Snowy adventures

The Sierra is full of wintertime activities from sleigh rides and ice skating to skiing and snowboarding

Tiffany TuellJanuary 10, 2013 

Although Christmas and New Years are over, it's still not too late to snuggle up on a sleigh ride and hear the bells jingle through the forest.

People from all over take advantage of the winter wonderland experience, which begins with a short walk from Tenaya Lodge -- down the road and through the trees -- to a waiting sleigh with three Belgian draft horses ready to whisk everyone away.

Doleen Mathison, 5, along with her grandfather David and mother Tamara, couldn't hide her excitement when she came around the corner of the snowy trail and saw the horses and sleigh waiting for her.

"Horses, horses," she excitedly shouted as she ran towards them and eagerly climbed up onto the sleigh -- but not before a a safety briefing from pack station manager and sleigh ride driver Keith Sandlin.

Then the sleigh ride merriment began -- horses pulling the sleigh down a winding, snow covered road through the forest until arriving at the pack station where hot apple cider, cowboy coffee and a campfire await guests -- and there are even marshmallows for roasting.

"I bet I have two or three people tell me every day that this is on their bucket list and have wanted to do this since they were a child," said Yosemite Trail owner Larry Knapp. "It's very unique and family oriented and everyone can do it."

Yosemite Trails began offering sleigh rides 20 years ago, even though it had been offering horseback trail rides for years before that. Before Tenaya Lodge was built, though, Larry and his wife Nishma said there weren't enough people to sustain a sleigh business but once the lodge opened it seemed natural to begin sleigh rides.

"I was young enough to not know better so I jumped right in and started doing them," Larry said, laughing.

Larry's family has been raising Angus beef cattle in the Sierra National Forest near Tenaya Lodge for three generations on a 50,000 acre acquired grazing allotment. In the winter months the cattle are at their ranch, Lazy K Ranch in Chowchilla, but are brought back to the national forest in June. Because of that, it was natural for them to start offering trail rides with the Quarter horses they raised but they also had some Belgian draft horses.

"Mom was into draft horses and that's where I got the bug," Larry said.

Now they have more horses than cattle and in the summer provide Central California youth camps with horses and tack.

However, in the winter months, it's all about the sleigh rides.

"Overall the sleigh ride business has grown over the years and we get a lot of return guests bringing their kids and grandkids," Larry said. "Our big challenge is the weather. We'll go if it's snowing, no problem, but we won't go in the rain."

The Knapps said they make sure they keep their website -- yosemitetrails.com -- up-to-date with current weather conditions. People can also make reservations on the site. Although Yosemite Trails has a booth inside of Tenaya's lobby, they run independently of the lodge.

Currently Yosemite Trails is taking a short break after the busy holiday season but will be up and running again for Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Jan. 19-21. They will run most weekends and holidays through March but reservations must be made 48 hours in advance.

Details: (559) 683-7611 or info@yosemitetrails.com.

Ice skating

Many more winter activities await in the Sierra. Some of those activities include sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, skiing at Badger Pass and even a couple ice skating rinks -- one at Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp and one at Curry Village in Yosemite.

Tenaya's rink measures a 80 x 40 feet and is located behind the lodge. Daily skating sessions are 9-11 a.m., 1-3 p.m., and 5-8 p.m. Located not far from the rink is an open fire pit with chairs to warm up next to. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $12 for children or $25 for an adult day pass or $20 for a child's day pass (Details: 888-514-2167, option 3).

Simon Eishold brought his family all the way from the small town of Echuca, Australia, and Yosemite National Park and Tenaya were only a couple stops they made while visiting the U.S. They had already visited New York and were on their way next to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Simon said he and his family were enjoying their time but the cold temperature took a little getting used to with temperatures back home in the 100s this time of year. Tenaya's ice skating rink provided his children their first skating opportunity.

"It's been a lot of fun," Simon said. "The kids really like it."

Sylvia and Sean Davidson and their children Mayela, Lucas and Sabriel were taking their annual family vacation to Tenaya and Yosemite and Mayela and Lucas were taking advantage of the skating rink while baby Sabriel looked on. Sylvia says they also like to skate at the Curry Village Ice Rink.

"There's nothing like Yosemite in the snow -- It's magical," Sylvia said.

The Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite is open now through March 6. There is also a warm fire pit adjacent to the rink where people can warm up and make smores or sip hot cocoa.

The Curry Village Ice Rink was established in 1928 when the Yosemite Winter Club flooded an unused parking lot according to Lisa Cesaro, public relations manager for DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite. Cesaro said Travel & Leisure magazine ranked the rink as one of the "World's Coolest Skating Rinks" in 2012.

Daily skating sessions -- subject to weather conditions -- are offered from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays. On weekends, the rink is open from 8:30 to 11 a.m., 12 to 2:30 p.m., 3:30 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Skating costs $9.75 per adult, per session, and $9 per child. Skate rentals are $4 per session. Helmets are available at no additional cost.

Details: www.YosemitePark.com or 801-559-4949. For current ice rink conditions, call (209) 372-8319. For road and weather conditions, call the automated National Park Service information line at (209) 372-0200.

Skiing at Badger Pass

Skiing at Badger Pass is also open as of last month. Badger was California's first ski resort to open and has been running since 1935. Badger has 10 slope runs and five convenient chair lifts. The popular family ski area also offers snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and back country ski tours.

Badger sale season passes cost $209 for adults, $179 for seniors, and $99 for children ages 7-12. Daily lift tickets cost $47 for adults, $40 for youth (ages 13-17), $22 for children and $40 for seniors.

Badger skiers and snowboarders can check Badger's weather conditions at yosemitepark.com/badger-webcam.aspx.

Details: yosemitepark.com/badgerpass.aspx, (801) 559-4949. Weather conditions: (209) 372-0200.

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