Home » 2015 Christmas in Yosemite

Yosemite Valley, CA

Friday, December 25, 2015 - 5:30pm by Lolo
245 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Packing for YosemitePacking for YosemiteAlthough we were pretty much packed beforehand, the final loading of the car on Christmas morning did not go smoothly. Each of us had two pairs of skis and ski boots (downhill and cross country), plus all our other stuff. When we laid everything out on the sidewalk in front of Andrew’s apartment, it was a spectacle.

I thought we were going to have to take two cars, but everyone immediately objected to that and gave me negative Fezziwig points for even suggesting it.

Since Tommy’s Subaru Imprezza had roof racks that would accommodate two Thule car-top boxes, we moved everything from our car to his, took the Thule box from Andrew’s car and put it up next to Tommy’s, loaded all 8 pairs of skis and poles in the two boxes, and then squeezed in. Andrew and I sat in the back practically buried in luggage. It was very cozy.

Despite the cramped conditions, spirits were high and much caroling was taking place. Then, when we were about an hour away from Yosemite, Andrew blurted out, “I am such an idiot!” I looked at him over the pile of luggage between us, and saw that his face had gone completely white. He looked like he was having a heart attack.

Arriving in Snow-Covered Yosemite ValleyArriving in Snow-Covered Yosemite Valley“I forgot the key to my Thule box,” he confessed.

Despite us all thinking to ourselves, “Yes, you are truly an idiot,” we didn’t have the heart to make him feel any worse than he obviously did already – especially on Christmas. So instead, we pretty much all said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out. Maybe we can break into it, or if not, rent skis.” We all tried to forget about it for the time being.

Other than Andrew’s outburst, the drive had gone very smoothly and we were making great time, or at least until we got to within 5 miles of the El Portal entrance to the park, where traffic came to a complete halt. We spent the next hour inching our way along, not having any idea what the problem could possibly be. When we finally got to the entrance gate, we learned that rangers were only letting cars with chains or all-wheel drive through, since the park roads were covered in snow. All others had to either turn back or pull over into a lot where they could rent chains and have them installed. Having both all-wheel drive and chains in the trunk, we were waved on through and finally able to drive at a speed faster than 3 mph.

They weren’t kidding about the roads being treacherous. As we drove through the Valley along Southside Drive, we passed several vehicles that had slid off the road that were in the process of being towed out. Fortunately, Tommy’s car handled great in the snow and we had no problem.

Christmas Evening Walk to Swinging BridgeChristmas Evening Walk to Swinging BridgeBefore going to Yosemite Lodge, we stopped at the Yosemite Village Garage, where they do auto repairs and towing, to see if they could help us break into our locked Thule box. With all the chaos going on with cars driving off the roads in the Valley, we felt a little silly bothering them with an issue that was far less serious than most they were dealing with. However, they were very nice about it and suggested that we come back tomorrow morning around 7 am, when Jason, a tow truck driver that doubles as their locksmith, would be in. That sounded promising, so we were all somewhat hopeful that we would be able to get at our skis.

We checked in at the Yosemite Lodge and were very pleased with the coziness of our rustic little cabin. There were two double beds, a small table by the window to play cards at, and a large counter top area outside the bathroom, where we set up Andrew’s camping stove.

While Herb and Andrew unpacked, Tommy and I went for a walk to see what our dining options for the evening might be. There were two: the Mountain Room, where we had eaten our Thanksgiving dinner, which at $55 a head, was not what we were looking for this evening; and the Food Court, which was cafeteria style and closed at 8 pm. Not thrilled with either, we came up with a third option – reheating the leftover kale Christmas Eve dinner in our room later on and playing cards.

Leftovers in Yosemite Valley Lodge RoomLeftovers in Yosemite Valley Lodge RoomNow that we didn’t have to get to dinner by 8:00, we all grabbed our cameras and headlamps and went out for an evening walk in the snow. From the back of Yosemite Lodge, we walked along the Merced River towards Swinging Bridge. It was so very pristine. The only sound we heard was the crunching of our boots in the snow.

