Debbie Croft: Sierra winters hold special allure

In the Sierra Nevada’s high country, winter’s chilly alpine air and breathtaking beauty add to the attraction for thousands of visitors annually. Yosemite National Park and Mono County are two of nature’s giant playgrounds, especially this time of year.

For winter outdoor enthusiasts, recreation options abound.

Those without equipment need not worry because there are plenty of places throughout the region where they can rent or purchase whatever is needed to tackle their recreational adventures. And they can enhance their experiences with lessons and guided trail tours, available at most popular venues.

With cross-country skiing gaining in popularity, the Sierra is a prime destination. For example, groomed tracks and pristine trails stretch almost 350 miles across parts of Yosemite. The Yosemite Cross-Country Center and Ski School at Badger Pass is a great starting point for day trips.

Those looking for even more of a challenge can make reservations with the Glacier Point Ski Hut. The rugged stone and log cabin is furnished dormitory-style for overnight and weekend stays. Nutritious meals and snacks are provided. Visit to learn more about this back-country shelter.

In Mono County, peaceful trails and groomed tracks bisect the landscape.

June Lake’s scenic Silver Meadow offers free cross-country skiing, as does Shady Rest in the town of Mammoth Lakes. Just off Highway 395 between June Lake and Mammoth Lake are two other cross-country ski trails, also free of charge:

Obsidian Dome’s track is flat, but according to Liesl Kenney with East River Public Relations, Bald Mountain’s trails wind gently and steadily to elevations that provide lovely views of surrounding valleys and peaks.

A few miles south on Highway 395, off Tom’s Place exit, Rock Creek Road leads to a track heading up the canyon to Rock Creek Lake and Rock Creek Lodge.

At Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center, there are almost 22 miles of groomed tracks wrapped around four alpine lakes. Moonlight tours are scheduled monthly. Daily trail fees apply.

For details visit or call (800) 845-7922.

Downhill skiers in Central California have their choice of resorts:

• Dodge Ridge in Tuolumne County boasts five terrain parks for all skill levels, 67 trails and 12 lifts.

• Thousands of acres of terrain are encompassed by Mono County’s Mammoth/June Ski Resort.

• China Peak Mountain Resort sits 65 miles northeast of Fresno with trails, terrain parks and a tubing hill.

• Yosemite’s Badger Pass was California’s first ski resort. Most of the slopes are designed for beginner and intermediate levels.

The park also offers another popular activity at this time of year. “Ice Skating in Yosemite has taken place for almost 100 years,” said Scott Gediman, assistant superintendent for public and legislative affairs at Yosemite National Park. “Before the Curry Village ice rink was built, the parking lot would be flooded for skating.”

The rink was constructed in the 1930s.

When asked about rumors of this historic fixture closing, Gediman said, “There was talk of closing the rink with the Merced River plan. But we received 30,000 comments from the public, all wanting the rink to remain open.”

Because of the ice rink’s proximity to the Merced River, the alternative would be to relocate it to another area of the Valley floor. The National Park Service is currently exploring alternatives for not only relocating the ice skating rink, but also moving other man-made facilities that are situated close to the river.

Now, though, the rink remains open for another winter season. Depending on the weather, sessions are held through the first of March. The rink is open daily with varied hours on weekdays, weekends and holidays. For times and prices, visit and click on “Play,” or call (209) 372-8319.

According to weather reports, snow has fallen on and off this week. When covered with the white stuff the eastern Sierra is transformed into a winter wonderland. Near Mono Lake and the village of Lee Vining as temperatures dip and snow descends, icy fog can sometimes result. Local Paiute tribes refer to the phenomenon as “pogonip.”

Whether you’re looking for athletic adventures or scenes to peer at through a camera lens, the Sierra is a perfect place this time of year.