The History of Ice Skating in Yosemite

ice rink sign

historic ice rink 1933With its lofty location in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite National Park has always been a popular venue for winter sports. Today you can ski, snowboard, snow tube, snowshoe and cross-country ski at Badger Pass Ski Area and ice skate at the Curry Village Ice Rink. But both Badger Pass Ski Area and the Curry Village Ice Rink are some of the oldest facilities in Yosemite with a storied history. Though ice skating on the Merced River had always been a popular winter activity in Yosemite Valley when the ice was solid enough, the first ice skating rink in Yosemite National Park was built in 1929 in reaction to the news that Yosemite was being considered as the location for the 1932 Winter Olympics. As the coldest area in Yosemite Valley with little direct sun in winter, the ice rink was naturally located at Curry Village. The original 60,000 square foot rink was built where the Curry Village parking lot – both paved and dirt – stands today. Ice skating was taking place in this same spot before the construction of a formal rink by flooding the parking lot with water each night that was then ready for skating by morning. Once established, the Curry Village Ice Rink was considered the premier ice skating center in California with its stunning natural setting and the support of the Yosemite Winter Club.

historic hockey

Hockey: Oakland American Legion vs. the Yosemite Winter Club

Not only was the rink used by park visitors, but also hosted speed skating races, figure skating exhibitions, curling, hockey games and winter carnivals. The first “Fancy Ice Skating Carnival” took place in 1928, the year the Yosemite Winter Club was founded. In 1931, the San Joaquin Valley Sierra Winter Sports Carnival also employed the Curry Village Ice Rink with curling matches and a tug of war competition on the ice. By 1933, the annual California State Figure Skating Championship took place in Yosemite entertaining grandstands filled with onlookers as colored glass candle holders set into the snowbanks surrounding the rink created a festive atmosphere. Hockey was a popular rink sport throughout the 1930s, and players included professional teams and collegiate exhibitions.

ice rinkMoved from its original location, the current ice rink at the Curry Village Recreation Center was built in the 1970s at the location of the former Curry Village Garage – a structure that was destroyed by an arson fire. Often cited as one of the world’s best ice rinks by travel magazines, today’s rink includes a skate rental program, a large warming hut for skaters to stow their boots and a fire pit to warm their toes. From November to early March, Delaware North at Yosemite operates the ice rink with a staff that maintains safety for skaters and the condition of the ice with a zamboni. Curry Village Ice Rink is open daily for several day and evening skating sessions, conditions permitting.

$11.00 per adult, per session
$10.00 per child, per session
$4.50 for skate rental

For more on the history of ice skating in Yosemite see “Magic Yosemite Winters” by Gene Rose.

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