Jasper Revisited

Jasper Revisited

Despite the poor organisation and lack of visibility of the Inghams travel company last year, we liked skiing at the Marmot Basin ski-centre in Jasper, Alberta, Canada so much that we decided to make the trip again but under our own steam this time. We booked the flights and car hire over the ‘phone, the hotels in Canada by eMail and reserved spaces in ski-school by fax.

Xmas Day

John Griffiths - Paul's Instructor in the 1st week
John Griffiths - Paul's
Instructor in the 1st week

Travel to Canada on Xmas Day was supposed to be from London, Heathrow to Edmonton via Calgary; the air-fares are significantly cheaper starting on Xmas Day. However, on arrival at Heathrow our flight had been cancelled (allegedly because a previous day's flight from Vancouver had been cancelled because of bad weather and, in consequence, Air Canada were short of a flight-crew for the return journey to Calgary) and we had to queue for some time to arrange for a different route to Edmonton travelling via Toronto instead. Luckily our neighbour had dropped us off at the airport 4 hours before our flight departure so we had plenty of time and flexibility on our hands for the re-arrangement. All went well from there and we left Heathrow and arrived at Edmonton within a ½-hour of our original departure and arrival times; the principal difference being a shorter stop in Toronto at our first point of entry into Canada (i.e. Customs and Immigration Control) and having to then run to catch the connecting flight to Edmonton. We stayed in the Best Western Denham Inn hotel in the Leduc district and collected our hire car from the airport on Boxing Day morning. The temperature in Edmonton on arrival was about -20°C and fresh snow fell overnight.

Boxing Day

The Thrifty car-rental place at Edmonton International airport doesn't hire out ski-racks so, at no extra charge, we changed our vehicle from the originally arranged Dodge 4-door saloon to a Toyota Camry so that we could make use of the fact that part of the Camry's rear seat could fold down to allow our skis to poke though from the boot/trunk into the rear of the car. The car was supplied fitted with snow tires and had a mains power plug dangling from the front grill to allow the engine heater to be connected to a power supply overnight to prevent the engine from freezing up.

Ilselore (Izzy) Brink - Trish's instructor in the 1st week.
Ilselore (Izzy) Brink - Trish's instructor in the 1st week.

The journey from Edmonton was fairly uneventful except for snow blizzards over the Obed pass (the highest point on the whole of the Yellowhead Highway). A journey that would normally take about 3½ hours in the Summer took us 5 hours. We checked-in at the Sawridge Hotel in Jasper where we'd stayed the year before. They had been very good to us the previous year and we had no reason or desire to go elsewhere. The booking was arranged by eMail from the UK and, following through on an offer we'd made to the British-born Joy and Ed Jenkins at the hotel (Reservations Manager and Executive Chef respectively), we took over a 2kg food parcel of Dried Marrowfat peas to allow Ed to indulge his passion for Mushy Peas!

The First Week Of Skiing

Trish skiing during fresh snow fall - note the pom-pom hat.
Trish skiing during fresh snow fall - note the pom-pom hat.

The first Sunday we wanted to regain our ski-legs before starting Ski-School on the Monday morning as we hadn't been on skis since Xmas/New Year 1997/98. Also, we'd bought our own new skis and boots and we wanted to check they were OK. The snow conditions were excellent with temperatures around -20°C and fresh powder snow on the ground. The first day ended with us both being very happy with our new skis (and the wonderful floppy pom-pom hats given to us by our friends Charlotte & Grant) and looking forward to Ski School the following day.

In Canada there is a skier-proficiency grading system ranging from Step 1 to Step 9. Step 1 is for people who've never put on skis before and Step 9 is for people who are comfortable with the most challenging Black runs. Trish had ended the previous year at Step 3 and I'd ended at Step 7 so we enrolled for levels 2/3 and 6/7 respectively so that we could repeat our levels the first week and improve on the second week.

John Griffiths was my ski instructor for the first week and he'd also been my instructor at the end of the previous year. John is a High School Science teacher and it's John and I that took the Atmospheric Phenomena pictures elsewhere on this site. Trish had Ilselore Brink (Izzy) who'd also been Trish's instructor for part of the previous year. Izzy's been a ski instructor at Marmot Basin for over 30 years and is a wonderful lady and dedicated instructor. Izzy's husband, Heinz, conducts complimentary tours of the mountain as a ski-host in the mornings and afternoons.

Me - with pom-pom hat too!
Paul - with pom-pom hat too!

My ski class consisted of Tom, Lina, Deborah and, of course, myself. There's a ski slalom race every Friday afternoon and John took pictures of us all (except Tom who was away dog-sledding on the day of the race) and Lina's son, Jean-Pierre, who'd joined us for the race. Jean-Pierre is a regular skier with his local ski-team and so I was reasonably pleased to get a Silver medal in the race. At the end of the week Trish was delighted to get a Step 4 grade from Izzy and I got another Step 7 from John. Also, by the end of the week the snow was fresher and more powdery than before and the temperatures had soared upwards to between -10°C and -15°C. We went skiing on the Saturday and on the eighth day we rested... did our washing and went sightseeing.

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon

Rising late on the Sunday and getting through our mid-holiday washing we headed off into a warm afternoon (about 0°C) for the Maligne Canyon (pronounced Mal-een) just a few kilometres away. The canyon is a natural gorge cut into the ancient limestone that forms the Rockies' rocks. Once upon a time the whole of the area was under a primitive sea and the chalky shells of the trillions of small prehistoric creatures that died formed the layers of rocks that, later, much later, would fold upwards and become the Jasper National Park - an immense area of fiercely protected natural beauty about the size of the country of Wales. The more well-known local wildlife consists of Elk, Moose, Bears, Wolves, Coyotes, Mountain Lions, Beavers, Big Horn Mountain Sheep and many others. It's a sobering thought that, when those creatures were still evolving from their early primitive forms a few million years ago, the mountains of the Jasper National Park looked much as they do today.

