Story by Doug Firby
JASPER, ALBERTA — If you’re searching for a March Break ski destination that can test the abilities of everyone in your crew, Marmot Basin may be the choice. Alberta’s family-friendly Rocky Mountain resort has added a series of double-black ski runs on the previously unused north side of the popular destination.
Named Tres Hombres, the challenging runs add more excitement to the 1,720-acre ski resort. The area is consistently covered in soft snow that makes it easier to navigate the steep runs. Brian Rode, Marmot’s vice-president of marketing and sales, said the resort has wanted to develop the territory, which is within its leasehold, for years.
“It is the longest uninterrupted fall-line at Marmot Basin and is incredible advanced and expert skiing terrain,” he said. “We knew this would . . . thrill expert skiers.”
“We had to evaluate the area and formulate an operational plan that included our avalanche control plan,” Rode said. “We worked closely with Parks Canada to ensure there would be no negative environmental impacts.”
The work included a two-year caribou study and a three-year goat study, both required by Parks. Marmot Basin also surrendered 18 per cent of its leasehold (about 350 acres) by moving the lease up-slope from the valley bottom to avoid encroaching on wildlife.
“Parks Canada was left with a net environmental gain and Marmot skiers were left with a new piece of incredible expert terrain,” said Rode.
The name for the Tres Hombres area comes from an incident more than four decades ago involving local skiers. In 1973 — at a time when ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres was blasting through radios — three young men skied illegally in the closed area several times.
“Three skiers, Tres Hombres, and voila, the legend was born,” said Rode.
Of Marmot’s 91 runs, 30 per cent are novice, one-third are intermediate, 20 per cent are advanced, and now another 20 per cent expert.
Like the mountain town it is close to, Marmot’s remoteness helps keep it special. It’s a four- hour drive from Edmonton International Airport and five hours — weather permitting — up the Icefields Parkway from Calgary International Airport. Heavy snows can shut those routes, leaving you stranded. The town features a heritage hotel, the Athabasca, known for its eggs Benny breakfasts.
Other restaurants and bars are mostly local. It is a folksy community that the readers of USA Today voted the best ski town in North America for 2018.
Jasper offers a broad range of activities, including skating, snowshoeing, hikes, cross-country skiing and geo-caching. A favourite winter hike is through the spectacular Maligne Canyon, just 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) northeast of town.
Sometimes, when you visit a special place, you hesitate to tell the world for fear it will be spoiled. Western Canadians already know about Jasper and Marmot, and yet its isolation shelters it from the worst of the over-tourism plaguing many of ski resorts in southern British Columbia. Those who take the time to travel the extra distance to Marmot will be glad they did.