Jasper is a winter wonderland

Alberta town offers amazing alpine adventures


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‘The Corkscrew’s really slippy! And it gets really tight,” warned Scottish guide, Iona, on Maligne Canyon’s Icewalk at Jasper.

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‘The Corkscrew’s really slippy! And it gets really tight,” warned Scottish guide, Iona, on Maligne Canyon’s Icewalk at Jasper.

Margie slid first down the twisting riverbed formation. Iona exclaimed, “You flew!” I explained, “It’s her parka’s Griswold silicone-based lubricant.”

The Icewalk foretold adventure. Outfitters stuffed us into waterproof insulated boots, cleats, and helmets. And “malign” means injurious.

Nature loaded Alberta’s deepest canyon with suspended and running waterfalls, icy-walled contours, and frost-draped caves. Iona advised, “To prevent falling, walk like a penguin.” I added, “And you gotta talk like one!”

She pointed, “How’d that rock from far away, lodged between canyon walls, get here?”

A fellow answered, “My son here says aliens.”

Repeating my answer to all geography questions, I blurted “Glaciers.”

Iona replied, “Right!

I implored, “Do I get candy?”

A piercing scream echoed. Oh, no! But it was an Edmonton couple getting engaged. The shocked young woman sounded for joy. I’m sure.

Adding to the Icewalk, the area’s frost, snow, sun, and shadows explode mountains into lustrous white wonders.

Jasper lies below Whistler’s Mountain, named for its whistling marmots. Folks confuse it with B.C.’s Whistler Mountain. Few names were apparently available to the mountain-naming committee.

Marmot Basin ski resort offers 91 runs. The longest extends 5.6 kilometres. Most ski, but boarding booms. Youthful boarders speak of boxes, rails, jibs. My kind of talk. OK, I don’t even water ski now; the hills were too much. And I don’t ski cross-country; I prefer the train.

We drove Alberta’s Icefields Parkway. It reigns for scenic routes. We saw the receding Athabasca Glacier but — meh; most of Canada resembles one. However, summer visitors reportedly gasp when witnessing climate change’s impact.

Stunningly, Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls were completely frozen. I remarked “They’re locked up tight! How can falls freeze?” Margie explained, “The water gets really cold and… becomes ice.”

We visited Pyramid Island’s photogenic boardwalk and Pyramid Lake Resort’s restaurant overlooking skaters and two snowmen donning pine hats. Nearby, Jasper Park Lodge provides skating on Mildred Lake, drinks around its snapping fireplace, and an enticing indoor-outdoor, mountain-view pool — but for guests. I wish.

We booked Jasper’s more affordable Mt. Robson Inn. Caution: Mt. Robson rises an hour away; it’s not even in sight. Staff admit, “That does demand explanation.”

Graced by ubiquitous fieldstone-decorated buildings, Jasper is Banff’s quieter Rockies sibling, attracting labels like quaint and dignified. A shuttle driver confirms, “Jasper’s not half as busy as Banff.” Peacefulness is helped by its northerly location and, perhaps, $150 fines for shouting profanities and a 30 km/h speed limit. But we never saw police, whew.

Jasper welcomes working youth from everywhere who, as one describes, “are running from, or searching for, something.” It accommodates 4,200 permanent residents and, last summer, two grizzlies — plus bighorn sheep licking road salt, and oblivious wandering elk.

Margie noted, “Someone spilled chocolate-covered jelly beans!” I called to Margie as she kept walking, “They’re elk droppings. You can tell by the taste.”

Jasper the Bear prevails as Jasper National Park’s mascot. He’s celebrated with plush toys, fridge magnets, beer and trash cans. Best known to boomers from cartoons, his creator, James Simpkins, grew up in our Luxton neighbourhood in Winnipeg. Reconnecting the bear to Winnipeg, on his midtown statue we wrapped a Jets scarf. In Edmonton Oilers country — and just after the Oilers lost to the Jets — we monitored our triumphant incursion daily. Twice, his scarf needed re-assembling.

Jasper hosts almost as many cannabis stores as churches, as many great little gift shops and eateries as trees. Many seem hidden — in behind, up above, down below.

Merchants generously hang local art for sale and welcome customer contributions to walls, like money from 89 countries at Rocky Bear Gifts, fishing photos at On-Line Sport and Tackle, and thousands of scribbles thanking gregarious Glenn and Wendy for their delicious stuffed sandwiches at Patricia Street Deli.

SnowDome Coffee Bar posts over 40 paid-forward coffee receipts, including “For the couple that found my headlamp,” and “For anyone living in their van.” We paid forward “For a Winnipeg Jets fan.” Further incursion.

SnowDome reputedly serves Jasper’s best coffee. It boasts “We’re somewhat famous.” Jen adorns hot chocolate with latte art — a bear’s face. It’s in a basement laundromat. In another basement, 3 Sheets Laundromat sells stationery.

A sign announcing $7 cherry porter tricked us into The Whistle Stop Pub — slogan: “It all Starts at the Stop.” At bustling Jasper Brewing, request the off-menu “Black and Blue” — blueberry vanilla ale topped with stout — while admiring sunsets illuminating Mount Tekarra.

Locals revere Bear’s Paw Bakery’s cinnamon buns, but apple streusel squares seduced me — three times. Candy Bears’ Lair’s imaginatively-named chocolates lured me — four times. I told the kids, “I grabbed an Elk Hoof …and chomped it!”

Fiddle River Restaurant’s bison meatballs with fried bannock, and schnitzel with cranberry rule. Harvest Food and Drink’s Harvest Board charcuterie delighted. At Syrahs, I ordered the special: wonderful caribou — me, Mr. Burger. Our server gave me a handshake. But I pondered a most serious question: could we ever again fit down The Corkscrew?


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