Remembering why we should appreciate winter

Lately I’ve been on a mission to be more open-minded when it comes to choosing travel destinations. As alluring as places like Vancouver Toronto or San Francisco can be any avid (and proudly Canadian) traveller needs to step outside their comfort zone. Sometimes stepping out of that zone actually brings you closer to home which is how I ended up spending my last getaway in Jasper.

If you’re wondering why the hell anyone would go to Jasper when Banff is so close to Calgary you’re not alone. This crossed my mind a few times before my friend and I packed up the car and started on our journey to Jasper which is about 4.5 hours. Don’t get me wrong I love Banff and there is nothing better than strolling down the main promenade after sunset on a snowy November evening but its polished novelty in peak winter season can make the town feel a little crowded.

Driving through the mountains is always dangerous as it’s easy to be distracted by the sunlight bouncing off snow-covered pines the towering stones and ice blue lakes. Especially for first-time drivers this can result in some accidental swerves while driving and gazing.

After turning north onto the famous Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) just after Lake Louise the roads took a snowy icy turn for the worse. Mountain highways can be iffy during the winter but this was the most polarizing drive I have ever experienced: equal parts fear and awe. Fear due to the driving conditions and awe due to the unfamiliar and spectacular mountain views.

We took a short break from treacherous road conditions at the Columbia Icefield about an hour and a half from our destination where we strolled around finding tiny inukshuks and layers and layers of ice. Definitely worth stopping over for.

Once arrived and settled in Jasper we took in the small town centre. Much less abuzz than Banff you feel quite relaxed and much more obliged to take in the surroundings. A nice and wide 360-degree view of mountain peaks.

The town is also (refreshingly) lacking in the chain stores that line Banff Avenue. Sans-Starbucks we happily embraced The Other Paw Bakery and Cafe. It’s the kind of coffee shop that excels not in its artisan coffee creations but in its “just like grandma’s” from-scratch baking . The loaves dessert bars and cakes were tempting enough every morning but I really fell in love with the cafe’s gigantic jalapeno pizza pretzels that were twice the size of my hand.

The nightlife here is best summed up in a couple of words: extremely seasonal. When the neighbouring ski hill Marmot is not open for business the town is very low key. Having said that The Downstream Lounge did right by us on a Friday night offering a fairly decent selection of spirits as well as microbrew beers. The menu here sounded fairly enticing but we were on a strict liquid diet on this particular evening.

If you can afford a little bit of a splurge for the sake of romance and relaxation the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is an amazing property to stay at if even for a night. The cabin-style room setup coupled with a heated outdoor pool that overlooks a beautiful waterfront and a snow-covered mountain range is worth every penny.

An experience like this is just what I needed at this time of year. You can’t really ask for a better introduction to winter can you? Cozy cabins coffee mugs spiked with Kahlua deer and stags prancing around town. It reminded me why exactly it is that we all put up with the minus-whatever-plus-wind-chill-bullshit of a Canadian winter.