Yosemite National Park

Cross-Country Skiing
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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park (Larry Brownstein/Photodisc/Getty)

At altitude below 4000 feet, good skiing in Yosemite Valley demands a winter of especially heavy snowfall. But climb out of the Valley to about 6,000 feet and you will find plenty of white.

For day skiing, Yosemite offers three primary areas. At Glacier Point by the Badger Pass Ski Area, groomed tracks and backcountry trails are both available. If you want to break your own ground, head up the Tioga Pass Road from Crane Flat or into the giant Sequoias of the Mariposa Grove.

The serious overnighter can head for Tuolumne Meadows or other backcountry destinations. All skiers should check with the park rangers. They can offer many suggestions to ensure safety and enjoyment. Winter in Yosemite is magnificent, but only for the prepared.

In winter, Yosemite offers downhill skiing at Badger Pass in addition to three main areas for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing—Badger Pass, Crane Flat, and the Mariposa Grove. These areas all have marked winter trails. Badger Pass offers approximately ten miles of groomed track at no charge. Ski trail maps and topographic maps can be purchased at park visitor centers. For cross-country ski school and downhill ski school information and conditions, call 209-372-1000. For Ostrander Ski Hut reservations, call 209-372-0740, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Pacific Time).

Equipment is available for rent at the Badger Pass Ski Area.

The Curry Village Ice Rink (shuttle bus stop #13) is open from early November through March, conditions permitting. Call 209-372-8341 for more information.

Crane Flat

Getting There: The Crane Flat trail follows the Tioga Road, unplowed in winter, up from Crane Flat. To get there, follow the Big Oak Flat Road to roughly halfway between the Big Oak Flat Entrance and the Valley. Just east of the Crane Flat campground, the Old Big Oak Flat road takes off north from a summer-only gas station. Follow it a short distance to a parking area. Climb the snowbanks taller than you and find the trail that takes off to the northeast (along Highway 120).

The Trail: The track starts at 6,200 feet. With 45 inches of snow annually, the base is plenty deep at this altitude.

The recommended trail is three miles out to Gin Flat, with a net elevation gain of 800 feet. Starting out, you will drop 500 feet into the Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias, at 1.5 miles. You then start upward, gaining 950 feet to reach the Crane Flat Lookout, two miles from the trailhead. Gin Flat is another 350 feet up and a mile farther, a broad meadow with miles of unbroken snow in all directions. The old stage road to Yosemite Valley takes off from this point. The Yosemite Association tells the story of a keg of gin that rolled off a stage here. Some sheepherders found the barrel intact, had a glorious party, and christened the locale of their find "Gin Flat."

We skied the trail three miles out to Gin Flat. Several inches of snow fell the night before, and the going was tough, breaking ground the whole way. But aside from that, the trail is easy following the road grade. We retraced our route, hoping to pick up speed on the packed tracks. Even then we had to supply our own momentum, as the snow was still soft and decline gradual. An alternative return is to make a loop along the old road, which parallels the journey out around a mile to the north.

For those seriously into winter backcountry scenes, the trail continues along the Tioga Road for miles. Tuolumne Meadows lies 38 miles beyond Gin Flat, through red fir and lodgepole pine forests and amidst the Park's famous granite domes.

Glacier Point

Getting There: Out of the Valley, head down the Wawona Road, turning east at the Chinquapin Intersection to the Badger Pass Ski Area.

Trails: The Badger Pass Ski Area (downhill) is a gateway to plenty of backcountry routes. Glacier Point Road is groomed in winter, so it's a great place to start a ski. Road-end at the magnificent vistas of Glacier Point is 10.5 miles away. Several loops take off from the road.

Dewey Point - A 7.5-mile loop to a vista of the Valley. The meadows track is 3.5 miles out through meadows, then more serious hills. The ridge track is four miles back, a more difficult undulating trail through fir and pine forest.

Ghost Forest Loop - An 11.5-mile loop, following the Glacier Point Road out a few miles to the Bridalveil Creek trail (#21). Head south for 1.7 miles through rolling terrain and woods to the junction with the Ghost Forest trail (#19). This track heads back west through forest two miles to the Old Glacier Point Road, which leads to the ski area. Alternatively, a cutoff connects to the groomed track on the new road and back to the ski area.

Ostrander Lake - About ten miles one-way. The easiest route is along the Bridalveil Creek Trail (#21), off the Glacier Point Road a few miles out. This trail is intermediate for most of the way, but with an expert section during an ascent just below the lake. Ostrander lies in a bowl below Horse Ridge at 8,200 feet. For the return route, you can retrace your steps or loop back on the Horizon Ridge trail (#15), an expert track connecting with the Glacier Point Road east of the Bridalveil turnoff.

Merced Crest - A difficult route (#16) out to Ostrander Lake that leaves from the opposite side of the ski area to Glacier Point Road. For a short ski, you can follow this trail a couple of miles out, then loop back on the Limit trail (#13) to the Old or New Glacier Point Roads.

Chinquapin - An expert trail linking the ski area with the Wawona Road.

Mariposa Grove

Getting There: The turnoff to the Mariposa Grove is just inside the South Entrance to Yosemite, off the Wawona Road. Drive to the end of the plowed section and ski in (up to two miles).

Trails: The Mariposa Grove provides an opportunity to observe the largest living things in a world of white. At 6,000 feet, the trees of the grove look like giant red spikes driven into massive snowbanks. The ski trails wind through the Sequoias on summer roads and walking paths.

Loop Road - The easiest route through the Grove, the road allows an eight-mile round-trip past the major named giants, like Grizzly Giant, California Tunnel, and Galen Clark trees.

Lower Grove - Trail MG-1 runs through the lower grove north of the loop road, then hits it in 1.8 miles at the California Tunnel tree.

Middle Grove - Trail MG-2 leaves the Loop Road about halfway up at the Clothespin tree. The track reconnects with the road 0.8 miles farther up. Trail MG-4 leaves the road slightly lower and runs south 0.4 miles to hit the Lower Grove trail MG-1.

Upper Grove - Trail MG-3 leaves from the Galen Clark Tree near the farthest point of the Loop Road. A half mile out, it reaches the vista of Wawona Point at 6,810 feet.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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