YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — "Learn to ski, or it's free."
That's a promise from Nic Fiore, director of the Yosemite Ski School at Badger Pass, the only downhill ski area in the park.
At 7,100 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the snow-blanketed pass became California's first ski resort in 1935. Yosemite Ski School opened earlier, in 1928, and is considered the oldest ski school in the West.
Fiore, 68, has been at Badger Pass for 41 years. He and his staff of 30 offer private and group ski lessons for ages 3 to senior citizens. Badger Pass also has a cross-country ski school, tours on snowshoes led by park rangers, and snowcat excursions up spectacular mountain slopes.
There's free shuttle bus service to Badger Pass from Yosemite Valley, where park visitors can find accommodations in the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village.
Adjacent to the village and offering views of famous Half Dome is the only outdoor ice-skating rink in the state. Nearby, at the Mountain Shop, snowshoes and cross-country skis can be rented. Visitors can also sightsee from a wide-windowed tour bus.
All lodging and hospitality services in the park are operated by the Yosemite Park & Curry Co.
Lift tickets cost less than at any other major ski area in the central Sierra. An all-day pass for adults costs $23.50 on weekends and $18.50 weekdays, while a lift pass for children ages 4 through 12 costs $11.75 on weekends and $10.50 weekdays.
Skiers 60 and older get free lift passes for the season. The same goes for anyone exactly 40 years old, a promotion started last year in honor of Fiore's 40th season as an instructor.
Lift tickets get you unlimited rides on a triple chair, three double chairs, a T-bar and rope tow.
The Highest Lifts
Elevation at the top of the highest lifts is 8,100 feet, offering a drop of 900 feet on slopes that lead to the day lodge. The runs at Badger Pass are rated 35% for beginners, 50% for intermediate and 15% for advanced skiers. Even at the busy times on holiday weekends, skiers wait only a few minutes in lift lines.
The daily learn-to-ski package that includes rental skis, boots and poles, two-hour group lessons in both morning and afternoon, and an all-day pass on the beginners' double-chair lift costs $30. It includes Fiore's money-back pledge that you'll learn to ski.
Additional two-hour group lessons cost $15 for those 7 and older. Children 3 to 6 can join a pre-ski school for $6 an hour ($10 with rental skis, boots and poles). For non-skiing youngsters 3 to 9, baby-sitting service is offered for $2.50 an hour.
If can you break away for a midweek holiday, take the low-priced ski and recreation package. It includes a ski lift pass, downhill and cross-country ski lessons, guided nordic ski tours, ice skating, park tours and baby-sitting. The adult package costs from $36 for two days to $73 for five days; children pay $18.50 for two days and $38 for five days.
To be eligible for this midweek package you must stay at least two consecutive nights, Sunday through Thursday, in the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village. Children 12 and younger can stay free in a room with their parents.
Low Midweek Rates
Nightly midweek double-room rates through March 16 (through Feb. 9 at the Ahwahnee), except tonight and Feb. 19, are $144.10 at the Ahwahnee, $19.50 to $57.25 at Yosemite Lodge and $18.15 to $47.50 at Curry Village.
Weekend, holiday and in-season rates at the Ahwahnee are $159.50 double. At Yosemite Village they vary from $33.25/$35.50 to $64.25/$78.25, and $21.65/$24.15 to $58/$62 at Curry Village. Call the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. for reservations at (209) 454-2000 or (209) 252-4848.
Besides its downhill ski activities, Badger Pass also is the park's nordic ski center. The Yosemite Cross-Country Ski School, established in 1970, offers learn-to-ski packages with rental skis, boots and poles and both morning and afternoon lessons for $30 (children 12 and under, $20).
Additional two-hour lessons cost $18, or you can join the all-day lesson and tour outing for $30 (with rental gear $35). A variety of other cross-country tours are available, including an overnight 21-mile round trip to Glacier Point ($90). Skiers stay in a hut and get meals cooked by a ski guide.
Cross-country skis, boots and poles can be rented at Badger Pass all day for $11 (children $7.75). With five feet of snow already on the ground, non-skiers should consider renting snowshoes ($6).
You can join a park ranger on daily two-hour snowshoe walks. Make reservations by calling (209) 372-0299 and meet at the A-frame ranger station at Badger Pass at 11 a.m.; snowshoes are provided for $1. Saturdays at 10 a.m. rangers lead five-hour cross-country ski tours in Yosemite's high country.
At the ski area you can also board an open-air snowcat on an hourlong trip over the mountain slopes for views of the snow-clad Sierra ($5).
The sport shop at Badger Pass sells ski clothes and accessories such as gloves, goggles and suntan lotion. Wine and picnic supplies also are available. Sandwiches, pizza, chili and beverages are served at the day lodge.
For additional information about Badger Pass, call (209) 372-1330. The cross-country ski school phone number is (209) 372-1244.
Get recorded weather and road information for Yosemite National Park by calling (209) 372-4605. This time of year, tire chains are often required.
The most direct automobile route to Badger Pass from Los Angeles is north via Interstate 5 and California 99 to Fresno, then join California 41 to the park's southern entrance. Or you can continue to Merced and follow California 140 into Yosemite Valley.
Round trip from Los Angeles is 710 miles.