Skiing and snowboarding Marmot Basin, Jasper: The Canadian ski resort free from the crowds

When it comes to a ski and snowboard trip, people choose their destination for a variety of reasons. For some, it's all about the terrain, others the apres ski scene or the culture of the country.

Me, I loathe crowds. There is a strange paradox about coming to the mountains for an active holiday, only to spend half your time shuffling about in tedious lift queues as though at a theme park.

So the minute I arrive at Marmot Basin, near the town of Jasper, Alberta, I have a feeling I'm going to like this place.

My snowboarding guide for the day is Jean-Pierre Meunier, a French-Canadian from Quebec. Already dressed in his crash helmet and goggles, a snowboard tucked under his arm, he is raring to go, pacing about as the punky Scottish lass behind the counter makes final adjustments to my rental board.

We hit the Canadian Rockies Express quad chair, one of seven lifts, including three high-speed quads, spanning almost 700 hectares of terrain over 91 runs. From the chair, it is even more apparent just how quiet the mountain is. Though it is midweek and past peak holiday season, it is almost as though we have the place to ourselves.

To kick things off, we hit some cruisier runs such as Paradise and Eagle Flight, cutting through clusters of trees to connect with Tranquilizer, a wide-open blue that gets the leg muscles firing.

The terrain here is a decent mix, from alpine bowls and challenging backcountry to wide-open groomers. Percentage wise it breaks down roughly as 30 per cent novice, 30 intermediate and 20 advanced, with the remaining 20 suited to expert riders only.

Much of the latter can be found at Tres Hombres – opened just this season – a north-facing, treeless 18-hectare slope containing seven black-diamond runs over 367 vertical metres.

Part of Marmot's strength lies in the closely connected layout of its eclectic terrain. From the same chairlift, riders of vastly differing abilities can head up the mountain together, pick their own lines down dependent on skill levels, then reconvene effortlessly at the base. It is one reason the resort is so popular with families.

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Its other ace card, the solitude, is thanks mainly to Jasper's relatively isolated location; it is a four-hour drive from the nearest major airport in Edmonton. But once you get here you realise the trade-off is worth it.

Situated at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies in the heart of Jasper National Park, Jasper is an adventure playground. It is a place where you can ice climb a frozen waterfall, skate a frozen lake or take a dog-sledding excursion in the morning then ski or snowboard out the rest of the day after lunch.

"I already feel at home here, like it's my own back yard," says Meunier, despite this being his first season coaching in Jasper.

"It isn't a tourist circus like so many resorts, it's not over crowded. You can really enjoy great Canadian spaces, feel you are on vacation and relax."

Riding the last chairlift of the day, we find ourselves at the top of Tres Hombres. The wind has picked up and a sheet of snow whips up off the mountain into my face.

Beside us, a lone skier in tartan trousers stands at the lip of the cliff surveying his options. Turning to us with a smile, he shifts forward a couple of metres then drops suddenly over the edge, out of sight.

For a moment I consider following suit, but then there is the option of a beer back at the lodge, all limbs still intact.

There is always next winter.

TRIP NOTES

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traveller.com.au/Canada

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SKI

Situated 20 minutes from Jasper town centre, Marmot Basin contains over 3000 vertical feet of outstanding skiing and snowboarding on  700 hectares of varied terrain. With the highest base elevation in Canada, there is plenty of dry Canadian Rockies powder to enjoy from mid-November to early May each season. Single day lift passes start from $CA95 ($93). See skimarmot.com

FLY

Qantas flies direct to LA with ongoing connections to Edmonton. See Qantas.com

STAY

Pyramid Lake Resort offers alpine-chalet-style lodging on the shores of Pyramid Lake. All 62 guest rooms come with fireplace and views of the Canadian Rockies. The resort is about 10 minutes drive from Jasper town centre, with rooms starting from $CA148 per night.

Guy Wilkinson travelled as a guest of Tourism Jasper.

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