At least that was until we got to the Bridge and heard a buzzing sound, which turned out to be a family on the beach below flying a toy drone. Technically drones are banned in national parks, but this one, obviously from Santa, did not seem much of a threat to national security.

There was going to be a full moon tonight, just like Thanksgiving, but since it would be quite late before it made its way above Half Dome, we turned on our headlamps and made our way back to our cozy little cabin, for an evening of leftovers and playing Hearts.

Breaking into the Thule Box and Cross Country Skiing to Glacier Point

The Epic BeginsThe Epic BeginsWhile Tommy and I slept in, Herb and Andrew were off to the Yosemite Valley Garage by 6:45 to meet with Jason, the lock man and our best, in fact only, hope for getting at our skis.

About a half hour later, I received a text message, which read, “Jason is a hero!!” Woo Hoo! Looked like we were going skiing!

Not only was he able to get into the Thule box, but he did so without breaking the lock – and at no charge! We unanimously chose Jason as the winner of the 2015 Gaidus Fezziwig contest!

Although there was enough snow in the Valley to play around on our cross country skis, there really aren’t many trails, and definitely no groomed ones. The real world-class cross country skiing is up above the Valley along Glacier Point Road.

From about late May to early November, the Glacier Point Road is open, providing easy access to Glacier Point, an overlook with incredible views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the high country. It is so stunning a location that we honored it as the photo on one of our annual Christmas cards.

However, from November through May, the road is closed from the Badger Ski area on. That’s the bad news. The good news is that all 11 miles from Badger Pass to Glacier Point are groomed for cross country skiing. Since that is a very long distance to ski (the average skier takes 4 to 5 hours), there is a Ski Hut at Glacier Point that provides overnight accommodations, plus meals. It fills up quickly, so reservations well in advance are recommended. At $138 per person per night, it is pretty pricey. I did a quick calculation in my head – that would cost the four of us $552. If we wanted a guide to accompany us, it would be $350 per person - $1,400 in total. Wow!

Andrew Leaving Mom BehindAndrew Leaving Mom BehindBesides skiing along Glacier Point Road, there are several side trails branching off from it, allowing for several options for loop trips of varying distance and difficulty levels. The following is a link to the map we used: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/badger-winter.pdf. From that we figured we would pick out a good 8 to 10-mile loop trip.

The drive from Yosemite Valley to the Badger Pass Ski Area is a twisting, car-sick provoking 20 miles. We parked in the Ski Area lot, bought a trail map in the Nordic shop, and set off on Glacier Point Road, thinking we would either do the 8-mile out and back to Dewey Point, or if we were feeling really ambitious, the 11.5-mile Ghost Forest Loop.

Conditions were excellent thanks to the Christmas Eve snow storm. As usual, I was the slowest, but I didn’t mind. Every so often they would stop and wait for me to catch up, and then we would continue – which basically meant, that I got no rest while they did.

As we came to various trailheads for the loop trails off Glacier Point Road, we realized that they had not been groomed and were pretty impassable. That meant that we would have to stay on the main road. Too bad. We would have much preferred a loop to an out-and-back.

With an out-and-back, you still need some destination to be your turnaround point. We pulled out the map and agreed that the Clark Range Viewpoint at the 5.7 mile point would be it. That would make it a very respectable 11.4-mile trek.

Lolo with Clark Range in BackgroundLolo with Clark Range in BackgroundHowever, when we reached it, although the view was nice, we felt a bit of a let-down as to our trek haven been anything truly special. Most of our journey so far had just been along a road with forest on either side – we could have been anywhere, but we weren’t just anywhere. We were in Yosemite.

That’s when we unanimously, and probably somewhat foolishly, decided to go the whole distance to Glacier Point. That would mean a total of 22 miles (both ways) – further than any of us had ever cross country skied before. My main worry – and believe me there were plenty more -- was the sun setting before we got back, but Herb and the boys assured me that the trail would be lit from the almost full moon plus the headlamps they had smartly packed.

