Alberta Winter Redux

Getting the groove on in Jasper's Marmot Basin
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The last time I had been in these parts was as a teenager on a summer family vacation, where our itinerary had been sabotaged by one Jimmy Cho, the travel agent who had handily pocketed my father's deposit without having apparently booked many of the stops along the way. So my abiding memory of Banff National Park was of my blue-faced father storming from the foyer of the Alpine-styled Banff Springs Hotel, one of the area's signature sights, bellowing, "That bloody Jimmy Cho!" It was the height of summer: no booking, no room at the inn. And here I was, a different season but back in the realm of that crestfallen vacation all those years ago. I needed to lay the ghost of Jimmy Cho to rest, if only for the sake of my exasperated father.

As for the skiing, know that I was brought up on the hardscrabble crud of Scotland's bit-part slopes, where I endured gales, sloppy-wet snow, snowfields mined with the bald pates of exposed boulders, and just about everything else that qualifies a place as a Third World skiing locale. More recently I had done my time on the East Coast's vertically challenged foothills—a modest step up, at best. So for me, the chance to ski in Canada was like being dispatched to snow-laden Valhalla. I might not win the great battle, but I'd go down gloriously flailing.

My first opportunity to re-cut my snow teeth came at Marmot Basin, a cracker of a small resort only 12 miles south of Jasper. Here, it wouldn't matter if you spent your day carving naked—it's so laid-back most people wouldn't care; others are probably too intent on the powder in front of them to notice anything else. Our guide for the day, a congenial 75-year-old German named Heinz Brink who has been a mountain host since 1993, quickly spotted my technical Achilles heel. "You're leaning too far back," he instructed in his soft-yet-stern Teutonic accent. "Bend your knees more and pivot on the balls of your feet." And with that, 18 years of poor skiing form were somehow cured.

It wasn't just the help of a grandfatherly ski guide that started my love affair with the small resort with a big heart. At 1,675 acres, Marmot Basin isn't the Rockies' biggest resort. Nor does it boast the region's best snow. What it does have is stellar facilities, slim to nonexistent crowds (a busy ski day here is several thousand), and an excellent selection of terrain—from 15 expert-only gauntlets like Terminator to the snaking, wide-open runs on Powder Hill, where I felt like I was skiing through butter. As Rob Ellen, Marmot's assistant marketing manager, notes, "It's not the biggest mountain, but you've got chutes, bowls, glades, open groomers, and so much more right at your fingertips. It's the variety." Except Heinz captured its essence a little more succinctly: "I retired here and became a ski bum."

Published: 9 Aug 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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