Skiing Yosemite in Winter
Alameda Magazine, February 2005
It’s one of the most popular National Parks in the country, ranked only behind the Grand Canyon and the Great Smokey Mountains. Yet Yosemite in Winter offers such solitude, you feel virtually alone. This is the season of opportunity to bond silently with nature, to take in the awesome splendor that John Muir and Ansel Adams breathed into their very souls.
It’s also a time for great adventure, as I found on a recent cross country ski trip from Badger Pass to Glacier Point. It was a test of endurance – in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We started our trip in a snowstorm, at the base of California’s oldest ski area. Badger Pass still has the little brass bell that rings in the start of ski school and is the only ski area in a National Park today. But while the downhill runs are limited, the cross country terrain is boundless, restricted only by your imagination and your ability. On this particular day, we locked into our skis for a twenty one mile trek to Glacier Point and back. At our journey’s end we would be 8000 feet above sea level, with panoramic views of Half Dome, Nevada and Vernal Falls, and the twinkling lights of Curry Village below. We could see forever – if only the storm would pass.
Our group was a pleasant mix of men and women, some juniors and some seniors. Our skill levels varied but our common goal was to make Glacier Point by dinner, a powerful motivator when your stomach started yelping. Yes, dinner was being served by our guides, that night, in a cozy wood “cabin” that doubled as the Glacier Point gift shop in summer. But there would be no “thumbing a ride” to get there. Rangers only brought snowmobiles in emergencies – and sore legs were not an emergency.
Mile three and the flakes were falling faster. I was drenched with sweat and soaked with snow. I stripped off my parka and tied it around my waste, knowing my hood would hold a giant snowball by afternoon. But staying cool kept my energy up, and the shush of the skis on the snow-covered trail was almost zen-like. Mile six and we stopped for lunch. I plopped myself down in a bank near a tree and foraged through my backpack for a sandwich. It was peanut butter but it tasted like Filet Mignon. And my water tasted like fine Scotch. It went down smooth in a place where I was getting so much oxygen, I was giddy.
Mile nine and I was forming some pretty close bonds with my ski mates. Our collective sense of accomplishment was contagious. The trail, which had been steadily climbing, was ending in a long, gentle downhill run. Finally, we could let gravity take us home, to our cozy wood cabin with the wood burning stove on the edge of the world. All I could think of was food and a quiet place to lay my head.
“This is where you’ll sleep tonight,” said the guides, who clearly got a kick out of our reaction. Army cots were lined up like bunk beds, three deep. “You grab your own linen and earplugs, if you need them.” I grabbed two pair and headed for the couch near the crackling fire. Warming our toes, we shared quiet conversation and some wrote in journals. Others broke out the wine. By dusk, the snow had stopped falling and we could see Half Dome through the parting clouds. We strapped on our snowshoes (stocked at the cabin) and made our way to the end of the point, where we lay on our bellies in the snow. Below us, the valley floor looked like a twinkling toy village, with the lights of the Ahwahnee Hotel and the tiny skaters at Curry Village, looking like miniatures gliding across a music box.
This was why we came up here. With nothing more than our mettle and a sense of adventure, we’d made it to the end of the rainbow. And the pot of gold – was an experience none of us will ever forget.
There are nearly 350 miles of skiable trails and roads in Yosemite National Park. For information about recreation and lodging, visit http://www.yosemitepark.com or call 559-252-4848. For 24-hour ski conditions, call 209-372-1000. For road and weather information, call 209-372-0200, or visit www.BadgerPass.com.