Winter can sometimes feel like it lasts a year, especially in the UK where the build-up to Christmas suddenly gives way to long grey days, cold rainy nights and darkness. I often find myself deprived of vitamin D and craving light by the middle of January. I relish those rare bright days that are bright, crisp and cold…if only all of winter was like that – oh wait, it can be! We have put together a list of spectacular winter activities for you to enjoy close to Jasper and Edmonton in the Alberta province of Canada that don’t cost the earth. The towns sit either side of the wonderful Jasper National Park in the Rocky Mountains and offer travelers winter fun away from the regular tourist traps associated with the region…
Get yer ski’s on
Whilst hurtling down a mountain at a million miles an hour on a couple of aluminum planks is not everyone’s cup of tea, for some, it is the high point of the cold season. For those of you who thrive on thrills and chills, you can’t do much better than Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park which is one of the best places to visit in Canada. This massive alpine ski area has 86 named run across 4 mountain faces and the capacity to winch up to 12,000 skiers an hour up to its snowy peaks.
There are 3 mountain lodges that will provide warmth and sustenance throughout the day… satisfy that voracious mountain appetite with delicious, nutritional meals prepared from regional ingredients at Marmot Basin, Caribou or Paradise & Eagle Chalets. Enjoy a warming hot chocolate before going out on the Piste (see what I did there!?). The slopes range through all abilities so you can take the little ones with you or leave them at Little Rascals Daycare and enjoy the more adventurous slopes alone. Whatever you decide you will be afforded spectacular views and crisp white slopes in a comparatively uncrowded environment… what’s not to like?
Live your dream
I am an intrepid traveller and I love discovering new things, the more offbeat and unusual the better, but now and again I just want to blow it all away and go all out, tourist… I want kitsch, crowds, terrible attractions and relentless retail, and I can’t think of any place better to satisfy that craving than Fantasyland Hotel, Edmonton. Sporting a plethora of over the top themed rooms and situated within a massive mall complex with Labyrinths, Amusement and Waterparks and numerous Adventure Golf courses this is the kind of place that can undo years of hard work and hipster travels in an instant! But Oh it’s fun! Just for a night, you can let go of all the cynicism and be propelled back to a childlike sense of joy.
The award-winning theme rooms are absolutely insane, like being inside a child’s imagination… you can stay in Out of Space, Old Style Hollywood, Ancient Rome or the beautiful sea-themed Polynesian Room where the iridescent shimmer of the faux scaled bedposts and the seashell jacuzzi will bring out your inner mermaid. You can enjoy exquisite food and craft beer in the sumptuous L1 restaurant or head for one of the other less formal eateries on site. Be sure to leave your irony inside as you step out the door into the cacophony of capitalism that is Edmonton Mall. The perfect way to escape the winter blues and a great place to spend a night or two before hitting one of the breathtaking national parks nearby.
Take a walk on the wild side
Whilst skiing is all well and good it is difficult to really explore the wilderness, if you like getting off the beaten track into unchartered territory then I suggest you swap up the skis for a pair of snowshoes instead. Jasper National Park covers 11,000 square Km of protected lands and offers snowshoers of all levels some truly magical trails and views.
Get yourself out onto one of the trails and you can enjoy the rare experience of feeling like you are the only person in the world. Dwarfed by the white peaks of the Rockies and the endless snowy wilderness. You will find forests, lakes and mysterious mountains as well as spectacular panoramic views, this is the perfect way to just let it all go, breathe in the crisp clean air and get back to nature.
Ice is nice
Although it is still not for the faint-hearted Ice Climbing has made the move from extreme sport to mainstream and the Jasper National Park has for all a variety of climbs for all abilities. This activity involves a mix of climbing frozen waterfalls and icy caves and canyons, as expected it can be quite perilous so make sure you have all the equipment and a sound knowledge of Avalanches before you start.
For beginners, it is wise to head for Maligne Canyon or Tangle Creek and take one of the numerous Ice Climbing courses on offer. You can try top roping on one of these courses to boost your skill and confidence before heading out to one of the more complicated climbs. The best time of year to enjoy this thrilling adventure sport is December to March, when the cold weather ensures that most of the climbs are formed.
Fat Biking is fast becoming the hottest trend in cooler climes and Jasper National Park has become the go-to destination for two-wheeled thrill seekers. Loosely speaking Fat Biking involves replacing your normal tyres with big fat ones and taking your mountain bike out onto the snowy trails. There are many trails in Jasper, the top 3 being Cabin Lake, Mina Cabin and Woodpecker trail.
The 9.3 km Mina Cabin route is for advanced bikers only as it takes in some rough terrain leading to amazing views. Cabin lake takes you through 6.8 km of moderate terrain and also offers panoramic views and the Woodpecker trail leads you through a gently rolling landscape staring and finishing at Jasper Park Lodge.
If you are anything like me then spotting really wild wildlife is pretty much the best feeling ever and there is a wealth of wild things just waiting to be spotted in Jasper National Park. Take a drive along highway 93A, Highway 16 or the Maligne Lake Road early in the morning or late in the evening and you can potentially spot any number of small or large mammals. Herds of bighorn sheep roam the landscape and mountain goats cling to the crags.
Giant moose, elk, deer, and caribou will satisfy any antelope type cravings and for people who like to be close to something a bit wilder it is also possible to spot wolves, grizzly bears, brown bears, coyote, and cougars. The little marmots that gave Whistling Mountain its name are common as well as ground squirrels and Porcupines. Circling overhead you might spot a bald eagle. Be respectful of the wildlife at all times and follow the park’s guidelines regarding the more dangerous animals but otherwise take a good camera and get snapping!
There ends our list of adventures to stave off those winter blues, get that flight booked and get out into a landscape that really embraces Old Man Winter in all his snowy resplendent glory!