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Winter at Yosemite: Good Times in the Snow

January 03, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — As always at this time of the year, thousands of snow enthusiasts have flocked to the slopes in the Far West's cradle of winter sports.

Ice-skaters, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, downhill skiers and those who make annual winter pilgrimages to the park just to enjoy the scenery have been coming and going since mid-November and will continue to arrive until the snow melts in mid-March or early April.

Yosemite, set aside as a state park in 1864 and as a national park in 1890, has been a mecca for winter recreation for more than a century. In the early days, winter visitors were drawn by sleigh rides through the High Sierra back country and by a big outdoor ice-skating rink in Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome as a backdrop.

In 1920, a ski jump went up in the valley and was erected again each year until Badger Pass was opened in 1935, when a diesel-powered, cable-drawn giant sled called the Queen Mary pulled 20 skiers at a time up the steep slopes. Badger Pass is California's oldest established downhill ski area and the Yosemite Ski School, which began in 1928, is the oldest ski school in the West.

Each morning at 10:15 and each afternoon at 2:30 Nic Fiore, 65, rings the big bell at the bottom of the Badger Pass ski runs, summoning his students to class.

Fiore has directed the Yosemite Ski School for 38 years. His colleagues say he has introduced more people to skiing than any other instructor in the West--more than 70,000.

Park rangers lead two-hour snowshoe treks daily and five-hour cross-country ski tours on weekends from Badger Pass through the back country.

The more adventurous cross-country skiers can obtain wilderness permits for overnighting or camping out for several days in the snowy wilderness. The park has 90 miles of marked ski trails and a two-story stone hut at Lake Ostrander where 25 cross-country skiers can be accommodated overnight.

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