Elizabeth Falkner Brings the Heat to Yosemite’s Chefs’ Holidays

Elizabeth Falkner has been a longtime participant in Chefs’ Holidays and graces the cover of this year’s brochure. We caught up with her this summer to talk about Chefs’ Holidays, her culinary career, and her love for the park.

Before Falkner became a world-famous chef, she was living in San Francisco with a degree in fine art film. But she was always drawn to food and cooking, especially as California was going through what she called a “food revolution.”

“I loved to cook but I didn’t go to culinary school, I just wanted to work in a restaurant,” she said. “It’s so different from film making, which is quite a long process. People were doing really cool things with food. It was a whole scene. It was like an art movement. I couldn’t not get involved with it.”

Falkner worked in a handful of restaurants before opening her own San Francisco pastry shop and restaurant, Citizen Cake. For years she has been an innovative player in fine dining and culinary events across the country. Falkner said she loves culinary travel through food and meeting and working with new chefs.

“I love that environment of cooking with other people to see how they put it together for a really cohesive menu.”

She now lives and works in New York, and after opening nine restaurants in San Francisco and New York City, she’s not attached to a restaurant at the moment. She said she enjoys the freedom this gives her to cook at food and wine events while working on a memoir and other projects.

Over the years that she’s been featured in Chefs’ Holidays, Falkner said she has enjoyed meeting fans, friends and family of the other chefs, and repeat attendees to Chefs’ Holidays. But she said it’s especially fun seeing people experience Yosemite and Chefs’ Holidays for the first time.

“There’s the bonus of being in this beautiful place and getting to have some fun food and chat with chefs. [Chefs’ Holidays] is more intimate than some other cooking events. It’s much more like a getaway or a holiday. It’s a special environment. We all wake up and look outside and go ‘oh my god, I can’t wait to go out there.’ Everyone has conversations about going out later or what they’ve already done. It’s not 24 hours of food and wine.”

Having visited the park as a child and as an adult, Falkner is no stranger to Yosemite, but the park still carries a sense of awe for her when she visits for Chefs’ Holidays.

“It’s just always been really magical and such a beautiful, amazing part of the planet and an amazing part of California. It’s amazing how many Californians haven’t been here. It’s so, so grand and spiritual in the deepest sense. It’s not like anything else.”

Chefs’ Holidays sessions run between January 10 and February 4, 2016. Elizabeth Falkner is the headliner chef for Session 4 on January 20 and 21. Visit our website to learn more or book a package.

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#YosemiteSocial!

Have you ever attended a social media event? Originally formed as part of the Twitter community and known as as “Tweet-Ups” (a play on meet-up, get it?), social media events have evolved to include users of all social media channels in what are often referred to as “Socials”. This week, Delaware North at Yosemite hosted Yosemite National Park’s first “Yosemite Social”. By invitation, social media influencers and social media representatives of park partners gathered in Yosemite Valley February 1 – 3, 2015 to talk about Yosemite in winter. The original event itinerary centered around winter sports at Badger Pass Ski Area – California’s original ski resort and one of only two located in a national park. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has chosen to withhold snow from the Sierra Nevada this winter and Badger Pass has closed temporarily due to lack of it. So what to do in the Yosemite winter without snow? Yosemite Social learned about activities such as hiking, biking, and ice skating in a snow-free Yosemite winter. Social media users on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can check out the experience by searching for the #YosemiteSocial hashtag on each channel.

In addition to activities, Yosemite Social was hosted at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls with a welcome dinner at The Mountain Room. After dinner entertainment consisted of a Starry Skies Over Yosemite Program, led by Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive guide Cory. Taking Yosemite Social on a cosmic tour of the universe, Cory shared his extensive knowledge of astronomy on a walking tour under the dark night sky of Leidig Meadow. The next day, Yosemite Social took a Bike-to-Hike Tour with Yosemite Mountaineering School Guide Allissa. Using the cruisers from the bike rental operation at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is an easy way to explore Yosemite Valley with occasional stops for short hikes and iconic vistas. Yosemite Social stopped mid-tour for lunch with freshly-made sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village and a meet & greet with Yosemite National Park Service staff. With grand views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls as a backdrop, Ranger Paul provided insight into the methods and goals of social media for the National Park Service in Yosemite.

