It’s Sunday morning and a layer of snow has just fallen in Jasper National Park, cloaking the trees in a thick glistening blanket and obscuring the trails.
In the southwest corner of the park, I crouch down to tighten my snowshoes before setting out to make tracks on the new winter trail Parks Canada has just opened. Early explorers and fur traders used to call this trail the Leather Pass and as I set out to make my own tracks in the virgin snow, I can’t help thinking of those who blazed the trail before me.
It has been several decades since Parks Canada opened a new cross-country ski and snowshoe area in the mountain national parks, so the new Decoigne Trail Network is something to get excited about. Located at the site of the Decoigne Warden Station, the readily accessible trail network has plenty of parking, a dedicated warming hut, a group fire pit, a privy and more than 20 km of track-set cross-country ski trails for visitors to use free of charge.
At first I follow the ranger on the guided tour that has been organized to celebrate the opening of the trail.
But after a while I strike out on my own so I can enjoy the silence and beauty of the woods that surround me.
Park wardens regularly see wolves, lynx, elk and snowshoe hare tracks along this trail, but with the fresh snow the only tracks I can see are my own. There are advantages and disadvantages to laying the first tracks on a virgin trail.
If you go:
• The Decoigne Trail Network was officially opened on Jan. 12 and is located 20 km west of Jasper on Hwy 16. To get to the trailhead, take the Decoigne turnoff about 200 metres east of the West Park Gate and follow the road to the parking area. The warming hut and privy are open daily.
• You can rent skis and snowshoes in the Jasper townsite if necessary. This trail area of the park is also known as the Yellowhead Pass or historically as the Leather Pass.
Celebrate winter in Jasper
This is a big year for celebrating in Jasper. Marmot Basin Ski Area is celebrating its 50th birthday on Feb. 26 and the Jasper in January festival is marking its 25th year. This means there will be new events and activities throughout the season at Marmot Basin and the annual winter festival will be bigger and better than ever before.
Feb. 26 marks exactly 50 years since Parks Canada officially granted Marmot Basin approval to install the first T-bar. If you visit Marmot Basin Ski area on that day, you can enjoy discounted lift tickets, live music and birthday cake. Other discounts and events will be taking place throughout the ski season with details on their website: www.skimarmot.com.
The 25th anniversary Jasper in January Festival will take place from now to Feb. 2. Jasper’s annual winter celebration is not featuring any new events this year, but rather making the existing ones bigger and better than ever before.
In addition to a myriad of fun events, there are discounted rooms, reduced lift tickets, and local retail specials making January a good time to visit Canada’s largest Rocky Mountain national park. Here are a few highlights from the fun events you can take in during Jasper in January. For more details on the festival, visit: www.jasper.travel/jasper-in-january-2014.
• Winterstruck: Today, a full day of winter activities can be experienced at Pyramid Lake. The event features dogsled rides and sleigh rides for only $10 per person, a fire starting and bannock bake with Parks Canada, and a free “learn to snowshoe” event at the Jasper Adventure Centre. There will also be skating, winter bocce and Aboriginal crafts in a teepee.
• Mountain Park Lodge’s Chili Cook Off: Jasper’s annual mountain chili cook off is as fun for visitors as it is for the competing teams. At the Jasper Adventure Centre on the evening of Jan. 24, teams will dress in costume and compete in the cook off. It costs $75 to enter a team and $15 per person entry fee for the public to sample the chili on offer.
• ATCO Street Party: On the evening of Jan. 25, the annual ATCO Street Party is promising to be bigger and better than ever before. The event will feature live music, street performers, flashlight art, Aboriginal drumming, an ice bar, and the ATCO walk of lights. A fantastic fireworks show will cap off the evening.
• CBC’s Vinyl Café: On Jan. 25 and 26, one of Canada’s most famous story tellers will be in front of a live audience at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. CBC’s Vinyl Cafe is a radio show that features stories written and read by Stuart McLean. The show is a popular feature on CBC Radio and public stations in the U.S. McLean’s stories are about Dave, owner of a second hand record store, and his wife Morley. Tickets for the live show will cost $45 in advance.
• Avalanche Awareness Days: On Feb. 1, visitors can take part in a fascinating avalanche awareness talk and enjoy search dog and explosive demos.
• Marmot Basin Jasper in January events: A variety of events are taking place at Marmot Basin Ski Area during the Jasper in January festival including scavenger hunts, family fun ski races, senior’s tea, and a terrain park party.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.