Rocky Mountain High

How a Canadian in Jasper overcame his fear and finally learned to ski

von Stephen A. Nelson

Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper, Alberta offers stunning Rocky Mountain scenery - Photo by Marmot Basin

Rocky Mountain High

 How a Canadian in Jasper overcame his fear and finally learned to ski
Jasper National Park, Canada - It's all downhill from here.
I'm standing at the top of the School House run at Jasper's Marmot Basin. It's supposed to be the approved beginner's run – the run you can handle after you've actually learned how to stop without falling down and turn without crashing into a tree.
I've gotten this far fairly easily, for an adult beginner. The triple-chair ski lift is a darned sight easier than the T-bar I tried to ride at Ontario's Hockley Valley a generation ago. And it's light years ahead of the torture-chamber tow rope I remember at that old Bunny Hill.
But as I peer down this slippery slope, I am – for the first time today – gripped with a certain amount of trepidation. This run is a quite bit steeper than the gentle grade of the kids zone where I had my first lesson today. I can tell at a glance that I'll be going a lot faster – „snowplough” technique or no snowplough technique.
I'm starting to have Hockley Valley flashbacks of falling down hard.
„How do I get myself into these things?” I ask myself.

Author Stephen A. Nelson takes his first real skiing
lessons. It's never too late to learn and you're never
too old to try. - Photo by Stephen A. Nelson

The day actually started quite well. A few hours earlier, I was stirred from my mid-morning meditation by a phone call. Brian Rode,
vice-president of marketing at Marmot Basin, was calling to tell me „All systems are go” for my first day on the hill.
He'd set me up with the Discovery Package, a full-package deal that includes ski lessons, equipment rentals and tickets for the ski lifts.
The thing is, if you come to Jasper, it's expected that you will go skiing. Even in summer, when people find out you live in Jasper, they always ask, „Do you ski?”
For many people, skiing is synonymous with Jasper National Park.
People assume that if you're Canadian, you can ski. And they assume that if you're going to Jasper, you're going to ski.
Personally, I haven't done any downhill skiing since high school – and that was a crash course (literally) in how not to ski.
My first day at Marmot is going a lot better. The staff I meet on arrival are friendly, helpful – and know what they're doing. Which is especially good, since I don't have a clue. In a matter of minutes, I'm kitted out with proper skis, boots and helmet. I've got my lift ticket in hand and I'm off to meet my teacher.

Marie-Pierre, an instructor from the Montreal area, is the best kind of teacher you could hope for: Encouraging, but never patronizing; unconditional positive regard paired with positive feedback; telling you what you do well, and showing you how to make it better.
Marie-Pierre spent her earlier days on the mounds of Mont Tremblant in Quebec, but three absolute beginners at Marmot are glad that she now winters in Jasper.

Marie-Pierre was Stephen's amazing Alpine skiing instructor at
Marmot Basin -
Photo by Stephen A. Nelson
The beginners are three very different types of students with very different needs.
Malu is a Filipina nanny from Manila. Before today, she's never been on snow, never mind a ski hill.
Mackenzie is a junior high-school student from Edson – an Alberta town just a couple of hours away from Jasper. She's grown up with winter, but today is also her very first time skiing.
Then there's me – the middle-aged Anglo-Saxon from Ontario who forgot to grow up but certainly knows how to fall down.
Marie-Pierre handles us all with patience, style and a proven method: Keep it simple; show – don't tell.
„I try to keep the information 'low' she says. „Adults crave information, but you can't think too much. You learn by doing.”
We start with the basics: how to put on your skis without sliding down the slope. Step by step, we progress – how to stand, how to move, how to control your speed, how to stop before you hit something or someone. We even learn something that no-one even mentioned back in high school – how to turn before you crash into the fence or the trees.
„Don't think about the fence,” Marie-Pierre tells us. „because if you think about the fence, for sure you will head straight for it.
„Just look where you want to go.”
In short: Free your mind; don't think – just do.
Jedi Master Yoda from Star Wars couldn't have said it better.
In fact, there is a kind of musical Zen to the teaching – as if your yoga teacher was also a DJ.
When Marie-Pierre tells us to „Turn around” the command is quickly followed by the opening line from Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.
When she's teaching us how to turn, technical instruction is kept to a minimum. Instead, she snakes backwards down the slope and says, „Look at me” before bursting into song with „Look into my eyes...” the opening line from Bryan's Adam's (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Alpine skiing at Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada - Photo by Marmot Basin

It feels like you're learning to dance.
Marie-Pierre's magic works. Less than two hours after learning how to put on her skis, Malu is sliding slowly down the slope without panicking or falling. Mackenzie looks like she was born to slalom.
I'm somewhere in the middle, but encouraged that I seem to be able turn and stop just by thinking about it.
And so, with Marie-Pierre's OK, I now find myself at the top of the School House ski run.
 It's steeper and slicker than anything I've encountered today.
My friend calls over, „So, are you ready?”
Earlier today I would have answered, „No – but that's never stopped me before.” I'd be thinking about NOT crashing and not falling.
Instead, I'm thinking about Marie-Pierre, „Just look where you want to go.” I hear her say, „Look into my eyes...”

Getting to Jasper
Sundog Tours
Probably the easiest and most convenient way to get to Jasper is by shuttle bus.
Sundog runs comfortable, daily shuttle service to Jasper from Edmonton and from Edmonton airport.
In winter, Sundog also runs a connector service from Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise.
Private journeys are also available.

Telephone: 1-888-786-3641 or visit their website:
VIA Rail – Canada's national passenger rail service – runs trains to Jasper from Toronto and from Vancouver, as well as from major cities in between. Considerable discounts are available when you book online.
Telephone: 1-888-VIA-RAIL (1-888-842-7245)
For complete information of booking, rooms, prices and meals, visit their website:
Getting to the ski hill
Every day during the ski season, Marmot Basin runs a shuttle bus between the town of Jasper and the ski hill. Tickets and schedules are available at the front desk of many Jasper hotels.
Ski Lessons and Rentals.
Marmot Basin offer a variety of packages and options for those who want to learn to ski or snowboard– and for those who want to improve their skills.
Whether you're an absolute beginner, novice, intermediate or advanced skier, you can get private or group lessons to suit your needs.
There are lessons for children, as well as for adults.
Equipment rentals include skis, poles, boots and helmets.
More information on Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper, Alberta, Canada  - E-mail
Telephone: 1-780-852-3816
toll-free telephone number: 1-866-952-3816

Serious downhill skiing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains - Photo by Marmot Basin ski resort - The picture does definitely not show the author

Story and photos by Stephen A. Nelson
(Additional photos courtesy of Marmot Basin ski resort)