacks off Eagle Ridge. 

The ski resort was very busy because we visited on a Saturday so I'd recommend either visiting mid-week or trying Sunday (Sundays are generally the quieter day at all ski resorts.)

Birthday Bowl for a new 12 year old at Jasper!


You can read more about Marmot Basin in my previous story after our last visit a few years ago:



All the chutes for this wild child of mine!


While everything remains the same from our last visit, there are a few notable things to pay attention to with Covid restrictions still in place for this winter.

Ski Rentals

Book your rental package online before arriving at the hill! Indoor capacity is still reduced at this time so expect to wait in line outside the lodge to pick up your skis and arrive early! I'd suggest arriving at 8am if you need to pick up rental skis.

And know that if you choose to rent at the hill, you'll have to pick your skis up at the base, and then drive (with your equipment) to one of the parking lots further up the hill. All parking lots are ski in/ski out. There is no parking available at the base where you rent skis.

You can see a map here showing the parking lots located to the side of the School House Chair (from where you can ski down to the base to access the bigger chairlifts.)

As an easier option, rent equipment before visiting the resort. There are several local options in town.

Riding up the Eagle Ridge Chair at Marmot Basin

Lift Tickets 

Marmot Basin does not have a reservation system in place and you can buy tickets when you arrive. 

That being said, I highly recommend you plan to show up at the hill with your lift tickets already purchased and ready to go! To purchase lift tickets, simply stop in at the Marmot Basin sales office in town. It opens at 8am and you can buy your tickets there. Then, go straight to the hill to find parking (You'll want to arrive early to get a spot on a Saturday.) 

And for those of you who are not early birds, pick up a grab and go breakfast (options below under food) and eat it in the car once you've found a parking spot. 

So to summarize, Stop at a café to pick up breakfast, stop at the sales office in town to get lift tickets, and then get your parking spot on the hill by 8:30 at the latest. 

Alternately, purchase your lift ticket online, find a parking spot, and then ski down to the base to pick up your passes from one of the outside ticket windows. (And I'd still recommend doing this by 8:30 at the latest, earlier on a Saturday.)

Marmot Basin is a great resort for skiers of all abilities (even extreme skiers like my boys!)


Parking 

Jasper has a unique "Park and Ski" system where each parking lot has ski in/out access. The parking lots are located along the side of the hill along the School House beginner chair. From your parking lot, simply ski down to the base area where you'll find the bigger chairlifts. 

For lunch, ski down to your parking lot and you can easily eat lunch from your vehicle. Now that spring is approaching I recommend lawn chairs and perhaps a portable BBQ.

It's also easy to leave extra items in your vehicle and return anytime you want (especially useful for warm spring days when you might need to remove layers as it warms up.) You can even stop in at your vehicle to have a drink if you're thirsty so make sure you pack a cooler with water and other beverages.

I recommend bringing your breakfast to the hill so you can get a good parking spot. The lots fill up early (especially on a Saturday!)

And as mentioned above, there is no parking available at the base. Ski down to pick up your lift tickets after you have a parking spot. Pick up rentals before parking.

Jasper plans to be open until May 2nd this year!! Spring skiing anyone?


Food and Indoor Facilities 

Marmot Basin has two chalets (one at the base and one mid-mountain) with facilities open for indoor dining. No outside food or beverages are allowed inside the buildings (with the exception of Jim's Den at the mid-mountain lodge) so plan to eat your lunch and snacks at your vehicle if you've packed food with you for the day.

Table space inside the chalets is reserved for those purchasing food or beverages. It's also requested that you limit your time inside to make space for others wanting to eat and warm up.

Restaurants are first come first serve and it's expected that you share a table with members of your own household only.

Grab and go food options are available as well and can be eaten inside, at picnic tables outside the chalets,  or at your vehicle.


Marmot Basin has the highest base elevation of any major Canadian ski area!


Other Covid Policies

All other "normal" Covid policies are in place at the hill. Face masks must be warn inside all buildings and while in line for chairlifts. Physical distancing is expected as is arriving healthy! Please do not visit if you're not feeling well. 

Finally, please plan to ski and spend the day with members of your own household.

Bunny Hop laps for old time memories


All the Food!! (and where to find the best beer + coffee) 


We ate so well while we were in Jasper I'm sure we each gained at least 5 pounds. Below our some of my recommendations based on where we've eaten in Jasper.

Breakfast:


Coco's Café - We called the café ahead of time to order our breakfast (or you can order online) and then my husband ran over to pick it up. We were able to enjoy our food from the comfort of our cabin. 

Highlights included the best homemade granola I've ever had (Seriously, order the homemade granola with yogurt & fresh fruit,) good strong coffee, and a breakfast wrap to die for!!

