Family-friendly Jasper wows in winter

It had been 10 years since I’d travelled up the Icefields Parkway for a trip to Jasper, a drive I’d sworn I’d never again do in winter. But it’s weird how raising children can make formerly daunting tasks look easy-peasy, so I bundled our ski gear, the kids and my husband into the car and we hit the open road.

The reason for our trip? We’d been invited to Jasper for the Jasper in January media weekend, an annual event that showcases the town and nearby Marmot Basin ski area to writers and broadcasters in the hopes we’ll have a great time and spread the word. The weekend is also always held in advance of Jasper in January, a two week promotion that features discounted rates on hotel accommodations and ski passes. It runs this year from Jan. 13-29.

We lucked out with the accommodation lottery and scored an amazing room at the Jasper Park Lodge, one of my very favourite Fairmont properties. The service there is so amazing, one call to the concierge before arrival ensured a toaster awaited us in our room, and it also secured babysitting for Saturday night (more on that later). Now all we needed was a good night’s sleep to prepare for all of Jasper’s great family adventures.

Here are my Top 5 things to do in Jasper with kids:

1. Ski at Marmot Basin (or if the kids are too little, put them in the Little Rascals Nursery). Avery loved skiing Paradise, going off jumps in the terrain park and beating me down the hill (it’s official: my six-year-old can ski faster than me). Meanwhile, Bennett was one of the only children in the nursery who didn’t cry (So. Very. Proud). (Maybe if they called it something other than a nursery fewer children would cry?)

Avery catches air in the terrain park.

2. Go snowshoeing at Pyramid Lake. If you can walk, you can snowshoe, the saying goes. Really, the hardest part is putting them on, and we had help from Paula Beauchamp of Walks & Talks Jasper. I wish I could say the powder flew in every direction as we floated across the lake while the theme from Chariots of Fire played, but in reality the wind whistled fiercely and our snowshoes scraped over ice and crusty snow. It was still fresh air and good exercise and the scenery is beautiful, especially Pyramid Mountain with its red bands of gog quartzite exposed to the elements.

If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and then you can snowshoe a dog.

3. Leave the kids in the hotel room at least one night. The Jasper Park Lodge arranged a baysitter for us for $15 a night (three hour minimum), which I thought was quite reasonable as the going rate in Calgary starts at $10. We hit the Jasper Brewing Company where I enjoyed a Honey Bear ale and we contemplated the unusual hanging portrait of Mark Messier goosing Gary Coleman (seriously, you can’t make this shit up). 

4. Be Canadian — go ice skating on a lake. We got Bennett out on ice skates for the very first time at Mildred Lake at the Jasper Park Lodge, where there are benches, a small learning area and a maintained skating oval that goes around the entire lake. By the end he was finally getting it a little bit! Pyramid Lake is another scenic place to skate near town.

Bennett ice skates for the first time!

5. Try toboganning, either at Whistler Mountain Hostel, one of the most popular tobogganing spots in the area, or beside Lac Beauvert at the Jasper Park Lodge (sleds can be rented from the main lodge).

While it’s true you can do all of these things in Banff, or at other ski resorts, Jasper’s appeal is its remoteness and the calming effect the small, quaint townsite has on outsiders. Plus, the fact you drove through freshly-cleared avalanches on a snow-packed road that had been closed for two days, spotting glaciers the entire journey, adds another layer of magic to the destination. Being trapped in a small SUV for five hours with children also makes you crave the fresh air that awaits. Enjoy!

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