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Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005

The Works: Trans-Yosemite Ski Tour

Start packing now for a once-in-a-lifetime ski tour through silent, snow-draped Yosemite.

by: Charlie Wood

Bisecting bliss This classic 40-miler is the perfect marriage of backcountry skiing and camping-and a chance to see a world-class park when its peaks and sprawling meadows are empty. Half Dome never looks prettier than when the afternoon sun hits the snow packed into its ledges and cracks. With hall-of-fame turns for hard-core skiers, including an optional hair-raising descent from 13,053-foot Mt. Dana, and myriad touring and telemark choices out of Tuolumne Meadows, this traverse has something for skipackers of all abilities.

Route Maximize your glide time by traveling east to west. Follow Tioga Road from Lee Vining to Tioga Pass, and spend a night acclimatizing at 9,641-foot Tioga Pass Resort (, just east of the park. Then head through Tuolumne, turn south at the old quarries above Snow Creek and down the switchbacks to the Yosemite Valley. Avoid avalanche risk at Olmstead Point with a short detour to the north. After a steep first day or two, the rest of the week is mostly downhill.

Season Go in April for longer, warmer days, broken trail, superior prevailing weather patterns, and reduced avalanche risk. It's also the season for the Holy Grail of backcountry skiing: corn snow, little frozen pellets perfect for schussing.

Timing You can nail the route in 4 days, but give yourself a week; it would be criminally negligent not to linger at Tuolumne Meadows, where skiing options include Unicorn Peak and 12,117-foot Mammoth Peak (not to be confused with the ski resort).

Hut You'll reach Tuolumne-and its stone hut-8 miles after leaving Tioga Pass. The house is first come, first served, free, sleeps 10, and has a woodstove. Cache food there in early October, or pack it in.

Key gear Pack for both high-mountain chill and the blinding California sun with easy-on, easy-off protective layers. Bring a probe, shovel, climbing skins, avalanche beacon, and know how to gauge avalanche risk. Bring waxless skis with full-metal edges. Light boards that allow good kicking and gliding make the miles go quicker.

Logistics Ditch a car in Curry Village in the Valley for the ride out. Keep tire chains in your trunk.

Advance prep Solid backcountry camping and skiing skills and good fitness are a must. Do an overnight shakedown in advance and stop by the park's Badger Pass Ski Area for a lift-serviced day honing tele turns.

Maps Use USGS quads Mt. Dana, Tioga Pass, Vogelsang Peak, Tenaya Lake, Falls Ridge, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome.

Water Streams usually flow in early spring. Carry parachute cord and lower your bottle for best results. (But still bring fuel to melt snow.)

Wildlife Keep on the lookout for pine martens, coyotes, long-tailed weasel, and bobcat.

Escort Yosemite Mountaineering School leads a 6-day tour, with guides, meals, gear, and shuttle ($800;

Resources Call the Tuolumne Ranger Office (209-372-0450) for daily updates on weather and avalanche conditions. Pick up a free backcountry permit in Yosemite Valley or self-service at the Tuolumne hut.

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