Normally the café is open to in-person dining but at this time it's take out only.

The Crazy Elk Café - This café is located in the Lobstick Lodge and is a great spot to pick up grab and go breakfast + lunch items at the same time. We stopped here and loaded up on food before our ice climbing adventure. 

Highlights included amazing breakfast sandwiches and Starbucks coffee. Our sandwiches for lunch were also very tasty and significantly better than what you'd find at the grocery store for pre-made sandwiches.

O'Shea's Restaurant at the Athabasca Hotel - This is a classic, and we never visit Jasper without stopping here for breakfast. We ate here on our last day in Jasper when we had no agenda and could afford the time for a dine-in breakfast experience. 

You'll find the classic "bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns"  here that will fill you up before the drive home.

There are many grab and go options for breakfast in Jasper


Lunch, snacks, and afternoon coffee:


In addition to the Crazy Elk Café mentioned above, I also recommend my favourite bakery below.

Bear's Paw Bakery - It is my personal opinion that this bakery serves some of the best coffee in all of Alberta! I would drive to Jasper just for a cup of their dark roast backpackers brew.

We stopped in daily for an afternoon coffee and pastries to go. We also picked up lunch items before driving home.


I would drive to Jasper just for a coffee and baked good from the Bear's Paw Bakery


Dinner: 

Jasper Pizza Place - The big highlight here of course is the pizza with options for thick crust pizza or thin crust pizza from the wood burning oven. We tried three kinds of pizza and my personal favourite was the Gochujang Pork (A Korean inspired pizza with pulled pork and pineapple.)

Tip: you'll want to arrive early to beat the dinner rush.


Jasper Brewing Company - We don't ever visit Jasper without stopping in at the Brewing Company at least once for drinks (usually for dinner as well.) 

There is a wide variety of local beers to try (brewed in house) but my favourite is the Jasper the Bear Ale. My husband and I also both liked the Trail Session IPA. 

In addition to the beer, they also have the best nachos in all of Alberta (I'm sure of that) and my boys both like their burgers.

Tip: you'll want to arrive early to beat the dinner rush. This restaurant is very popular!


Famoso Italian Pizzeria - Because you can never have too much pizza, we visited a second pizza restaurant for a completely different experience. This pizzeria specializes in thin crust Neapolitan style pizza.

We tried two different pizzas but my favourite was the San Andreas with chicken, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, and avocado. (It was my first time ordering a pizza with avocado on it, and it won't be my last.)

Tip: This restaurant is small so arrive early to beat the dinner rush. 

Nachos and beer at the Jasper Brewing Company 


Other Recommended Winter Activities in Jasper 


We had one spare day to tour around Jasper so chose to visit Maligne Canyon which is always a lot of fun to explore in winter when you can go down inside the canyon.

With spring approaching, the window on this hike is closing as the ice starts to melt. In summer you have to hike up above the canyon.

If you're planning a visit to Jasper next winter though, you can get all the info you'll need on Winter in Maligne Canyon here from Parks Canada.

Maligne Canyon is a magical place in winter!


We didn't use a guide because we know the canyon well, but it's highly recommended to join an official tour for this winter hike if you haven't done it before.

If you're visiting in the next few weeks I'd also suggest big rubber boots! The canyon is melting out and you will get wet feet. (Even we couldn't make it to the final frozen waterfall because the water was too deep.)

You can get more suggestions for winter activities in Jasper here from Parks Canada. We've always enjoyed skating on Mildred Lake at Jasper Park Lodge where there is a large oval cleared off each winter. We visited the lake one evening on our recent trip with headlamps and enjoyed a few peaceful laps around the smooth ice.

There are frozen waterfalls around every corner in Maligne Canyon


Recommended Reading for Upcoming Trips to Jasper 


Spring in Jasper National Park - The Parks Canada website has lots of great suggestions for those of you planning a trip over spring break or Easter.

Visit the Tourism Jasper website - Here you'll find great information on lodging, accommodations, restaurants, and more.

You'll want to pick up some local beer to drink in front of your fireplace at night



Additional Reading on our Adventures in Jasper





Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park - staying at the HI Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel


Winter Escape to Jasper National Park - Staying at the HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel




Spring Adventures in Jasper - Staying at the HI Athabasca Falls Wilderness Hostel


Experiencing Awesome in Jasper National Park Summer in Jasper National Park


Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in Jasper - Summer in Jasper National Park


Autumn Adventure Weekend in Jasper - Staying at the Pine Bungalows in Jasper


The Newest Family Adventure Base Camp in the Town of Jasper - Fall trip staying at the HI Jasper Hostel


Disclaimer: Our recent trip to Jasper was hosted by Tourism Jasper. We received complimentary lodging, meals, and tours. All opinions and words are my own. 





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