Author: Lori Knowles
There’s a full moon floating over Edmonton this early February morning — a large wintery moon bright with the promise of adventure. We watch it, my young son and I, as our train pulls out of the station, a hiss in the air, vapour lifting from the tracks, our skis and boot bags safely packed in the luggage compartment. The time is 7 AM. The first stop in our long-anticipated mother/son ski journey: Jasper, Alberta.
We’re riding VIA Rail’s historic Canadian train. Inside our 1950s-style, space-age compartment: two leather chairs, a silver basin, and a bunk tucked neatly into the ceiling. For my nine-year-old son: heaven. He presses buttons, flips levers, loses himself in the animation of vintage train travel. I press my nose on the pane of our picture window as the moon drops and the sun rises over jagged mountains. I’m grateful for this time to spend alone with my son, skiing and exploring Alberta’s Rockies... together.
Bighorn Sheep & Bubble Windows
Journeying toward Jasper we see bighorn sheep and frozen waterfalls through domed “bubble” windows. In the dining car we eat pancakes shaped like silver dollars. My son is intrigued by stories of Swiss Mountain Guides exploring Western Canada in the “old days”: riding trains to visit iconic Fairmont hotels: Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise, Jasper Park Lodge. I show him images in a guidebook. “They look like castles, Mom. Castles in the Rockies”.
Skate, Ski, Sky-Watch
In Jasper we ski Marmot Basin. The view from the top is postcard perfect: Jasper National Park dressed up like a bride, with flowing white skirts, and jeweled peaks, and a sky as blue as a sapphire. Its view is untouched: valleys, lakes, cliffs, green forests. New to the resort in 2018: Tres Hombres, 25 acres of expert terrain, the definition of big mountain. My son zigs and zags in and out of the glades. He noodles through powder, pops over jumps, sticks his landings. Again I am thinking: I just knew this trip would be full of our kind of adventure.
At night we sleep at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (JPL). Our room is a luxe cabin in the woods on the bank of a snowy river, where elk push their snouts into fresh snow to eat frozen grass. Jasper is a wonderland for kids aged nine to ninety. “What do you want to do besides skiing?” I ask, reading again from the guidebook. “Skating? snowmobiling?” My son does not hesitate. “Ice walking!”
So, by the light of another brilliant moon, we embark on a guided ice walk of Maligne Canyon: walls of sheer ice, bridges over chasms. “Jasper National Park is the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve,” I tell him, referring to the park’s designation as a land possessing an exceptional quality of starry nights. Together we gaze at the Milky Way, my arm around him, both of us munching on maple cookies.
Hockey Night In Canada
Next it’s on to Banff and Lake Louise by way of the Icefields Parkway. Our drive along its 179 miles takes several breathtaking hours. Bow Lake. Bridal Veil Falls. The Weeping Wall. Athabasca Glacier. It’s beautiful, especially for me. But my son asks, “Are we there yet?” a little too often. At the end he is rewarded for his patience. We venture onto the ice behind Chateau Lake Louise to watch a lightning-fast hockey night in Canada, a.k.a. shinny among locals. The moon is lighting our way again; I tell my son it always looks so much brighter here in Alberta.
From our luxe room in Fairmont Banff Springs we attempt to choose from a range of activities to add to our ski days. There’s sleigh riding and dog sledding the Continental Divide, plus more guided ice walking through Johnston and Grotto Canyons. We could visit Banff’s Cave and Basin, where the discovery of this historic site’s misty caves and warm mineral waters more than a century ago marked the beginning of Canada’s first National Park. Perhaps most intriguing is a seven-mile cross-country trek to Skoki Lodge near Lake Louise, a cabin deep in the woods, off the grid, and lit solely by lanterns. Trace Skoki’s history and you’ll discover the genesis of the ski industry in Western Canada. Or, I tell my son, we could just wander Banff Avenue as it’s got good restaurants and shopping. “Is there a toy store?” is his first and only question.
So, off we go to the toy store where we purchase a set of noisy bear bells that say BANFF, and a stuffed toy animal (an elk wearing a red Canada sweater). Then we opt for an out-of-the-way cafe where sushi is served aboard a model train. Eating here is necessary, my son tells me, “because trains helped bring everyone to Alberta in the first place.”
Hero Snow & Nordic Spas
Next comes the skiing. There are three resorts (Ski Big 3) to sample. Lake Louise Ski Area with its high-alpine glades, World Cup speed runs, and a brand new West Bowl. I spend an exhilarating day chasing my son over wide-open terrain, down narrow chutes, and through snaky gullies. Mt. Norquay Ski Resort offers strips of speedy ski runs that remind us of why we love to ski race. Sunshine Village Ski Resort, our favourite, is full of powder shots and easy glades. “Look up there,” our guide says, pointing to Delirium Dive and The Wild West. “Those skiers are the ones you see in the ski movies.”
I’m back to reading aloud from the guidebook. There’s more skiing — and adventure — to be had in this Rocky Mountain playground. Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis Country hosted the ‘88 Olympic Winter Games and still has the swift, fast, family-friendly runs to prove it. Kananaskis Nordic Spa is a network of pools, saunas and steam rooms which may just be the ultimate in aprés-ski luxury. To the south, Castle Mountain Resort has multiple alpine bowls filled with light, dry powder. Just outside the gates of Banff National Park, the town of Canmore is an outpost for winter adventure (snowmobiling, hiking, ice climbing). It’s also chock full of more fabulous restaurants.
But our Rocky Mountain mother/son trip is over and it’s time to go home. No more castles and hot springs. No more elk and ice caves. No more rides on historic trains in space-age sleeping compartments. Worse: no more maple cookies. Still, as we make our way to the Calgary International Airport, I see that our friend the moon is out again, a little less bright perhaps — probably because we’re leaving. Thanks, I say quietly, for coming along and guiding us through. It was an adventure I’m always going to remember.