You stay at Jasper and ski at Marmot Basin, a 25-minute drive from Jasper. That’s the deal because there are no on-mountain accommodations in this raw, beautiful and highly conserved wildlife habitat.
The small town of Jasper with its clapboard and stone lodgings, restaurants and shops is complemented by the 4,200 square miles (10,878 sq km) of Jasper National Park wilderness and the recreational ski area of Marmot Basin lying within.
One unique feature of the resort is that when you arrive at Marmot Basin you simply park and ski straight off to the nearest chairlift-and at the end of the day you can ski directly back to your vehicle too. But it's the sheer beauty of this back-to-nature ski area that will impress you most, especially in winter, which is off-season.
Summer may draw the crowds to see the natural beauty and wide open spaces, but the scenery is most spectacular in the winter-elk move through the lowlands and waterfalls are suspended, frozen in time. Rubbing shoulders, or at least views, with deer and elk and taking in just how remote, uncrowded and powder-covered this natural basin is you really get the feeling of skiing a final frontier.
Jasper's northerly latitude - i t's the most northerly ski resort in Canada - means it can get extremely cold with temperatures plummeting to 12˚F (-11˚C) in December and even -40˚F (-40˚C) in January so be warned. The natural bowl area is dominated by Marmot Peak at 8,570 feet (2,612 m), linked to Caribou Ridge (7,525 feet/2,293 m) along one face, and to Marmot 2 at 8,300 feet (2,530 m) along another ridge called The Saddle.
Beyond Marmot 2 is Peveril Peak at 8,793 feet (2,680 m). Marmot 2 then descends down to Cornice at 7,484 feet (2,281 m) to the newly opened Eagle Ridge. The latter development contains Eagle East and Chalet Slope, with 20 new trails created by selectively removing hundreds of trees from the two mountain faces on Eagle Ridge. These developments have significantly improved Marmot Basin's high-end terrain, and have opened up some of the best adventure terrain in the Rockies. Together, these faces make up over 1,500 acres (608 ha) of skiable terrain, along 84 trails, and 3,000 feet (914 m) of vertical.
Marmot offers an amazing variety of terrain for all levels of skier or rider-the terrain is pretty evenly split between novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert trails-from high alpine, powder-filled bowls and immaculately groomed trails through to beautifully spaced gladed trails through the trees. The longest trail is 3.5 miles (5.6 km). However, not all the areas are lift-served. You have to hike and traverse some distance from the Knob chairlift (the highest) past the Saddle to gain access to Peak Run and other summit trails.
But wherever you are on the mountain, you can see the whole basin from any single vantage point, and there are consistently spectacular vistas of Jasper National Park's surrounding mountain peaks, as well as the beautiful Athabasca Valley spread out below the ski area. Marmot also remains one of the least crowded resorts of its size and has one of the best lift-capacity-to-skier ratios in North America. The Day Lodge at Marmot is called Caribou Chalet and is located at 5,590 feet (1,704 m), while the highest lift ascends to approximately 8,200 feet (2,500 m) giving a vertical drop of 3,000 feet (914 m).
The new Paradise high speed quad services the upper area of the mountain. Stretching 4,604 ft (1,403m) over the Paradise face, this chairlift has a vertical rise of 1,331 ft (406m) and a ride time of less than five minutes. The base of the lift is located in the lower area at the intersection of "Old Road" and "Roll Out" and the top is at the existing location of the Paradise triple chair.
The Paradise triple chairlift has been refurbished, relocated and renamed; the School House triple chair is in the lower area of the mountain and replaces the School House T-Bar. This lift is a big improvement to the learning area; servicing Marmot's best novice terrain, it is ideal for those learning how to ski or snowboard. The recent addition of the new Eagle Ridge Quad Chair accesses two new mountain faces and 20 new trails.
Marmot has a total of ten lifts: one high-speed detachable quad, one high speed quad, one fixed grip quad, one triple chair, three double chairs and three surface lifts. The lifts can carry 12,000 skiers per hour, open daily 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and are spread across Marmot's terrain, allowing easy access to four linked areas within the entire ski terrain.
The basin-shaped layout of the ski area creates a sense of openness the further up you go, and each lift accesses at least one trail suited to each level of skier or rider (i.e. green, blue and black). The new Eagle Ridge Quad Chair has spread out skier traffic in the upper area, and reduced lift lines at the nearby triple chair. You can now get to 22 new trails from here. Not all the mountain is reachable by lifts so advanced and expert skier especially have to be prepared to hike.
