Winter 2012

A Great Day Skiing Jasper and Yesterday’s Snowy Ride Through the Rockies

Well today I had an excellent day skiing Marmot Basin. I woke up at 7:30 and found someone who was driving there and was decent enough to let me ride along. This meant I got there at 8:30 and quickly rented myself some terrible overpriced rental skis from the resort (simple heads that felt a lot different than the demo package at Alta), I was in the lift line just before it opened at 9:00. I was planning to rent in town but the shuttles wouldn’t have gotten me there until 10:30-11:00. The first few hours and runs were pure powder from the snow last night but soon it got skied out. The mountain was large enough that I didn’t get board of the runs but small enough I had time to do every area at least 3 or 4 times. There were no lift lines and the 4 times I doubled up with others, all chatty locals, on the quads it was fun to hear genuine surprise from the locals that I was from New York City (that will never happen at a resort in Colorado). To get back I took the last $7 one-way shuttle bus form Marmot back to town at 5:00, (a repainted school bus) although everything on the mountain closed at 4:30, the lists at 4:00 and the previous shuttle I just missed. The red minivan belonging to the hostel was at the station (after I went inside for some brief warmth, the same VIA agent saying hello) and I got back at 6:15 cooking a box of Annie’s Mac-and-cheese for dinner.

Needless to say I do reboard in North Kamloops with a small modular (now unstaffed, with a sign informing passengers to tag their own baggage, the tags sitting in a crew locker) building around 6:30, quite close to the all aboard, with dawn breaking enough for a few photos. Maybe two other passengers have also stepped off the train. Next I do something I have never done on a moving train as we start heading north, shower, a wonderful perk of booking a sleeper (Amtrak has them as well). Hair still wet I go straight to breakfast an enjoy an omlette (I’m too hungry to just do eggs any style) with a side of bacon and something Amtrak doesn’t too, a plate of toast! I enjoy it with a couple from Edmonton who had taken the train straight through to Halifax (the luggage checked through, they had to change in both Toronto and Montreal) last summer and were telling me about how in summer they usher you in and out of the dining car super quick with 3 seatings for lunch and dinner. At this meal reservations are handed out for the first or second call for lunch and dinner, I get a J on mine since I am only staying for lunch. After my good meal (but equal with the eggs any style, hash browns and a biscuit on the Empire Builder, light years better than my scrambled eggs on the Coast Starlight and any other Amtrak route) I go back to the Parc car and wither away the morning there following the spectacular Thompson River chatting away, enjoying some very informal commentary from Jacqueline the attendant, at her FAQ about the train lecture. Facts include the fact our ten cars have 8200 tons of steel, with ten crew members in total and two locomotive engineers (Amtrak can operate with just one for up to six hours, under their work rules, VIA I know always needs two after hearing about its terrible recent crash-I think the flag at Pacific Central Station was at half-mast because of it). It is snowing a lot (Jasper got about a foot) feeling magical but fogging in all of the nearby mountains.
This talk is interrupted for an excellent reason. The train is early; this means we can have 15 minutes on the platform at the Flag Stop of Blue River. I ask and am told if someone had a reservation we would have to sit until our regular scheduled departure time for them. At 10:25 we arrive (schedule is for 10:50) to a snowy platform (if I can call it that), everything is covered in snow and I have no idea what the surface at the bottom is. The stop is along a road and the only other amenity is the standard CN sign saying Blue River. There is a nearby building, a general store, many people wonder in. I get some excellent photos of the snowy platform including the required one of the Parc car (there will be many) and also hike up to the locomotives to get some pictures of them in the snow. We get the all aboard at 10:45 and leave 5 minutes early. I am in quite a good mood since I have gotten a photo essay of one of VIA’s infamous signpost flag stops by advanced reservation only. I stop at my section to put my coats away and find everyone sitting in their seats chatting there. I am cold and with included tea at my disposal go back to the surprisingly quieter lounge car to enjoy some and warm up. The only herbal tea I learn VIA carries is peppermint (which I like but know I’ll get sick of after a few days) so I will be drinking it quite a bit I think on the rest of my journey. This cup of tea after a cold fresh air stop will become a common occurrence.
The train keeps following the frozen Thompson River and at 11:35 we make a not really announced passing of the spectacular glimpse of the icicle-laden Pyramid Falls, I am sitting and get a picture. At 11:49 Jacqueline who has not been paying attention to the mileposts gets on the PA to make an announcement that we will be soon passing pyramid falls. The dome soon fills with people wanting to see the icy waterfalls, and shortly there after Jacqueline realizes she has mad a mistake and apologizes to everyone. I end up passing my camera around to show everyone what they have missed. At 12:15 the second call for lunch is made (the first was at 11:30ish) and I wonder back with the two from Regina and one of the ladies from Toronto. Walking back and asking for a full table of four I realize this is the first time in all my dining car adventures I have ever walked into the dining car with people I have met on the train and want to sit with. Lunch is enjoyable with a first course of an excellent tomato-vegetable soup and then a salmon –. Dissert is a brownie that the table all has a-la-mode. My one complaint (since I was tying to make this lunch my main meal of the day) is the lack of bread. On the Rocky Mountaineer especially with the second seating, my grandmother nor me had any interest in dinner still stuffed from lunch. Everyone also gets dinner on the Canadian and I’m sure that will be a more filling affair.