Though Curry Village operates seasonally and is often closed during the winter months, Yosemite Social had a special pizza party dinner in the Curry Village Dining Pavilion featuring Pizza Deck pies – a tradition for summer visitors. Along with local beers and a green salad, dinner provided an opportunity to learn about operations at Curry Village – originally established in 1899 by the Curry family – from General Manager Dan Cornforth and Guest Recreation Manager Sean Costello. A short walk from the pavilion provided a winter evening’s activity: ice skating at Curry Village Ice Rink. Not only are rental skates available to circle the ice under Half Dome and Glacier Point during the day, take a break to gather around the fire pit during evening skate sessions with a S’mores Kit for dessert. Ice rink staff will even loan you long-handled forks for marshmallow toasting.

On the last day of the event Yosemite Social joined The Ahwahnee‘s General Manager, Brett Archer, for breakfast in the Ahwahnee Dining Room. Since Chefs’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee was still in full swing for its last sessions, Yosemite Social also participated in an exclusive Ahwahnee Kitchen Tour for a close up look at baked bread, desserts and the hardworking kitchen staff in this historic hotel. Many architectural elements are original to the hotel opening in 1927, including giant Hobart stand mixers haven’t been available in decades. Each winter in January and February, Chefs’ Holidays hosts famous chefs from around the country for cooking demonstrations, historic kitchen tours and a gala dinner in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Sincere thanks goes to the participants of the first ever Yosemite Social: Annie from NatureBridge, Amber and Noel from Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, Trevor from Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, Annie from Outdoorsy Mama, Kim from Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau and travel photographer Zach Glassman. Would you like to attend a Yosemite Social? Look for future event announcements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park: California’s First Ski Resort

Did you know that we celebrated the 80th anniversary of Badger Pass Ski Area in 2015? Since 1935, California’s first ski resort has taught generations of families to enjoy winter sports. Offering rental equipment and ski instruction – now including snowboarding – visitors to Yosemite National Park of all ages can learn new winter sport skills at Badger Pass Ski Area. Legendary Badger Pass ski instructor and U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame member Nic Fiore once said, “Come to Yosemite. We have a ski school which really teaches people to ski and focuses on beginner and family. You can have a really lovely day here.”(2) Nic arrived in Yosemite in 1948 and never left. It is estimated that he taught over 100,000 people to ski during his time in Yosemite. Things haven’t really changed at Badger Pass since Nic’s days as head of the Yosemite Ski School. The Badger Pups program – one of the first children’s ski programs in the country – still teaches Yosemite’s youngest visitors to ski and snowboard.

Nic Fiore was director of the Yosemite Ski School from 1956 to 2001

Nic Fiore was director of the Yosemite Ski School from 1956 to 2001

Always modest in size, Badger Pass Ski Area doesn’t compare to the large ski resorts at Lake Tahoe or in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. At an elevation of 7300 feet, Badger Pass Ski Area’s longest run is only 800 feet, but the impact that Badger Pass had on the growing popularity of skiing looms large. Though ski touring was always a popular sport for the Yosemite community and winter visitors, the idea of a resort with lifts and groomed slopes occurred to the head of concessionaire Yosemite Park & Curry Company, Donald Tressider, in 1934. The opening of the Glacier Point Road and Wawona Tunnel in 1933 made it possible for the YP & CC to create Badger Pass Ski Area 23 miles from Yosemite Valley in 1934 with the Badger Pass Ski House completed in 1935. Competitive ski races and contests and the addition of experienced European ski instructors to the Yosemite Ski School contributed to the popularity of Badger Pass in California and skiing as a winter sport in the United States. By 1936, the world’s greatest skiers were practicing for the Winter Olympics, and by 1937, state skiing championship races were being held at Badger Pass. By the 1940s, Badger Pass was welcoming over 70,000 skiers during the winter season and Donald Tressider had become vice president of the California Ski Association.

