Backcountry ski timeline at Jasper National Park
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For his second post in this year’s series of hometown “micro-adventures,” photographer Jeff Bartlett takes advantage of rare snow stability in Jasper National Park.
6:31 am – Wake up. Realize the infernal sound of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” is the alarm. Resist the urge to throw it through the window.
6:33 – Stumble into the kitchen. Pour a coffee and plump on the cold leather sofa and stare vaguely at the blank TV.
6:42 – Feel the caffeine creep into sleep-deprived eyes. Turn on the computer to check:
- Snow forecast’s 12hr outlook
- Parks Canada’s Avalanche Bulletin
6:55 – Defrost the car and drive wife to work. Promise to come home safely.
7:00 – Arrive at the Bear Paw Café. Wait impatiently for friends. Realize the meetup was set for 8:00 and contemplate going home. Drink more coffee instead.
8:00 – Wave friends over to your table.
8:13 – Debate if it’s low cloud or valley fog obscuring the sunrise. Realize it doesn’t matter and leave for the Watchtower trailhead.
8:48 – Park on the roadside, lock the car, and stash the keys in the front passenger rim.
8:51 – Quickly ski ahead of the group and stop to perform an avalanche transceiver test. Ultimately find that two of five people forgot to turn their transceivers on and silently question their decision-making.
9:10 – Start skinning and find a rhythm.
9:12 – Marvel at the silence.
9:14 – Question if a single alpine descent is worth a tedious 8km approach. Decide to grind it out and pick up the pace dramatically.
11:12 – Arrive at the base of Watchtower. Find boot-top powder in the trees.
11:35 – Discuss the route, rally some energy, and set a skin track towards the alpine.
11:52 – Divide the group in two and dig separate snow pits. Find completely contradictory information. Watch as the group dynamic changes from a single goal-oriented effort into two distinct parties: those with summit fever and those with hesitation.
12:42 – Trust one pit result more than the other and enter the alpine by traversing an avalanche path without consulting the group. Find wind-scoured slopes not really worth skiing.
12:56 – Have an argument about route choice and goals. Compromise and give up summit bid.
1:05 – Remove skins, swap glasses for goggles, hats for helmets, and add a layer for warmth.
1:12 – Descend to tree line and seek shelter for lunch.
1:45 – Shred the powder in the trees. Launch off a rock and imagine spinning a 360.
1:52 – Regroup and repeat.
3:48 – Finish a final lap and retreat towards the car.
3:55 – Discover how dropping temperatures have turned the tame approach into a speeding death trap.
4:35 – Survive the descent and reach the car. Begin to worry that stragglers are injured, not slow. Sigh in relief when everyone arrives.
5:00 – Depart the trailhead and head to the pub.
5:35 – Order a round of beer and relive the highlights of the day. Order a second round. And a third.
8:20 – Leave the car parked and walk home.
8:45 – Set the alarm for 6:30 and crawl into bed early.
6:31 – Wake up. Pour a coffee and contemplate the next objective.
[Editor’s note: Stoked on finishing off your season in Canada? Check out our video series on road tripping BC’s Powder Highway.]
Jerome Levesque tests the snow off the peak of Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park.
Marmot Basin Slackcountry
Marshall Dempster checks out the middle finger in Marmot Basin's Slackcountry.
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are both a skier's sweet dream and worst nightmare. Big lines are visible everywhere but shallow, unstable snow means it can take years to bag a line.
In one direction, the trail into Watchtower is a mellow skin trail. In the other, it's a crazy descent around unseen hazards.
Checking snow stability
Surface hoar sloughs down steeper terrain as we check out the snow stability before moving on to bigger objectives.