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Snowshoes, opera, solitude ... Yosemite in winter.

Snowshoes, opera, solitude . . . Yosemite in winter

Yosemite Valley seems larger in winter. Perhaps it's because the sheer granite walls, etched along their dark ledges with traces of snow and streaked with banners of ice, stand out more boldly. Or because the valley's black oaks, with their lacy leafless branches, seem smaller above the empty meadows.

Or maybe it's just that there are so few people. The summer profusion of cars, hikers, bikers, tour buses, and tent cities is gone. For many visitors, winter solitude restores the grandeur of the valley, returning its sense of wilderness.

Yet Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village, booked up to a year in advance in summer, go begging on winter weekdays-- despite bargain rates. Even on weekends, lodging is seldom full, and the family ski area at Badger Pass is never at capacity.

Go hiking or skating, dine in chefly splendor, listen to opera or Broadway

At an elevation of about 4,000 feet, the valley floor does get snow, but that seldom lasts more than a couple of days. This allows for some great hiking between storms, especially along the north side of the valley, which can be too hot to hike in summer. Most valley trails are hikable, but trails out of the valley (such as to Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point) are closed because of hazardous ice.

Speaking of ice, while the outdoor rink at Curry Village could be more esthetically pleasing, a new refrigeration system has improved the skating surface. A 4-hour session costs $4.50, $3.50 for ages 12 and under; skates rent for $1.25.

Yosemite Park & Curry Company also sponsors special winter programs. An indoor series offered midweek begins with Great Chefs, January 3 through 2u, at The Ahwahnee. Morning and afternoon programs by noted chefs such as Ken Frank, of Los Angeles' La Toque restaurant, are free. The chefs' dinners ($45 per person, by reservation) are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7.

Opera Week, January 24 through 28, and Musical Theater Week, January 31 through February 4, treat visitors to free afternoon and evening performances at The Ahwahnee; dinner performances held Monday through Thursday at 7:30 are $60 per person, by reservation.

If you haven't been to Badger lately . . .

Skiing is still Yosemite's biggest winter activity, and this season it will be easier than ever to try both alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross-country).

The scene has changed over the years. In 1983, all commercial ski activities were consolidated at Badger Pass. One reason was snow.

"Mother Nature has shown us that Badger is by far the most accessible area in Yosemite for winter recreation,' notes ranger Mike Durr. "The valley floor, Wawona, and even Crane Flat up by the north gate don't get consistent enough amounts of snow to be dependable. But because of its topography, Badger collects snow the way bankers collect interest.'

Today Badger's biggest problem is parking. With spaces for only 700 cars, the lot fills early on many Saturdays.

Now many skiers take the free shuttle bus from lodging in the valley. To avoid waiting, make bus reservations at your lodging the night before. Skis, boots, poles, and even picnic hampers are stored in the luggage compartment for the 1-hour trip. Remember: when chains are required, it's the bus driver who gets cold hands.

Where the fanny meets the snow

Good old Badger. With its gently sloping hills, wide and immaculately groomed bowls, and mere 900 feet of vertical drop, Badger Pass Ski Area is one of the Sierra's best places to learn the joys of sliding on--and falling into--the snow.

The biggest recent news was last winter's new triple chair lift; our longest wait on a Saturday last February was 5 minutes.

Lifts run daily from 9 to 4:30; for snow conditions, call (209) 372-1338. Adult lift tickets cost $20.50 on weekends and holidays and $17 on weekdays, except for 40-year-olds. To celebrate ski school director Nic Fiore's 40th anniversary, 40-year-olds ski free this season. Children are about half-price. Ski lessons are $15 for ages 7 and up; special programs are available for ages 3 to 6. Rent skis, boots, and poles for $13.50, $8.75 ages 12 and under.

Miles of nordic trails; a snowshoe hike

This winter, nordic skiers in Yosemite can glide over some 350 miles of signed trails and roadways (21 are machine-groomed).

Bring your own gear, since nordic ski rentals in Yosemite are available only at Badger ($11, $7.75 ages 12 and under). If you are lucky enough to have at least a foot of snow in the valley, you can ski right outside your door. One easy loop is the road from Upper Pines (closed to cars in winter) past Happy Isles, then up to Mirror Lake and back--about 3 miles total. Go early; as the day warms, the snow gets sticky and melts fast.

More dependable snow can usually be found at Crane Flat, about 8 miles southeast of the park's State Highway 120 entrance. Check snow conditions, get a trail map, and inquire about special naturalist-led ski tours or snowshoe walks at the visitor center in Yosemite Village before heading up. The easy 3-mile (round-trip) trail to the Clark Range View is popular with beginners.

Two-hour lessons at the Badger nordic center cost $18 for all ages. Badger also offers some of the most challenging and spectacular trails. Beginners can follow the tracks--and the crowds--1 mile out to the broad bowl of Summit Meadow. Hill-savvy skiers like Trail 18, a 7 1/2-mile loop to Dewey Point's panoramic views of the valley.

Yosemite Nordic Ski School also offers overnight tours to Glacier Point, Ostrander Lake, and other back-country areas.

Naturalists at the Badger ranger station lead easy snowshoe walks daily at 11. Snowshoes are provided for $1. These walks are popular; call (209) 372-0299.

School principals won't like this

Midweek is not only the least crowded time at Yosemite; it is also the least expensive. Double occupancy rates Sundays through Thursdays range from $17.75 for a cabin without bath to $55.25 for a room at Yosemite Lodge; children sharing a room with parents are free. A midweek ski package including daily lift tickets, all-day alpine or nordic lessons, and ice-skating (and ski area baby-sitting) costs $36 for two days, $73 for five (ages 12 and under are about half-price).

The $5 entrance fee to the park is good for a week. For more details on rates and all winter programs, write to Yosemite Park & Curry Company, 5410 E. Home Ave., Fresno 93727. For winter room reservations, call (209) 454-2000. For information on camping, hiking, or other activities, write to the National Park Service, Yosemite National Park, Calif. 95389.

Photo: Snow-frosted trees fringe wintry Mirror Lake--an easy walk along closed roads from the east end of Yosemite Valley

Photo: In midwinter, The Ahwahnee's Great Lounge hosts opera, musical theater, famous chefs

Photo: Gentle terrain of Badger Pass lets skiers take their time getting started and enjoy the view of gently rolling foothills to the south and west

Photo: Snowshoeing ranger leads similarly shod visitors on nature walk from Badger

Photo: Clanging bell is a Badger Pass tradition almost as venerable as 68-year-old Nic Fiore, director of the ski school
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Title Annotation:Yosemite National Park, California
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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