The first mechanical ski lift at Badger Pass was also the first mechanical lift not only in California but in the American west. Known as the Up-ski, the lift had sleds (with nicknames like “Big Bertha” and “Queen Mary”) that carried 8 people at a time to “Ski-Top”, the start of the Rail Creek, Bishop Creek and Strawberry Creek runs. Today, only Rail Creek is marked as a ski run, accessible from Badger Pass for experienced backcountry skiers, but the lift is long gone after it’s thirteen years of service beginning in 1935. After World War II, the ski industry had grown and lured skiers to places like Aspen, Colorado and Sun Valley Idaho. With so many options for skiers across the nation, Badger Pass Ski Area had to distinguish itself with one of the ski industry’s first all-inclusive packages, called the “Mid-Week Ski Special”. This special included lodging, dining, equipment rental, lift ticket, lesson and transportation from Yosemite Valley all for $25 dollars a day!

The Up-Ski was the first mechanical ski lift in the American west

The Up-Ski was the first mechanical ski lift in the American west

The Badger Pass Ski House (today’s day lodge) was designed by architect Eldridge T. Spencer and opened on December  17th in 1935. In 1954, the day lodge was enlarged by adding another building with a breezeway in between. The lounge area originally contained a large open fireplace with cast iron panels of skiing figures mounted above. The panels were designed by Robert Howard Boardman, who also designed the wildlife mural in the Mural Room at The Ahwahnee. The fireplace has since been removed, but the panels are now installed around the fireplace in the Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls in Yosemite Valley. Ski races continued to be hosted at Badger Pass during the 1950s and 1960s, though today only the Silver Ski race is hosted by the Yosemite Winter Club. In 1965, National Park Service approved the installation of chair lifts for the first time and the Badger Pass Ski House was renamed the Snowflake Day Lodge.

With all of it’s storied history, today’s winter visitor still finds Badger Pass Ski Area an uncomplicated place to take the family for a day of snowy fun in Yosemite. Snowboarders join skiers on the slopes and and a snow tubing hill has been added for the park’s youngest visitors. Equipment rental is available at the rental shop along with souvenirs and apparel at the ski shop. The free shuttle bus from Yosemite Valley provides daily transportation for lodging guests and private vehicles will find plenty of parking. Dine on the sun deck or inside the day lodge at the Skiers Grill or upstairs in the Snowflake Room. Rent lockers for your gear by the day or the season. Cross-country skiing is an option, along with snowshoeing, and rental equipment is available at the Cross-Country/Nordic Center. Groomed cross-country trails originate at Badger Pass and continue down the Glacier Point Road to the terminus at Glacier Point – one of Yosemite’s most spectacular views now covered with snow! If the 10 mile ski to Glacier Point is enough for one day, you can opt to stay overnight at the Glacier Point Ski Hut and cozy up to the fireplace while the hutkeeper prepares dinner. You won’t need to ski to earn your keep and enjoy winter in Yosemite Valley at The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Curry Village. Take advantage of great winter lodging deals like Stay Two Ski FREE and Stay ‘N Play.

 

 References:

1. Magic Yosemite Winters by Gene Rose

2. Mountain Dreamers: Visionaries of Sierra Nevada Skiing by Robert Frohlich

3. Yosemite’s Innkeepers: The Story of a Great Park and it’s Chief Concessionaires by Shirley Sargent

6 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Yosemite

1. Ice Skating

Where: Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite Valley
When: November through February 29
How: Skate rentals available – and don’t forget the s’mores kits for the fire pit!