At the point where we joined the canyon it's about 50 metres deep and the path that leads downhill crosses the canyon at a series of small bridges. The canyon widened as we progressed downwards and the bridges got successively closer to the surface of the river that sliced out the gorge. The river, of course, was frozen - at least on the surface - and the whole of the canyon and its cloak of trees was draped with a thick layer of fresh snow that absorbed most of the sound so that the silence augmented the majesty of the view.

When we returned to the Sawridge Hotel later in the day we packed our suitcases - but not because we were leaving Jasper. During the first week we had occupied an ordinary but comfortable room but, since we were staying for a second much quieter week, the hotel offered us the chance of moving to a larger suite with separate living room, bedroom and bathroom (with our own Jacuzzi) and at no extra cost! We packed our bags and left them in the room and by the time we returned from skiing Monday afternoon the hotel staff had moved the bags to the suite for us.

The Second Week Of Skiing

On the Monday morning we joined up for our next ski-school classes. Trish's confidence had been shaken by a couple of incidents where, amongst others, she lost control on the Tranquiliser run and ended up reaching the bottom faster than she'd wished; she decided to stay with the level 2/3 class and improve her technique before moving up to the 4/5 group (next year perhaps?). I felt reasonably comfortable about my skiing in the first week, was ready to tackle something more challenging and went for the level 8/9 group where Chris became my ski-instructor and Gary and Becky from Sussex, England, became my new classmates.

Unfortunately for Trish, Izzy and Heinz had departed for a holiday in Mexico so Trish didn't get Izzy back for her second week. Instead, the girl who took the class (and who will remain un-named here), though a charming person and an excellent skier, didn't appear to know about keeping a group together or watching out for the slower and less confident members of the class. One lady left the class in the middle of her first day's ski-school after being deserted by the instructor and vowed she'd never ski again! Trish preferred to be the last to follow the group down the runs and frequently re-joined the group to find that she'd missed the instructor's words to the rest of the class and, on the last day of ski-school, Trish was abandoned halfway down the Tranquiliser run and the group didn't even wait for her at the bottom before taking the chair-lift up the mountain again. The lack of attention by the instructor meant that she wasn't watching Trish ski and Trish's hopes of improving her technique under supervision evaporated. At the end of the week and in common with the rest of the class, Trish was awarded a Step 3 badge - one grade lower than Izzy had awarded her the previous week.

Cheshire Cat with Cautionary Bare Spots
Cheshire Cat with Cautionary Bare Spots
...and modelling this year's latest in yellow strait-jackets is...
...and modelling this year's latest in yellow strait-jackets is...

Despite the instructor, however, Trish's confidence had returned somewhat and, relieved that ski-school was finished, she enjoyed the remainder of that afternoon's and following weekend's skiing. I was especially proud of her when she overcame her nervousness of the Upper Triple Chair and came down the Blue/Green run from the top of that lift half-a-dozen times before we left and, at the end of each day, we took advantage of the Jacuzzi in our room to ease the stiff muscles.

During the same week that Trish was making her way down the slopes alone, I was taking on some of the Black runs. I seemed to cope well with most of what Chris required of us - except for those !$@#@$! (palindromic curse) moguls. A combination of a general lack of fitness or rhythm, tiredness, weight and height (longer skis) all contributed to me being uncomfortable on moguls. At the end of the second week, even though I was now more competent at the steeper runs and felt that my skiing had improved significantly, Chris awarded me yet another Step 7 badge - disappointing or what!? Better luck next year I suppose.

One lasting impression is the vista from up the mountain. The two pictures below don't do justice to the magnificent grandeur of the Jasper Park scenery.

The Jasper Park Vista (and Deborah's head)
The Jasper Park Vista (and Deborah's head)

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls

On Monday morning we checked out of the Sawridge Hotel and travelled 30km down the Icefield Parkway, towards Banff and Lake Louise, to go and see the Athabasca Falls. The falls are the result of a small gorge cut into the limestone valley floor by the Athabasca River and, though not a gushing waterfall in the Winter, I imagine they are quite torrential in the Spring as the melt-water pours off the mountain. The frozen falls were beautiful and the water flowing through the falls disappears under layers of ice at several points only to re-appear again in blue pools of churning icy water. The walls of the gorge were coated with a fine layer of velvety frost and the icicles were covered with an amazing filigree of ice - a remarkable sight.

The Journey Home

On Monday afternoon we travelled back along the Yellowhead Highway and stopped at the small town of Hinton where we spent a very pleasant evening having Dinner with John, my ski-instructor from the first week, his wife, Suzanna, and their sons. We stayed at the Best Western White Wolf Inn in Hinton that night and continued our journey the following day to arrive at the Best Western Denham Inn in Leduc by late afternoon. We spent Wednesday walking round the West Edmonton Shopping Mall which, with 800 shops, a full-size swimming pool with slides and waves, a dolphinarium and an ice-skating rink, is reputed to be the world's largest shopping mall. We checked out of the hotel Thursday midday, the sun was shining and the warm Chinook winds from the West had raised the temperature to +5°C causing some of the snow to turn to slush. Our return flights were uneventful even though the Chinook conditions did cause air turbulence and make the flight to Calgary (+11°C) rather bumpy. We finally arrived back at Heathrow (+10°C - cooler and clammier than Calgary) on Friday morning - the end of a marvellous holiday.