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Armchair Travel: A weekend with... Jasper

Jasper beckons with gorgeous mountain views, a sleepy-town vibe and dazzling events. Don't just wait for camping or ski season: go now.

I never take the mountains for granted. For this born and bred prairie girl, anything other than go-on-forever wheat fields is pure joy. So, a weekend in Jasper is always treasured--the sleepy townsite, the hum of never-ending trains pulling through and, when the stars align, a visit to Jasper Park Lodge (JPL), a gem in these parts.

The off-season, when the area isn't filled with summer campers or winter ski lovers, is a perfect time to visit. Like all hard-hit spots in Alberta's mountain parks, Jasper is only now coming out from under the hit of a pandemic. But with border crossings fully open to U.S. traffic and ski season just around the corner, the hospitality industry and local businesses are feeling hopeful for better days ahead.

Stalwarts like the JPL have had to be flexible in these times too. Where November usually means the advent of Christmas in November (CIN)--a mecca for grandmothers, mothers and daughters, or girlfriends on a weekend getaway, CIN was cancelled last-minute this year due to Alberta's rising COVID-19 numbers. The hotel morphed that event into A Weekend With...a three-day cornucopia of food, drink, conversations with chefs--in other words, culinary heaven. A food-coma was to be a near-guarantee, but I was more than willing to be part of it.

Chef hosts Vikram VIJ (Top Chef Canada, Dragon's Den), Master Chef Michael Allemeier and Giselle Courteau of Edmonton's Duchess Bake Shop offered up a dizzying weekend that started with a roaring 20s evening of music, guests in 20s style attire and prohibition-style cocktails. Yes, I'll have another Old Fashioned and oh! I'll try a French 75 too, please. See where this was headed?

I've only been to the lodge during winter, when ice and snow create a blanket across Lac Beauvert, and the sun's rays glitter off the waters as though touched by a magic wand. And this place is magical alright--antlered elk grazing here, steam and laughter rising up from the hot tub there. We visited several times when the kids were young--scavenger hunts and a silly roll in the snow before jumping into the outdoor heated pool are memories snuggled happily in all our minds.

This go-round in early November found only hints of ice forming at the lakeshore, and near-zero temperatures making it brisk but stunning for a wander on a groomed path, or, as I inadvertently did, on a one-hour hike around the lake. Invigorating, yes. Gorgeous views of still waters, lodgepole pine and mountains, certainly. And, because of said food coma, I was in fact in great need of a long hike. All good.

At an interactive dinner with Vikram Vij and Michael Allemeier, love was in the air, as a relaxed evening of offerings--mini beet tart with whipped feta, Mulligatawny soup and lamb 'popsicles' in a delicious cream sauce--were paired with sweet and funny stories from a 25-year, food-filled friendship. I loved the breakfasts too, which offered bleary-eyed patrons a view of sunny, snow-capped Mount Edith Cavell and Marmot Basin to go with--on this Italian-themed morning--tomato and bocconcini skewers, lemon ricotta pancakes and mushroom ravioli.

Have you ever had that moment when all felt right with the world?  A Sunday morning jazz brunch presented by Duchess Bake Shop co-owner Giselle Courteau fit the bill. Courteau and team created pain au chocolat, citrus-flecked danish, quiche with prosciutto and figs--it goes on. Not only was the warm-from-the-oven flaky croissant (slathered in more butter and homemade jam) arguably the best bit of pastry heaven I've ever had, but the winter wonderland setting dazzled too, set off by the sweet sounds of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Brass offering up jazzy Christmas favourites and standards. Just. Divine.

Delicious food, lovingly prepared--that's always a win. Add a roaring lodge fire and inspiring mountain views--maybe an elk sighting or two--and what else to say? This town, this place makes for one happy (and stuffed) prairie girl.