2. Skiing, Snowboarding and Snowtubing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Mid-December through March
How: Lessons, rentals, and dining available

3. Chefs’ Holidays

Where: The Ahwahnee
When: January and February
How: Dine with famous chefs and attend cooking demos in an historic national park lodge

4. Ostrander Ski Hut or Glacier Point Ski Hut:

Where: Backcountry lodging along the Glacier Point Road
When: Mid-December through March
How: Not accessible by vehicle in winter, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski to Yosemite’s ski huts

5. Snowshoeing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Every day when enough snow covers the ground, evenings during the full moon
How: Rent snowshoes at Badger Pass Ski Area on your own, join park rangers or Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive naturalists on guided walks (snowshoes included)

6. Camera Walks

Where: Yosemite Valley
When: Several days a week in winter, find the schedule in the Yosemite Guide
How: With instructors from the Ansel Adams Gallery

Snow in Yosemite: Badger Pass Ski Area in Pictures

As California’s original ski resort, Badger Pass Ski Area has been a favorite winter activity in Yosemite National Park for generations of families. We invite you to enjoy some of our favorite Badger Pass photos, all taken by long-time Yosemite resident and acclaimed photographer Chris Falkenstein.

Badger Pass

One of the many beautiful clear days at Badger Pass.

At the Top

Skiers get ready to take to the mountain.

Snowy Day

The base of the mountain on a snowy day.

Grooming

A groomer prepares the runs.

Ringing the Bell

Chuck Carter, head of Yosemite’s Winter Sports School, rings the ski school bell.

Racing

Snowboarders participate in a race at Badger Pass

Ranger Station in Snow

The ranger station after a big snow.

Day Lodge

The Day Lodge

Sunset at Badger Pass

Sunset at Badger Pass

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.

Your Yosemite Stories: Winter

Winter Trees by William Neill

Winter Trees by William Neill at http://www.williamneill.com

Nothing conveys the secret splendor of a Yosemite winter like firsthand stories.  In our winter newsletter, we asked Yosemite community members to share their favorite Yosemite winter story. So, enjoy four stories as Yosemite residents share some magical winter moments with us:

Michael B Schwartz “I remember walking to work one morning and the river that runs under the bridge from Yosemite Falls was stacked with a huge ice flow. The entire river. It almost touched the bridge. Blocks and blocks of ragged chunks of thick ice, being forced and pushed by the falls. It was amazing. That is just one of many winter memories. At the time, I was probably a busboy at the Ahwahnee, late 1986.”

Casey McClanahan “Me and an Australian couple ice skated under a half moon on a frozen over Merced River by the Pines Campgrounds one night. Water was frozen from bank to bank and for a good 80 yards. Could see all the rocks underneath and feel the ice move. Still have the pictures. I was a mechanic at the garage in 2006 and 2007.”

Colleen Cassidy Murch “In 2005 when the federal government shut down, I was an assistant manager at The Ahwahnee. All reservations were canceled and all the food was bought for Bracebridge – the hotel was decked out in its Christmas glory! I was asked to stay at the hotel during this time to keep an eye on things. It was a little creepy to be the sole human in the hotel at that time. I remember reading my book and sitting in the solarium very late one night with the moonlight highlighting the trees. I sat and ate a bowl of oatmeal in the Dining Room early one morning in compete silence – the only person in the entire building. Later in the week, my best friends joined me to celebrate Christmas. They were let in to share this amazing historical building and you could hear the echoes of years past; the celebrations, the generations, the experiences, the war time memories. So many memories in Yosemite but this one was at the top of my list.”

Alanna Dolen Llama “I worked in the park summers of 2002-2005 and spent only one winter there. I was an Ahwahnee Dining Room Captain from fall 2004 to spring 2005. My favorite memory, by far, was the day that I unexpectedly made it to Dewey Point on cross-country skis. I knew that the trail changed from beginner’s to expert at one point, and planned to turn around there, but I didn’t notice it. Suddenly, I found myself looking down at Yosemite Valley in front of me! I was amazed! It was so silent and breathtaking. I had phone service up there even back then, and I called a bunch of people because I had to tell someone about the amazing view that I saw! I loved seeing the snow fall against the Valley walls.”

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