Of the many ways that Jasper, Alberta, is unique, two particulars stand out and shape this small town’s appeal for the queer visitor. First, Jasper is located inside a national park, which means that every one of its approximately 5,000 inhabitants must meet eligible residency guidelines. Whether through work, school or family, the life of every Jasperite is connected to Jasper National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and this plays out in a packed calendar that celebrates the natural diversity of the region, the community and the people. Second, the town mascot — though admittedly, an unintentional icon of gay culture — is a bear.
Located just four hours west of Edmonton by car, the town comprises a small cluster of streets alongside the Athabasca River in the shadow of Marmot Basin. In the winter, daily shuttles make the trip from town to the ski hill, which has recently enjoyed terrain expansions and infrastructure upgrades — developments that only enhance its existing appeal. Marmot’s base elevation of 1,697 metres is the highest of any ski area in North America.
Skiers and snowboarders have all winter to visit Marmot, but queer snow bunnies should keep in mind the hill’s Aloha Cup, an annual open race that coincides with Pride in mid-April. Initiated in 2009, the inaugural Jasper Pride weekend attracted just a few dozen people, but the event has grown steadily to include more of the local population and visitors from farther-flung places.
The region enjoys four distinct seasons, and visitors to Jasper can expect adventure in any weather. Along with the usual winter activities at Marmot, consider an ice walk in Maligne Canyon or dogsledding. At 11,228 square kilometres, Jasper National Park is the world’s largest Dark-Sky Preserve — an area protected from light pollution — so amateur astronomers and other stargazers can take in spectacular skies in the winter months when the nights are long. During the rest of the year, visitors can hike, bike and white-water raft, and it’s reasonable to expect to see a diverse array of wildlife (elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and bears make their home in the Canadian Rockies) year-round.
Jasper isn’t only an adventurer’s destination; this is cowboy country, but don’t let stereotypes get in the way of your good time. This is the perfect place to put the camp back in camping, like the province’s Cattle Commission did in its ad for the region’s most delicious export: “If it ain’t Alberta, it ain’t beef.” While the town itself is not big enough for specific neighbourhood enclaves (so don’t bother looking for a gay village), the rainbow flag stickers announcing queer-friendly businesses are visible in numerous shops along the main thoroughfares.
With Jasper National Park attracting more than 2 million visitors nationally, it’s no surprise that the town of Jasper has more than 2,500 rental units. That said, one of the region’s most prestigious hotels — the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge — is also a leader in inclusivity. The lodge has already hosted several same-sex weddings and has more lined up in the coming years. Also notable is Whistler’s Inn, an International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association member hotel.
Bars and clubs
Jasper’s drinking scene is inclusive, so queer visitors will likely feel at home in any watering hole, but a pint purchased at the Whistle Stop Pub (inside the Whistler’s Inn) bankrolls a business that actively supports our communities.
The local queer advocacy organization, OUT Jasper, offers everything from local news and events to sexual health information to support for the newly formed Jasper Junior/Senior High School gay-straight alliance.
For more advice on travelling to Jasper, visit Jasper Tourism at jasper.travel.