After lunch (1:32, not that leisurely) we start going through snowsheds. I return to the Parc car as Jacqueline is talking about Mt. Robinson that we can’t see due to the clouds (my second time not seeing it, the other was when the Rocky Mountaineer broke down and we were driving through the area at night). The rest of the ride is more of the same, chatting and watching the snowy scenery, following Moose Lake and crossing the Yellowhead Pass. Too Early enough we are fifteen minutes from Jasper, the time change cutting into time at 3:40, we are running early. We pull into Jasper at 3:55, quite early and I say goodbye to my acquaintances from the train (knowing/hoping I’ll meet a similar group of interesting people when I leave again in 48 hours). I go back to my section and grab my computer bag and new VIA tote bag, refusing help from Dennis with my tiny amount of baggage. He asks me if I need it I assume because he noticed the tote bag delivered to the car. I step off the train and hand over my first sleeping car attendant tip and already feel badly that I forgot to tip the dining car at lunch (although their service at breakfast was terrible, they forgot my table mates tea order).
At that point it is 4:00, the shuttle for the wilderness youth hostel out of town leaves at 5:45. I ask if I can wait and claim my bag then (aka what I have done on Amtrak on multiple occasions) but am told to pick it up and ask at the baggage office. Soon a tractor wheels our baggage down to a little enclosure on the platform that has a gate that is closed immediately (those continuing on are told they can’t reboard until 5:00 as the train is being serviced. That’s a new one for me at a service stop; Amtrak always lets you re-board anytime at a service stop). I grab my backpack and go into the ticket counter with a sign saying that it is $3 to check a carry-on bag. The attendant is there until 7:00 (the Skeena, a two car train from Prince George also has to arrive tonight) and lets me leave my checked bag (since it already has a tag) at the baggage office for a few hours as I figure out the logistics for tomorrow.
I go back at 5:40 and find another backpacker (on VIA in economy) waiting for the shuttle, it doesn’t come another guy who has just gone into town for the day shows up wondering where the red minivan is. I call HI Western Canada’s 1-800 number and am told he can’t reach the front desk of the hostel and gives me a local number. I go inside and the VIA agent is nice enough to call for us (she addresses the staff by name, there is something nice about small town tourism) apparently their van has gotten stuck in a snowdrift so a taxi has been called instead. We get in the cap for the ride up to the hostel with more confusion when we arrive (the driver wanting his $15) we ask him to wonder to the front desk, but first we need to find an employee who is making the fire. The hostel does pay him straight away and I check in, making some pasta in the hostels little wilderness kitchen for a bit more food.