Riding up the Canadian Rockies Express on a busy Saturday morning, fresh powder is still visible on parts of Eagle East and inside Charlie’s Bowl. George Andrew, who’s seated beside me on the lift, says this is not unusual for Jasper National Park’s only ski area. It’s expected, and a perk for locals like him.
The snow quality and lack of crowds are two reasons Andrew has chosen to ski here for 49 of his 61 years (he would have skied Marmot even longer, but the hill didn’t have an operating T-bar until 1964, when he was 12). Andrew was born in Jasper to a family with historic ties to the community. His great uncle built the Astoria Hotel in 1925 and Andrew has been running it, along with the popular De’d Dog bar and Papa George’s restaurant, since 1983.
He’s also a part-time ski instructor and knows the mountain so well he could ski it in a whiteout (and has). It would probably be difficult to get lost, though, as Marmot’s bowl shape funnels skiers down to the base.
After skiing seven runs in just over an hour, we stop for a beer at Paradise Chalet and I get the goods on the small, family-friendly ski hill.
Tell me something people don’t know about Marmot Basin.
Marmot is a nice mix of Sunshine and Lake Louise. We have open bowls and steeps, and we have amazing powder.
Best time to ski here?
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. If you ski at noon, you just ski right onto the lift. The best time of year is usually late March/early April. The weather is best, the snow is perfect and the days are long.
What are your favourite runs?
Highway 16, a long, groomed black diamond, has a nice fall line and pitch. Paradise, a blue run, is wide open, with a nice mix of terrain.
How many days do you ski in a year?
About 85, and [one third] of those days are spent teaching.
How many runs do you ski in a day?
I often ski from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., averaging seven runs an hour.
Any weird rituals that locals perform?
The last day of the season is “Retro Day.” So my kids drag out all my stuff from the 1970s and wear it. Even my K-way tie-dye snow outfit.
When the weather is too terrible to ski, what can visitors do?
Go on an incredibly beautiful ice walk in Maligne Canyon or cross-country ski or skate on any of our four lakes.
What’s your top run of the day?
Tranquilizer because it is a wide roller run of medium pitch and is almost always freshly groomed. It makes you feel good, and starts the day on the right ski, so to speak.
When you want to dine off-mountain, where do you go?
Fiddle River, and I’d order the Jambalaya. For drinks, the De’d Dog is one of the most popular bars in town and they happen to serve the freshest Guinness in the Rockies. Or I’d order a Jagertee, which is like a rum-infused tea. This is a very popular après-ski drink in Europe that we’ve brought to Jasper.