Nordic Northern California: Hut-to-Hut Across the Sierras

A white expanse unblemished by fluorescent ski apparel and careening snowboarders—is this possible? With the growing crowds on the slopes, untrammeled snow can be scarce; for cross-country skiers anxious to avoid an unwieldy resort experience, this plight has become all the more desperate. California, however, offers a number of accessible alternatives to crowded resorts or expensive trans-Atlantic outings to the Alps. Vast swaths of snow await in the Sierras, blessed with both base-camp destinations for day trips and connect-the-dots heated huts and cabins for multi-day, high-alpine excursions.
For beginners and those with only a weekend to spare, head to the town of Mammoth. It's surrounded by miles of national forests, which offer that much-needed sense of solitude as you master your balance on skinny skis. A favorite Mammoth-area tour runs along Lake Mary Road, where the labor of your ascent is rewarded by views of the Sherwin Mountains, not to mention the downhill chutes back to town. The Cottonwood Lakes region makes for another solid weekend destination. A 13-mile loop starts at Horseshoe Meadow, hits a high trailhead at 9,600 feet, and gently descends into the Lakes Basin, where the powder bowl skiing is a must. Alpine Skills International ( also runs a number of beginner and intermediate classes in the Lake Tahoe region.
For the more skilled and adventurous, there is no substitute for the Sierra High Route. Higher, tougher, and more remote than Switzerland's well-known Haute Route, this track demands some serious stamina, skills, and preparation—the upshot, though, is nominal crowds, even in spring when conditions are best. From the Symmes trailhead at 6,300 feet, head west toward Wolverton through Mahogany Flat and Anvil Camp up to 12,000-foot Shepherd Pass. From here, enjoy a gentle descent into the celebrated Sequoia National Park.
One popular route commences at Onion Valley, and will have you gliding through exceedingly remote backcountry flanked by snow-drenched peaks. Other trans-Sierra trips include the 50-mile Great Western Divide, the 47-mile Monarch Divide, and the Yosemite Border Route. As always, conditions will dictate which is the best to take on. But when the conditions conspire to cover the Sierras, this is Nordic skiing at its best.

Published: 12 Nov 2002 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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