Back-country skiing in Canada’s Jasper National Park
Surrounded by winter nature, plenty of skiers stay two nights at the lodges, either recovering or making short circuits of the surrounding wilderness. In 2011, Jasper was designated the world’s largest Dark-Sky Preserve (an area free of light pollution) by the International Dark-Sky Association, meaning it is an ideal spot for night time star-gazing.
Some skiers return to the Portal Creek Trailhead by the same Maccarib Pass route, while others exit the Tonquin via the Astoria River along a trail that is regularly packed and flattened by snowmobiles in February and March. After 18km of tough but rewarding kicking and gliding you will arrive at the skirts of the 3,363m-high Mount Edith Cavell, a mountain named after an English nurse executed by the Germans in World War I. The peak is one of Jasper’s most distinctive and famous; its sheer foreboding north face, clearly visible from Jasper , cradles the Angel Glacier, named for its magnificent white “wings” and cascading trunk that falls 300m.
Near the glacier, the solar-powered Mount Edith Cavell hostel sits next to the Astoria River trailhead. Although not officially open in winter, it is possible to stay from March onwards by pre-arranging a key pick-up. The steep Cavell Road connects the hostel with arterial Highway 93A and your ticket back to civilization. In winter, rather than plough the asphalt, park rangers groom and “track” it for cross-country skiing. Nonetheless, with the final 11km of the journey along the Cavell Road plunging continuously downhill, the experience is more akin to alpine skiing than arduous cross-country.
Arriving back to Jasper’s well-trodden Icefields Parkway, (the highway that connects Jasper with Lake Louise) after conquering 50km of icy wilderness stirs ambivalent emotions among most skiers: tiredness mixed with relief tempered by a new appreciation for the natural world and how it can make you feel invigoratingly alive.