Theresa Ho, Online Marketing Manager for Delaware North at Yosemite, has been living and exploring in Yosemite for 12 years. In the winter, she loves cross country skiing in the park. Read on to find out more about her skiing experiences and suggestions.
I don’t have the right words to describe the feeling of gliding over the ground on cross country skis. In my mind it’s the sound of skis on snow and my breath in the silence. The air is sharp and clear, and even the squirrels and birds are muted by the blanket of snow. If anything, the cliffs and waterfalls seem even bigger and more majestic. Exploring in winter is everything you could want from exploring – quiet, world-class scenery, and in some ways it’s more free than the summer months.
Badger Pass Ski Area is my default base of winter exploration. The base lodge provides a relaxed place to begin the day. The deck is a popular place to just lounge and soak up the sunshine if that’s what you are in the mood for. Lines are basically non-existent outside of the holiday periods. The slopes provide a perfect place for some easy turns and family fun. Snowshoe and XC ski rentals are available at the Nordic Center, and NPS rangers lead a daily snowshoe walk close to the ski area. But my favorite activity by far is cross country (XC) skiing.
The cross country skiing in Yosemite is epic.
In the winter, the Glacier Point Road past Badger Pass closes to cars. Instead groomers lay cross country and skate skiing tracks all the way to Glacier Point, making this a great corridor to get into the outdoors quickly and easily.
If you stay on the road, you can explore Summit Meadow after a mile of skiing, at the top of the first hill. Beyond that, the road gets quieter and heads downhill with cool views of Merced Peak framed by the trees (just remember that you’ll have to ski back up). If you have more energy, Clark Range View is 5.7 miles one way. This sunny slope overlooks the Clark Range and is a great spot to relax and soak in the scenery. I usually carry a small backpack with extra layers, snacks, and water, and sit on that for a quick break. Others will carry a small pad to keep them off the snow. After that, you can head back or continue to Glacier Point.
In the winter, the store transforms into the spacious Glacier Point Ski Hut. The t-shirts and souvenirs are replaced by bunk beds and a dining area. If you have reservations (available through the Nordic Center – call 209-372-8444), the hut keeper will greet you and have a fire going in the wood stove. If that sounds nice, think about some of the other benefits of spending the night at Glacier Point.
I have great memories of being perfectly alone with my friends at Glacier Point looking across at a Half Dome covered with snow going orange and pink in the light of the setting sun. Once, I managed to snag a bunk next to the window and woke to a beautiful sunrise over Half Dome from my sleeping bag. Plus, if you have the energy, side trips to Sentinel Dome or other nearby places provide great skiing against a backdrop of iconic Yosemite scenery.
Even if you don’t make it all the way to Glacier Point, a network of ungroomed trails branch off from the main Glacier Point Road artery. Some of the most popular are the trails that take you to Dewey Point and incredible views overlooking the valley. Most people take the better part of a day to ski (or snowshoe) the 7-8 miles to Dewey Point and back. But I know of at least one Badger Pass employee who would dash out and back during his lunch break. It’s hard to tire of scenery like that.
Another thing I love about exploring the park in the winter is that the snow protects fragile plants and ecosystems. Unlike the summer months when leaving the trail can mean trampling plants and creating erosion or soil compaction issues, on-snow exploration leaves little lasting impact. One of the Leave No Trace principles, “Camp and travel on durable surfaces,” actually extends to snow travel. In a good snow year, many of the bushes that can make off-travel difficult are also covered in snow, making this the perfect season to find out what was around that corner that you were always curious about.
If you’re looking for a fun way to get out and enjoy the winter months or explore the park, check out the cross country skiing in Yosemite and let me know what you think.