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Published: February 17th 2013
I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, an isolated, bitterly cold, largish metropolis 450km south of the Fort McMurray oil sands that bring wealth to the province, 275km north of the dinosaur-bone bearing badlands of Drumheller, and 3400km west of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city (with little more than prairies and lakes in between). And to the west, after only a two-hour drive (in Canadian distances, a mere stone’s throw), travelers may get their first glimpse of the grand Rocky Mountains. Another hour brings you to Jasper National Park, Banff National Park’s lesser-known and younger but physically larger brother.
Jasper National Park encompasses the incredible glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, not to mention hot springs, waterfalls, 3000m+ peaks such as the towering façade of Mount Edith Cavell, and the practically guaranteed opportunity to spot wildlife such as elk, caribou, moose, deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, and if you are lucky, grizzly and black beers, beavers, wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions.
My teenage memories of visiting Jasper come mainly from my annual junior high and high school ski trips to Marmot Basin, the renowned ski resort 20 minutes
south of Jasper township. In junior high, we would make the journey in a single day, waking hours before sunrise to get the bus from Edmonton directly to Marmot, collapsing back in our seats for the return trip after an intensive day on the hill. In high school, we would occupy the entire floor of a Jasper hotel, sneaking out at night to drink and smoke in the frosty streets of the tiny town. I have a vivid memory of one such night, when we suddenly looked up to encounter a moose, an enormous animal on stilt-thin legs that can weigh up to 700kg and stand up to 2m tall, casually strolling across the front yard of a family’s home. Steam shot out of the beast’s nose as it eyed us momentarily, and then continued along undisturbed.
Since those days, I have travelled the world, and have lived in Taiwan, a subtropical island, for the last four and a half years. The Rocky Mountains are no longer at my doorstep, and I long for them in a manner that I never would have imagined when I had them within reach. Every time I
return home to visit my family, I organize a trip to the mountains, and I see them with different eyes than before. I hardly possessed the desire to photograph them when I was young, and now I shoot more photos than even the most avid visiting tourists. I have trekked the mighty Himalayas, but somehow the Canadian Rockies still impress and inspire me to no end.
Knowing these things, my family and friends chose Jasper (perhaps slightly influenced by my not so subtle suggestions) as the location for my small but intimate bachelor party on my recent visit to Canada for Christmas. Since Emily and I live in Taiwan and will be tying the knot in Greece this May, this trip home was my best opportunity to hold the party. Don’t read on if you expect tales of wild intoxication and scandalous stag antics. Mine was more of a weekend family holiday, entailing skiing and visiting scenic attractions within the park.
My bachelor party did of course include a men-only day, in the company of my father, my sisters’ husband and boyfriend, and a few friends.
Dad, Me, Dean, and Matt
with drinking vessels in hand
First we picked up some necessary paraphernalia in town (including beer, a drinking vessel with the words “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” and a T-shirt for me to wear proclaiming “It’s all fun and games until someone loses a wiener”. Next, we proceeded to enjoy two of my favorite activities: drinking, and taking pictures of beautiful sights. At each stop, I had to uncover a specially prepared shot of alcohol in a baby food jar, which was hidden in the snow by my family the day before. Each shot came with a treasure trail map leading to the next scenic location. Driving between sights, we were entertained by my father and his friend’s tales of their own stags back in the late 70s/early 80s, comparatively wild and obnoxious to say the least.
Jasper is overflowing with tourists in the summer, but in the winter it is pleasantly uncrowded. The scenery in winter, however, is uniquely grandiose. Waterfalls such as Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls are solidified into frozen explosions of blue-tinged icicles and ice walls. Patricia and Pyramid lakes are transformed into fields of ice, with snow carefully
swept aside in small sections to create skating rinks. I never got into hockey as a child (a little odd for a Canadian boy, I know), but observing some children playing hockey with majestic Pyramid Mountain forming a looming backdrop to this quintessentially Canadian scene, I almost wish I had.
We met up with the girls in the evening to dine at the Downstream Bar and Grill, based on the recommendation of a friend living in town. The basement-level restaurant is humble in appearance but the grub on offer is fantastic. Even the poutine, Canada’s proudest contribution to fast-food cuisine, is served in a martini glass with goat cheese and gravy. Elk burgers, smoked salmon, and great vegetarian options are also included. In my drunken excitement, I was probably most dazzled by the ‘flavor shot beers’: pints of delicious Canadian microbrews with shots of flavored liqueurs added.
After dinner, we moved on sans-ladies again to the Jasper Brewing Company, but after little more than an hour we returned to our hotel, totally spent and ready for sleep. My fiancé laughed at me when she learned that
my bachelor party wound down before the clock struck 10PM. As we arrived at the hotel, a gang of elk was loitering across the street on the Jasper railway tracks, a common sight in town.
The following day we headed up to Marmot for a day of skiing, again bringing me nostalgic feelings from my upbringing. As we climbed up the winding road leading to the base of the ski resort, a jaw-dropping sunrise painted the entire sky pink, yellow and orange, with the entire scene reflected on the frozen Athabasca River below.
I hadn’t skied in 6 years, but like they say about riding a bicycle, the ability is retained. Excelling in few sports, I have always prided myself in the fact that I can ski, and passionately loved the activity. It is perhaps the combination of being able to revel in the glorious panorama of the alpine setting and at the same time exerting one’s self physically that appeals most to me. Standing atop Marmot’s notorious ‘Knob’, an immense bowl of snow and rock 2500 meters above sea level, looking down over a chain
of peaks and valleys, I felt like a miniature being seated at a wintery, heavenly throne. Read more about the Canadian Rockies in my blog Alberta's Icefields Parkway For more of my photos and travel stories, or to buy my book "Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner", visit www.nickkembel.com
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