Why You Need to Visit Yosemite National Park in Winter

Yosemite National Park in Winter

The park is open for business—and few tourists are here—offering skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and more.

Yesterday at sunrise, I backflipped out of a plane during a tandem skydive over Yosemite Valley. The loud roar of wind filled my ears as we dropped fast, and when the chute opened everything became silent and we floated through the air. The morning sky was thick with reds and blues mixing with white clouds that extended out over the foothills.

Though we jumped over the park, we landed—as per protocol—at the Mariposa-Yosemite Airport, home to Skydive Yosemite. Co-owner Paul Wignall is an old friend and with him I planned our epic let’s-do-everything-in-one-day-in-Yosemite outing. From Mariposa, we drove to the park for snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing and ice skating. On the way in we stopped at the town of Midpines and the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort for huge breakfast burritos and to pick up our friend Isaiah Foulks. Foulks, whose dad is a former member of Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), grew up in the park. Less than an hour of winding roads later we entered Yosemite, where we could see snow on the top of Half Dome, but where most of the Valley floor was dry and snow-free. A half-hour more of driving brought us up to the Badger Pass Ski Resort.

Like many attractions in Yosemite, Badger is family-friendly. This is where Wignall teaches his kids to ski on the gentle, rolling slopes. But the resort is also steep enough to really pick up speed, especially when the snow is packed and groomed like it was yesterday. We rode for hours without ever standing in a lift line, our boards carving over corduroy slopes and along the side trails. The sun was shining, it was warm and we rode fast.

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snowboarding at Badger Pass
Short lift lines and perfect Corduroy slopes make riding Badger Pass fun and peaceful. Chris Van Leuven

From Badger we dropped back down the Valley floor and tucked into Curry Village, or as some call it Little Siberia because it’s always so cold. Despite only receiving an hour of sun per day during winter, the area was still warm enough for rock climbing, so we hiked up toward Staircase Falls and took in the grandeur of the park while jamming an all-time finger crack. From the perch up by Staircase there are unobstructed views of many of the park’s most iconic formations: Half Dome, Washington Column, Mount Watkins and Yosemite Falls. The falls run during winter, but like most things in the park, they’re slowed down. Listening to the lightly flowing trickle of Staircase Falls is mesmerizing and it’s such a gentle fall that you can walk right up and put your hand right in it.

From the falls we dropped back down to Curry Village for ice skating. Here, in the shadow of Half Dome that captured a bright ray of alpenglow, we laced up next to a hot fire. Parents helped their kids on and off the ice, while the three of us chased each other around the rink. As the sky darkened and rink lights went on, we found our way back to the fire and shared a round of s’mores.

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Staircase Falls, Yosemite
Listening to the soft trickle of Staircase Falls is mesmerizing. Paul Wignall/Skydive Yosemite

Writing this now, with legs battered from crashing on the ice and fingers pinched from jamming them in tight cracks, I can’t help but smile thinking back through all the highlights. I’ll take a quiet ski resort over a busy one any day. Same with the granite rocks here, which during winter see few climbers. And finally the ice skating, where that little rink in Curry Village packs fun and challenge for everyone. Like many year-round residents, including Isaiah, I like the solitude that’s available here. During winter it’s rare to see another visitor on the walls and trails.

Though Yosemite National Park is incredible all year, the winter season is something special.

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ice skating in Yosemite
Paul Wignall, owner of Skydive Yosemite, ice skating under Half Dome. Chris Van Leuven

Lodging can be booked in the park through Aramark and there are plenty of Airbnb options in Foresta (within the park) the surrounding towns of Midpines, including AutoCamp, and Mariposa. Bookings for Skydive Yosemite can be made here.

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