We trudged on. For the next 4 miles, the road began to climb and just kept on climbing. Psychologically, I didn’t mind though. This meant that the way back, which I was more worried about, would be mostly downhill. However, when we got close to mile 10, the trail started to descend steeply along switchbacks through a forest. I was not happy about this. Every tenth of a mile I flew down now meant some serious uphill later. However, when Half Dome came into view, it was so incredibly awesome that I forgot to worry, at least for the time being.

Finally, the downhills finished and we arrived at the Ski Hut, a beautiful stone and log building with views of Half Dome – it looked so welcoming and cozy. We peeked inside and the caretaker asked us if we were staying the night. When we told him that we were doing this as a daytrip, I think he was quite impressed. Possibly, he thought we were crazy. He said he had extra room that night in case we changed our minds, as it was already 2:00 in the afternoon. Not being prepared for an overnighter, nor willing to shell out $552, we graciously declined.

Lolo Finally Sees Half DomeLolo Finally Sees Half DomeAlthough I was very anxious to get started on our return, we quickly ate our lunch sitting on a rock outside the Hut. All we had eaten along the way was a Cliff Bar. We hadn’t brought nearly enough food along, as we hadn’t planned to go this far.

Also, we still hadn’t gotten to the iconic viewpoint of Half Dome. We hadn’t come all this way to not get a family photo to memorialize our insanity, so we continued on up the steep, narrow path to the overlook. Thinking walking would be easier, I took off my skis, but the snow was so deep that I immediately postholed up to my thighs – back on went the skis.

When I caught up to the rest of them, Herb had already set up his portable tripod, and they were waiting for me to ski into my proper position in the family photo. We lined ourselves up with a perfect view of Half Dome in the background.

Tommy was in charge of pressing the shutter, which had been set on a timer, and then quickly skiing back into his assigned place. When I glanced over at Andrew, who was on the end closest to the edge, I noticed that beyond the snow-covered stone wall that came up to just below his knees, there was a 3,000 foot dropoff. I held onto his backpack strap for dear life. When I looked at the photo later, I saw that Herb had a death grip on his shoulder strap as well.

By the time our photo shoot was over, it was already 3:00. There was no way we were going to get back in daylight – and I didn’t even have a headlamp. They reassured me that they would not ski ahead of me this time and that their headlamps would suffice.

When we were skiing up the steep switchbacks through the forest at the beginning of our return, it was pretty dark, which freaked me out a bit, but when we got back up to the ridge, it was more open and seemed like there was at least a few hours of daylight left. Even when it did get dark, we were not in any danger of losing our way, as we were on a road with very well defined tracks groomed in the snow.

Almost a Self-Timed Family ShotAlmost a Self-Timed Family ShotA definite family role reversal took place on that epic journey back. As usual, I was the slow one, but this time, Andrew stayed by my side to keep an eye on me and to keep morale from sinking. Herb went up ahead with Tommy. They would wait periodically for us to catch up. Then they switched and Andrew went with Herb, and Tommy got stuck with me.

One time when we were just catching up, I saw a dark blob lying in the middle of the trail ahead, which turned out to be my exhausted husband taking a little rest. This was not an encouraging sign and for the first time, I became seriously concerned about us making it back. Fortunately, a Cliff Bar and some candy perked him up enough to continue. From that point on, I was more worried about him than me, which distracted me from how tired I was.

We all had our Strava apps running, which tracked our distance and time, so we knew exactly how many miles we had left to go all along the way. I kept looking at mine every 15 minutes or so to see how much progress we had made, but became discouraged at the result. Finally, Tommy told me to stop doing that and just enjoy the moment.

Darkness fell when we had about 5 miles to go, which at our current pace meant about 1 ½ more hours. Tommy and Andrew each had a walkie talkie, so they could provide each other updates on the status of their respective parent.

Tommy was great, and I am sure Andrew was the same with Herb. I just kept moving one ski in front of the other, over and over again, while he cheerily chatted away, trying to distract me. It was pretty eerie skiing in the dark, and I started thinking about bears and other creatures in the woods alongside the road. It’s very easy to start imagining things behind the trees when it is dark, completely silent, and you are near delirium with exhaustion.

