Ostrander Ski Hut (via Horizon Ridge and Merced Crest Trails)

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Details
Horse Ridge from the side

Quality: 

3

Crowds: 

0

Scenery: 

0

Skill: 

Intermediate

Distance in Miles: 

18.00

Distance Comments: 

Mileage varies by route from 9-10 miles one way

Elevation Min/Max: 

7000/9000

Trailhead: 

Badger Pass

Highlights: 

One of the most popular ski tours in the Sierra, the trip out to the Ostrander hut attracts cross-country skiers out for the day and randonnee and telemark skiers out on beefy setups looking to ski the steeps in the cirque above Ostrander lake. Along the way you get stunning views of the Clark Range, Half Dome, and the Sierra Crest in the northern part of the park, including Hoffman, Conness, and Dana. There are a handful of ways to get to the hut, starting at Bridalveil Creek Campground and taking the Ghost Forest Loop, taking the Bridalveil Creek trail and joining the Horizon Ridge Trail, Horizon Ridge Trail, or the Merced Crest Trail, basically in that order in terms of effort (easiest to hardest). This page and its associated photo gallery touch on all but the Ghost Forest option.

Details: 

Ostrander Hut Reservations

Yosemite Association, which ran the hut in the past, has now merged with the Yosemite Fund to form the Yosemite Conservancy. It's still the same human beings behind Ostrander, just running as a larger organization on what will hopefully be a sounder financial footing. You can get all the reservation information and current pricing at the Yosemite Conservancy reservations page. The following is accurate for the 2010/2011 season: Mon-Thur price is $30.00 for the general public and only $20.00 for Conservancy members. Fri-Sun it costs $50.00 for the general public and $40.00 for members. Something new is Mon-Thurs youths go for $15.00.

And here's the good news. You do not have to pay those expensive general public rates. You can belong to the Conservancy and get the member rate. It is only $25 per year to join and you not only get a discount at the Ostrander hut and many other places, you support the Conservancy's work providing bear boxes, funding desperately needed trail repairs and habitat restoration, providing natural history education for park visitors and many more essential services that the National Park Service cannot afford out of its own budget. If you're not a member yet, be a part of the Yosemite community and join now! Please note, that page has $50 as the lowest donation level, but YC staff assure me that at the $25 membership level you qualify for the Ostrander discount.

They hold a lottery for reservations every November. Historically it has also been reasonably easy to get reservations on weeknights outside of the lottery process, but weekends and holidays tend to sell out.

The Routes

There are three starting variations to the main trail to get to the Ostrander Ski Hut, which has bunks for 25 during the winter months. The easiest is to take the Ghost Forest Loop from Bridalveil Campground, but be aware that in low snow conditions, this may be difficult due to creek crossings. The next easiest and the most common way to get to the hut is via the Bridalveil Creek Trail, which actually leaves Glacier Point Road about a mile past the campground turnoff itself (about four miles from Badger Pass). This is the summer trail to Ostrander Lake and, even in winter, you will find an outhouse at the trailhead. The luxury of covering your first four miles on a groomed road with substantial sections of downhill contribute significantly to the popularity of this route. On the flip side, it doesn't feel much like a wilderness experience after a hundred skiers have packed out a trench a foot deep for much of the length of the trail. You are, however, treated to the quiet beauty of the so-called Ghost Forest, a burn area where many of the large trees were killed and now stand as quiet sentinels over the new growth that is filling in the area.

The Horizon Ridge trail, on the other hand, has the significant advantage of offering stunning views of the Clark Range, Half Dome, Mount Starr King and distant views of Mount Conness, Mount Dana and so forth. One option if you know the area, is to ski about the first four miles of the Bridalveil Creek trail and then cut cross-country up open slopes to meet Horizon Ridge about a quarter mile before the summit. In photos below, that was the option we took, camping about halfway between the two, and breakfasting at the summit of Horizon Ridge. If the trail is icy, you get a late start or just want a somewhat mellower trip, this is a nice option that gets the highlights of Horizon Ridge, offers some low-angle slopes that are nice for tele-turning on cross-country skis (or for beginning skiers on heavier gear), and only adds perhaps thirty minutes of skiing over the standard Bridalveil Creek Trail. As an added bonus, from the top of Horizon Ridge, you get nice views of Heart Attack Hill and Horse Ridge, the ridge above Ostrander Lake.

The Bridalveil Creek Trail joins the Horizon Ridge Trail just below the so-called Heart Attack Hill. Considering the number of steep arduous climbs in Yosemite, the name is somewhat of a mystery to me as it is neither long nor steep. Not even comparable to the Snow Creek Trail, Mist Trail or even the Four Mile Trail. I think it is some name thought up by the Yosemite Winter club back in the 1930s when people thought that skiing was an extreme sport (and, given the equipment, it was!). There's no particular reason to stick to the blazed trail to get to the top of Heart Attack Hill and the open slopes to the left may offer some advantage on old and icy snow. Just make sure that when you near the top, you do rejoin the trail. In any case, Horse Ridge is quite visible so in clear weather, you should be able to navigate your way to the hut with or without the blazes.

The Ostrander cirque is about as picturesque a spot as you could hope for and better skiers will enjoy spending an entire day, or several days, touring around and exploring descents off Horse Ridge.

An alternate trail that takes a completely different route, or a possible return route if you want to do a loop, is to return via the Merced Crest Trail, which is the option shown in the accompanying gallery. This feels more like a backcountry experience. If you look carefully at the pictures, you'll notice that the Bridalveil Creek Trail shows signs of dozens, perhaps hundreds of skiers, while the photos of the Merced Crest Trail, taken weeks after the last substantial snow, nevertheless show just two sets of tracks (ours). The trail is well-marked, has some fun descents for strong cross-country skiers (difficult for intermediates on lightweight gear, but generally never that long), and some great views. The start of the trail is a bit odd, in that it contours around on fairly steep slopes and one should be aware of avalanche risks after a new snow, but the key is to gain Horse Ridge without gaining or losing a ton of altitude from the lake (up a bit and then contour). Once on Horse Ridge and following the trail markers, at the aspen grove trails 16 and 17 split. Trail 17 is more clearly marked and breaks right, but the trail back to Badger Pass breaks left across the aspens and then is marked clearly, almost excessively at times. That doesn't really detract from the experience, though, since compared to the Bridalveil Creek and Horizon Ridge Trails, it feels downright quiet and lonely out there. The views are perhaps not quite of the same breathtaking scope as those from Horizon Ridge, but the feel is noticeably less civilized.

Additional Information

  • Camping is also an option. The trails are not on a quota basis in the winter. Stop in at the ranger station at the base of the Badger Pass beginner lift for a free overnight permit.
  • Parking overnight in the winter requires a permit, whether staying at the hut or camping. The permit is obtained at the same ranger station.
  • Further reading may be had by checking out the entertaining New York Times article on the hut.

2 Comments

Ostrander Ski Hut

Hello, I respectfully ask that you take down the Ostrander Ski Hut page from your site. Your trails descriptions and recommendations are not accurate, nor advised. Should you choice to keep the page up please revise the trail descriptions. Thank you.

I reread them and they seem fine to me

Would you care to elaborate on what's wrong with the trail descriptions? In any case, nobody should be skiing to Ostrander based on these descriptions. They should get a map and check current conditions at the ranger station. This is just to give a sense of the possibilities

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