Yosemite off-Season: Wonder, beauty and lots to do | TheUnion.com

Yosemite off-Season: Wonder, beauty and lots to do

Diane Covington-Carter
Special to The Union

"No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life." — John Muir

Many of us in Nevada County enjoy the beauty and fun of Yosemite in the summer–hiking, camping, or floating down the Merced River.

But many don't realize that the park is open all year long and offers a variety of winter adventures.

There's a special beauty about Yosemite Valley, off-season. It's quiet and uncrowded.

After a snowfall, there's a majestic hush to the valley as nature dresses her in a thick white winter cloak.

Wildlife, which hides from the summer crowds, ventures out — a coyote barks to its mate as it runs through the woods.

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For outdoor winter fun, you can choose between downhill skiing at Badger Pass, snowshoeing in the valley or ice-skating in Curry Village.

Cross–country skiers can enjoy more than 90 miles of marked trails and 25 miles of machine-groomed tracks.

In the heart of Yosemite Valley, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel sits right up against the 3,000-foot granite cliffs, its rock façade blending with the massive stones behind it.

Called the 'Grand Dame' of the park, the Ahwahnee was built in 1927 for a sum of $1.5 million.

With chilly winter weather, the hotel becomes a cozy haven.

In the Great Lounge, sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and warm fires crackle in the massive fireplaces.

The legendary Bracebridge Dinner, a special holiday event that happens each December, has made the Ahwahnee famous through the years.

The dinner takes place in the elegant dining room, where giant sugar pine beams crisscross the 34-foot ceilings, creating a cathedral-like feeling.

Beginning in mid-December, the Ahwahnee dining room becomes the medieval great hall of fictional Squire Bracebridge.

The jovial Squire devotes himself to the preservation of the old English hospitality of 'making merry' and spares no expense when he invites his family and friends to feast with him on Christmas Day, 1718. If you're attending the Bracebridge dinner, that's you.

Women in jeweled velvet gowns and men in tights and feathered caps escort you to your tables inside the candlelit hall.

Amid fresh pine boughs and colorful banners, more than 100 players sing and dance for your enjoyment.

The feast, a seven-course affair that is a delight for all the senses, has kept the same order and substance since the first dinner in 1927.

Serving folk present the four main courses — fish, poultry, beef and pudding — on elaborate platters, for the Squire's approval. Singers add their voices to these processions, minstrels wander and jesters entertain, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Famed photographer Ansel Adams wrote the rhymed four-beat cadence of the characters' lines and chose fine music such as "The Coventry Carol" and "O Holy Night". Adams also played the part of the 'Lord of Misrule' (the jester) for many years. The program he created, of carols, music and Renaissance rituals, is still used today.

What was once just a Christmas Day performance, has grown to eight performances a year.

Tickets used to be so hard to come by that a lottery system, now discontinued, was in effect for over 25 years.

The program does sell out, usually on Christmas Eve, but tickets are still available now.

In the words of Director Andrea Fulton: "the Bracebridge represents a Christmas that never was, but a Christmas that lives in everyone's hearts."

Whether for feasting or for outdoor fun, the majesty of Yosemite in winter will transport you to an earlier time and place, full of wonder and magic.

Diane Covington-Carter is a Nevada County freelance writer.

know & go

Bracebridge Dinner Performances:

December 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 25

Packages available:

The Ahwahwnee, packages start at $655

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, packages start at $529

Wawona Hotel, packages start at $526

Packages include the seven-course dinner, overnight accommodations, a complimentary commemorative portrait and shuttle services for guests staying at Yosemite Lodge or Wawona Hotel.

Dinner-only tickets are also available for $389 per person including gratuity, not including tax.

The park keeps the roads clear, but carry chains.

For complete information and reservations:

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Outdoor activities:

For a mid-week holiday, take advantage of specials such as:

Stay two nights and receive two free lift tickets.

Stay ‘N Play package:

Costs less than a Badger Pass lift ticket and rental and includes a free ski lesson, Valley Floor Tour, snow tubing session, and ice skating session.

For the hearty and budget-minded, sleep in an unheated Curry Village tent cabin and pay a rate based on the previous night’s temperature, maximum cost, $39.

The park keeps the roads clear, but carry chains.

For complete information on all packages go to:

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