By Karlie Marrazzo
Growing up and living in Canada for my whole life has produced in me an automatic desire to hibernate in the winter, a hard shell that protects me against the cold and snow and keeps me going until summer finally comes around again. This desire is, however, slightly outweighed by the desire to do, to be, to see and experience new things. Jasper in January, held in 2016 for the 27th time, was the perfect opportunity for me to push my own boundaries and experience the glory of the Canadian winter.
Held over three consecutive weekends in January, the festival celebrates all things frosty and is split into three different themes – Adventure, Appetites and Arts. I dove right in to the winter adventure experiences with Winterstruck, an outdoor celebration of all things winter, set on the frozen surface of Pyramid Lake, a five-minute shuttle ride from the Jasper townsite.
Every Canadian wintry activity imaginable was going on that day – dog sledding, horse drawn carriage rides, ice skating, hockey, bannock making, cabane á sucre, winter bocce and more. I sampled as much as I could bear before freezing my buns off, starting with a brisk dog sled ride. The dogs were smaller and more varied than I expected them to be – not the muscular Huskies with icy eyes to match the atmosphere outside. I settled into a narrow sled with only a piece of canvas partially protecting my legs and torso from the elements. The musher, along with another passenger, rode on the back, standing up. Even though we were only traveling 10km/h, the wind whipped our faces and any exposed skin furiously, freezing us to the core as the serene winter landscape passed us by. We followed this with a calmer, slightly less cold sleigh ride around the other side of the lake.
After we experienced all of the activities of Winterstruck, I decided to be really adventurous and go on a winter hike at Old Fort Point with Susan of Travlin’ Girl and Christy of Ordinary Traveler. The access point to the trail is accessible by a short drive from Jasper, but we heard that we could also access the trail from the historic Jasper Park Lodge. Driving slowly down deserted, snow covered back roads, and eventually coming up against a closed road, we searched for an entrance to the trail to no avail. We left my car parked on the roadside and headed into the back country ourselves, hiking in the absolute silence that only winter can provide, our feet crunching on the ground and the freshly falling snow providing the only sounds.
One of the great Canadian stereotypes is that we’re all ski or snowboard bunnies who love bundling up in 48 layers of winter clothing and flying down the side of an ice covered mountain at top speed. Just for fun. I, on the other hand, am a lover of heat and have never felt a strong desire to partake in these activities, much to the chagrin of my snowboarder husband. When the opportunity arose on the weekend of Jasper in January at Marmot Basin, I knew it was finally my time to give snowboarding a try.
Bundled up in the aforementioned 48 layers and kitted out with boots, a board and a helmet from the on-site rental shop, I was ready to hit the slopes with the help of an incredibly patient and encouraging Australian instructor. I began my lessons just outside of the chalet in the beginner area, on a very, very mild hill, just getting to know the basics and trying to stand up straight on my board without falling over. I did fall on my butt many times, but, according to my instructor, my form was quite good for a first timer. He kept asking “Are you sure this is your first time snowboarding?” and while I’m not sure if this is just a line he feeds everyone for encouragement or if I was doing that well for a beginner, I chose to believe the latter.
After a few times on the learning hill, we moved on to the easiest run on the mountain, School House. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect for learning – a light snow had falling the night before, the temperature was hovering around -7C and the sun was out in full force. I even had to take off a couple of my layers! I’ve visited the mountains countless times, but since I don’t ski or snowboard, I never got to experience the glory of being up on the side of a mountain and seeing that panoramic view. I took my first run down with the instructor and managed to only fall on my butt about five times. This didn’t discourage me, though, and I laughed every time, even though I ended up with a huge black and blue bruise on my rear end for weeks afterwards. I only fell down twice on my second trip down the hill. I glided back and forth from one side of the hill to the other, trying my best to stay up, to avoid running into small children, and to take it all in and enjoy. It was a very full morning, and after stopping for lunch and coming down from the adrenaline high, I decided it was best for me to quite while I was ahead and chalk up my first snowboarding experience to a success.
Although I don’t know that I’ll be hitting the slopes again anytime soon, and I still do love to soak up the sun at every chance I get, my adventurous weekend in January opened me up to the idea of being more active in the wintertime, something that I will do at home in Edmonton and while traveling.