Adam Blauert

Blauert on Outdoors: Have some fun in the snow

Fresh snow covers the China Peak ski area.
Fresh snow covers the China Peak ski area. Sun-Star correspondent

Our rain gauge captured 1.2 inches of rain from the storm that arrived Monday and soaked our area through early Tuesday. With more precipitation in the forecast, the days following Christmas are very likely going to be good days to get out and enjoy the snow.

We haven’t had so much good snow in December for several years! If a snow adventure sounds like fun, here are five recommendations for easy day trips:

▪ Play in the snow: Pack up sleds, saucers and decorations to build snow creatures. One of the most reliable local snow-play areas is at Crane Flat, just a few miles beyond Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance station.

Sno-Parks, operated by California State Parks in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol, are also a good bet. These parks offer large parking areas and restrooms, and most have designated areas for sledding. I recommend the parks on Highway 4 or 168 (there is also one on Highway 108, but it isn’t designed for snow play). The Highway 4 and 168 parks are about 2½ hours away (unless chains are required).

Because there are multiple parks on each highway, you can continue up the hill to the next one if there isn’t enough snow at the first one. The use fee for these parks is $5 per car. I recommend getting your permit online in advance of your visit, but you can also buy them at retail stores along the way to the snow park. For a map of parks, more information and online permit sales, go to ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1233.

▪ Snow tubing: One step beyond regular snow play is having a lift to pull you to the top of the sledding or tubing hill. You can find this in a fun, family-oriented atmosphere at two places in our local mountains – Yosemite’s Badger Pass (see below) and Leland High Sierra Snowplay on Highway 108 (snowplay.com or 209-965-4719).

▪ Go skiing or snowboarding: The slopes are open at our local ski resorts, with lessons and equipment rentals for all ages and abilities.

For more information:

Badger Pass – Yosemite: www.yosemitepark.com/BadgerPass.aspx; 209-372-8430

Dodge Ridge – Highway 108: dodgeridge.com; 209-965-3474

Bear Valley – Highway 4: www.bearvalley.com; 209-753-2301

China Peak – Highway 168: www.skichinapeak.com; 559-233-2500

▪ Go ice skating: Yosemite’s open-air ice rink has one of the best settings of any rink in the world. It’s affordable, and just about anyone can figure out how to ice skate with some effort. The rink is open daily and offers a warming hut with storage for shoes, an outdoor warming fire and lockers. Parking is available at Curry Village, but if you’ve already found a parking space elsewhere, just use the shuttle and get off at stop 13A. For more information, go to www.yosemitepark.com/ice-skating.aspx.

▪ Go snowshoeing: Snowshoes allow you to enjoy trails in the winter. Snow transforms landscapes and makes them totally new and magical places. Since trails can be harder to follow when snow covers the ground, and some have avalanche dangers, I recommend the Yosemite trails that have been specifically designated as winter trails. The routes have been marked with reflectors attached to trees far above the snow level. You can find maps and descriptions at www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/brochures.htm.

Snowshoes can be rented at most ski resorts, including Badger Pass in Yosemite. There are many marked and groomed snowshoe trails around the Badger Pass area. If you’ve never snowshoed before, one of the best ways to learn is on a free ranger-led walk in Yosemite. They are offered daily at 10:30 a.m. at Badger Pass, and snowshoes are provided for the walk. During the winter months, the park also runs a free visitor shuttle from Yosemite Valley to Badger Pass.

Safety is an important consideration this time of year. Check weather forecasts before you go, and avoid heading out into stormy weather. For some expert advice on winter driving, check out this Caltrans page at www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/wntrdriv.htm. Always carry tire chains or cables that are specifically designed for your vehicle and its tires, and figure out how to put them on before you leave town. Bring extra food and water and extra layers of warm clothes for each traveler in your vehicle. Don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses – on sunny days, the snow reflects light and UV rays back at you, intensifying both the brightness and the potential for sunburn.

It’s also nice to have a set of clean, dry clothes packed away to change into after you are done having fun in the snow.

Adam Blauert: adamblauert@yahoo.com

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