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Banff to Jasper - James Cove, Alberta
Friday February 13, 2015 - Email this article to a friend

The PlanetSKI Canadian road trip in Alberta ends with a change of plan. Good move as we drive through the most extraordinary scenery and head to the ski resort of Marmot Basin near Jasper.

Article first posted 15th February 2015, updated 10th March 2015

All plans are made to be changed.

I had intended to go south from Banff to the resort of Castle and go cat skiing - everything was lined up. The route, the hotel, the cat skiing and even the ski hire.

But there was one small problem. 

The snow is not so good in that part of The Rockies at the moment. In fact the unseasonably warm temperatures in North America in general have played havoc with it. 

However further north in Alberta I heard it was rather good.

A few emails later and I was heading in the opposite direction than I had intended.

I didn't even have a map.

"You don't need a map. Head up Highway One and there is only one junction just north of Lake Louise and as long as you get on Highway 93 just drive for 3 or so and you will arrive in Jasper. There are no other roads," said the receptionist in my hotel in Kananaskis, a couple of hours south of the said junction.   

He seemed to know what he was talking about and so I took him at his word.

Driving for 5 hours in Canada is a bit like popping down the road to the corner shop in the UK. 

Only the views are slight better.

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The drive was, quite simply, one of the most stunning I have ever done in the mountains.

And I have done a few.

For some reason people think British Columbia in Canada has some of the best mountain scenery - well I beg to differ as Alberta has The Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Round every corner was jaw-dropping scenery and there are further pictures at the end of this article.

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I alternated between the radio stations Classic Vinyl and First Wave.

The former thumped out old classics from the likes of Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynrd, Pink Flood, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.

While the later played New Wave from the late 70s and early 80s - The Clash, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure and many others. The hours flew by.

There were stations for every musical taste across the dial.

There were no adverts and no mindless babble from DJs, just the music.

The road was a bit icy in places but nothing to worry about and the drivers all knew what they were doing. 

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It was not like my first experience of driving in Canada as reported in the first blog with cars skiding off the road. 

That was a one-off and if you have any worries about driving in Canada in the winter then dismiss them and do it. 

The road trip itself, and the views, were an integral part of my experience in Alberta.

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All too soon the journey was over and I swung into Jasper. 

It is known as an authentic Canadian town, and it is.

But more of Jasper later.

First the skiing - what I had driven 5 hours for.

The resort has the highest base elevation in Canada at 1,698m.

"We have some of the best snow in Canada right now as the temperature has been very warm lately and other resorts have suffered," said the head of marketing for the resort, Brian Rode.

"Here we get an average of 4m a season and you have chosen well," he added.

Looking up the hill it was clear the season was below average, but it still looked like my drive had been worth it.

Not least for the man I was about to ski with.

My guide for the day turned out to be one of the real characters of the trip.

Meet 70-year old, Milt Gilmore. 

Best buddiesBest buddies












He arrived in the resort in 1964 when it opened and is still here today. He had the thickest Canadian accident and treasure trove of stories about the resort.

Which is odd as he was born in Woking, Surrey.

"My father was a soldier in the Canadian Army in World War Two and was stationed in England. He took a shine to a very, very pretty nurse back in 1944 and 9 months later out I popped," he told me with a huge roll of laughter that threatened to wake the hibernating bears.

The soldier and the nurse emigrated with their 2-year old baby in 1946 on The Queen Mary liner. Destination - somewhere in Canada.

"I was here as Marmot Basin opened in 1964 with just one T-bar on the slopes.  The following year we put another one in.  And you know what? The resort still has the same feel to it as it did back in the day. We have more lifts now,  but the spirit remains," he added. 

Up on the slopes there are just 7 lifts but they serve 1,600m of terrain.

Marmot BasinMarmot Basin














The lift to the best snow is an old 2-man chairlift that will get every schoolboy sniggering. 

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And people like me who may be getting older and should know better.

Marmot BasinMarmot Basin















"A few years ago I got some stickers and lapel badges made for those that had skied the area and wanted to show they had been here. Knob Munchers was the slogan I chose," said Milt as we rode the lift.

We both burst into fits of helpless laughter.

I asked him his date of birth. "November 1944," he said.

I don't know why I asked my next question as I knew he answer already.

"What date in November?" I enquired.

"The first of course," Milt replied.

We high fived and laughed some more - we worn born on the same day.

At the top of The Knob is the best skiing in Marmot Basin and we went munching.

The knob areaThe knob area












You can hike a bit further up and head over to some shutes or traverss to Dupre's Bowl - named after a Swiss guide who died in an avalanche here back in 1959.

In those days people hiked up to make their turns.

Dupre's bowlDupre's bowl












When the resort proper opened in 1964 the population of Jasper was 4,500.

It is now just 5,000.

Jasper itself is a railway town and is how it grew up and prospered.

Up until the 1950s half the population of Jasper still worked on the railway, but since them tourism has taken over as the largest employer.

Today the huge freight trains still come through the railroad industry is still imprortant with its heritage is remembered.

Iron Horse heritageIron Horse heritage












The biggest change in recent years was the installation of a traffic light.

It is the only one in town and caused much debate.

People here like to give way to others by choice and because they wish to, rather than because they are told to.

Cause of controversyCause of controversy












It is what I would refer to a "proper mountain town" and on the walls of The De'd Dog Saloon are photographs of people that have perished in the mountains round here.

Gone but not forgottenGone but not forgotten












There is no other town for hundred of miles around and we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. 

We are surrounded by the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies.

Marmot Basin looking to JasperMarmot Basin looking to Jasper












But she skiing is not all steep here and has a wide variety of slopes to suit all levels.

"It is a compact ski area that has something for everyone with most lifts having a novice, intermediate or expert run form the top," said Brian Rode.

It also seems to attract more than just skiers.

Over Christmas a Caribou made the area at the top of the Eagle Ridge its home for a week or so.  It was a rare sight as there only around 200 in the whole 11,000 square kms of the Jasper National Park.

Then as quickly as the animal came it moved on.

He was nicknamed Frankie Thunder, but no-one seemed to quite know why when I asked.

Frankie ThunderFrankie Thunder














As I clicked out of my skis to move on for the last time on my road trip I realised I had absolutely fallen in love with the resorts, the mountains and the history in this part of the Canadian Rockies.

The resorts are small compared to the Alps, the snow was good but not that good and it is a long, long way to come. 

The food is pretty average overall but, like most of North America, it makes up in quanitity what it may lack in variety and taste.

But any keen skier that does not cross The Atlantic to try something different in Canada is missing out in my opinion and Alberta is as good a place to head as any.

It is an altogether different skiing experience from Europe.

From the steep terrain in Kicking Horse that I sampled first of all to the powder of Lake Louise.

Then there was 3 resorts in 3 days as I visited Sunshine, Norquay and Nakaska - not forgetting the small matter of skiing Delirium Dive on a powder day.

Perhaps the resort that will remain most in my mind is the ghost resort of Fortress Mountain where the resort exists but the lifts have long since stopped turning.  

There are though real plans to re-open it.

Thank You CanadaThank You














Now it is back to Calgary for a flight to London.

It is a 5-hour drive back the same way I came, Highway 93. I don't think I have ever looked forward to a long drive as much.

And I have made sure the tank is full.

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As promised here are a few more pictures from one of the most spectacular mountain roads we have ever driven.

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And just in case you are wondering James clocked up over 2,000kms in his Canadian journey.

Next stop for him is Verbier in Switzerland. He lands at Heathrow and then is driving straight to Switzerland - the motorways of France will not be quite so picturesque!

For the spirit of the mountains

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