Herb Resting Along the TrailHerb Resting Along the Trail“Oh look, Tommy, doesn’t that look like a nativity scene,” I said, pointing towards the wood to the left. “Oh boy,” he said and continued moving me along.

Finally, Tommy got the walkie talkie call I had been waiting for. Andrew announced that they had made it back at the car. That meant that we couldn’t be too far behind. About 10 minutes later we caught up. I was never so happy to see the car.

By the time we drove back to the Valley, it was too late to shower and go out to eat, so we stopped at the Village Market to pick up some stuff to cook in our room. When we tried to get out of the car at the market, our legs were so tired that we could barely walk – and that just wasn’t the old ones, but Andrew and Tommy’s as well. I’m sure we looked ridiculous hobbling through the aisles.

The room seemed cozier than ever. I had been longing to see it again for many hours on the trail. In hindsight, now that I knew everything turned out okay, I would have to say that I was very, very proud of our achievement. I don’t think many people, even half our age, do an out-and-back ski to Glacier Point. The boys were pretty amazed with us as well.

Downhill Skiing at Badger Pass and back to San Francisco

Lolo Passed Out (with Beer) After Epic SkiLolo Passed Out (with Beer) After Epic SkiNone of us knew how we were going to feel getting out of bed after our epic yesterday, so I think we were pleasantly surprised that we could walk without too much pain – maybe downhill skiing would be possible.

Also, I hate giving up a freebie, so I wanted to use my two free lift tickets to Badger Pass even if meant sending me down the slope in a wheelchair. Fortunately, that was not necessary.

Badger Pass is noted for being a rather tame beginner mountain, so I was hoping that the boys wouldn’t be too bored, but they were sweet and said it would be fun to ski as a family. Plus, the lift tickets were a very reasonable $49, which meant that with our two free passes the entire family skied for only $98.

It was a beautiful day and conditions were great. We stayed together the first couple of runs, but then Herb and the boys went off to do a few black diamonds, while I stuck to my blue squares. The mountain was small enough to easily find each other at the bottom, so we could ride back up on the lift together.

We still had to drive back to San Francisco that night, so after about 10 very nice runs, we called it quits and headed back to the city.


In my past Yosemite trip stop descriptions, I have focused on Yosemite Valley and Toulumne Meadows. However, this time our foray into Yosemite was limited to cross country and downhill skiing at Badger Pass.

Badger Pass Ski Area

Half Dome SightingHalf Dome SightingThe Badger Pass Ski Area is a small ski area located along Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park. It is California’s oldest ski resort, having installed its first ski lift in 1936. Called the Upski and nicknamed the “Queen Mary,” the lift was a large sled that carried six skiers at a time along a cable to the summit. By the end of that first season, more than 25,000 skiers had swooshed down the slopes of Badger Pass. Generations later, Badger Pass is still a favorite winter destination for California families who come to downhill ski, snowboard, cross country ski, and snowshoe.

Cross Country Skiing

With 90 miles of marked trails and 25 miles of groom track – including the 10.5 mile track to scenic Glacier Point, Yosemite is home to some of the most beautiful cross country ski trails in the world.

The trip to Glacier Point is very popular. However, novice skiers should not attempt to make the 21-mile out-and-back trek to Glacier Point, which takes about 8 to 10 hours, in one day, but rather stay overnight at the rustic Glacier Point Ski Hut, which accommodates up to 20 skiers. Reservations should be made well in advance.

The cost for a one-night guided Ski Hut Trip is $350 per person, while unguided overnight stays are $146 per person. The price includes dinner, an evening in front of the fire, a bunk bed, breakfast, and a packed lunch.

Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding

The Badger Pass Ski Area, which has a vertical drop of 800 feet, is a great place for beginners and novices, with 10 ski runs: 35% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 15% advanced.

Lift ticket prices are extremely reasonable: Adults ski for $48.50, seniors and teens for $43, and children under 13 for $25. On weekdays and holidays, seniors ski for free.

  • 1 of 1

Yosemite Valley location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.