There are three ski lifts at the base serving most of the lower-level terrain that beginners can use after they have mastered terrain from the School House T-bar. You can even head up to Caribou Ridge for an above the tree-line thrill where a wide trail called Basin Run carries you back to the lower slopes. Novice trails called Easy Street and Sleepy Hollow (on Chalet Slope off Eagle Ridge) also take you down from some distance and with superb views from the top. Tranquilizer is another easy cruise lower down the mountain.
Perhaps the most challenging trail for intermediates is Paradise - long and with a variety of fall-lines and terrain features above Marmot's mid-mountain Paradise Station. Basically every lift in the resort has an intermediate way down, even The Knob.
Punch Bowl is another trail to try out at this level. The Knob Traverse below Marmot Peak takes you high on the mountain where you'll have incredible views. Fast intermediates will cover the groomed trails in under a day and will need to progress to ungroomed blacks otherwise they are likely to become bored.
Chalet Slope and Eagle East are tough, due to their northeasterly aspect which holds the snow really well for powder skiing. Eagle Ridge is a mixture of open bowls (with even one long novice trail) cascading down into tree-lined gullies.
The Knob Chair takes you to the highest lift-served terrain and from the top of that lift you have to hike the last part up to Marmot Peak. Peak Run awaits -or drop into the fine powder in the massive Dupres Bowl, with Dupres Chute dividing it from Charlie's Bowl and Wendy's Choice which is ludicrously steep and stays untracked longer.
The Chutes at the Knob and Charlie's Bowl are also challenging and most of this area is double black diamond terrain. Chalet Slope has several steep sections with lots of powder through the trees. Rope closures indicate the area boundary and there are only two points of access into the backcountry from the ski area.
Snowcat and heliskiing are on offer also: the cat will take you to untracked powder on bowls and glades with trails to 3,000 feet (900 m) vertical for intermediate and advanced skiers. The heliski locations are some distance away: two hours from Jasper with Robson Helimagic (Valemount, B.C.) or three hours away at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing.
All lifts and trails are open to boarders and it's a carver's paradise with excellent trails and different pitches, including the steep Dromedary and Spillway back to base. Eagle Ride with Eagle East and Chalet Slope will beckon with a real backcountry feel as you drop into vertigo-inducing traverses. But watch out for boundary signs funnelling you back toward the trails or you'll have a long hike out.
Marmot's Terrain Park on Marmot Run in the upper area of the mountain has nearly doubled in size and includes several man-made features including tabletops, spines and rails. It's very easy to get around with a significant amount of fall-line terrain reducing the need to walk, hike, or push your snowboard to the lifts.
Today Jasper is a relaxed mix of rustic lodges, cappuccino bars, eateries, a cinema, contemporary and historic Canadian art galleries and museums, excellent indoor sports and swimming centre. Jasper is not tourist dependent, it's a friendly town and a real community with a permanent population of 4,500 residents, many of whom work for Canada's largest railroad.
Marmot Basin is 12 miles (19 km) south of Jasper town via Highway 93, 93A and the Marmot Basin Road, and has a base lodge called Caribou Chalet which houses the ticket office, ski and snowboard school, dining and restaurant facilities, the Outer Limits Retail Shop, the day care, guest services, and the rental and repair store.
Whistle Stop in the Whistlers Inn has a good choice of beers with 10 ales on tap. Local musicians jam on Tuesday nights at the Athabasca Hotel, which also has a disco. Villa Caruso has a comfortable martini lounge with a fireplace and mountain views.
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, most of them situated on Connaught Drive or Patricia Street. Andy's Bistro is popular, with very reasonable prices and a good wine list, while Edith Cavelle Dining Room at the Jasper Park Lodge is good for game.
The Fiddle River serves fresh seafood and pasta dishes, while Papa George's Restaurant (Astoria Hotel) is casual and comfy and has Alberta steaks, buffalo, fresh trout and salmon, as well as burgers.
There are also plenty of ethnic cuisines to sample-including Japanese sushi, Cantonese, Ukrainian, Italian and Spanish-despite being such a remote town.
There is no shortage of adventure activities including skating, fishing for big northern pike, ice climbing and walking through a palace of ice at Maligne Canyon. Dogsled rides, Snowmobiling, at least five different cross-country skiing tours and wildlife tours are also available.
Recommended is a half-day railroad tour over Yellowhead Pass and along the Fraser River to Dunston. You stop by Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and the ghost town of Lucerne.
Indoors, most hotels offer swimming pools, hot tubs and steam rooms. As for shopping, there is the usual selection of stores, and local galleries sell Canadian Indian and Inuit art and crafts.