Ostrander Ski Hut
Skiing the Yosemite Back Country
Ostrander Ski Hut is one of the most coveted, elusive experiences in Yosemite. Not only is it damn near impossible to get a reservation, it's also a grueling approach to this stone hut nestled on the shores of Lake Ostrander. Luckily, in February of 2019, I managed to snag spots for myself and five friends and we were blessed with some of the deepest snowpack Yosemite has experienced in recent memory.
Let's start with the basics. The Ostrander Ski Hut is maintained and operated by the Yosemite Conservancy, but sits within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. To stay at the hut, you have to secure a reservation through the Conservancy's website. While spots were previously allocated through a lottery (with impossible odds), reservations are now filled on a first-come first-served basis. Through some miracle, I was able snag six spots for two nights in February of 2019.
To get to the hut, we parked at Badger Pass Ski Area (the ski hill inside Yosemite Park) and skinned along Glacier Point Road for a few miles. From the road, we turned towards the hut on an un-groomed path. In total, the route to the hut is about 10 miles and covers about 2000 feet of elevation gain.
Once at the hut, you have your choice of ski touring options — and I highly recommend building a day into your trip to make use of them.
If you're interested, you can find our trip plan here.
Off to the Hut
We began our trip bright and early on a Friday from the Badger Pass parking lot. An early start is critical to ensure you arrive at the hut during daylight. The route is long, difficult and not well marked. Groups should be prepared to navigate in the dark, and overnight on the trail — especially if they start after 9am.
We started our skin along Glacier Point Road, which Badger Pass Ski Area grooms for cross country skiing. The views along the road are great, and the downhill slope makes the going pretty quick. About three miles in, we turned south, off of the road and onto the Bridalveil Falls trail.
The Bridalveil Creek trail is one of two trails to the hut. The other — Horizon Ridge — has better views, but more elevation gain. In general, groups tend to take Bridalveil Creek to the cabin, and ski Horizon Ridge on the way out.
At any time, but especially following fresh snowfall, groups should not expect to have a tracked route to follow. We had a handheld GPS with way-points set on hand in case we lost the trail but for us, the route was reasonably well tracked. To help stay on trail, yellow metal blazes are fixed to trees along the route.
At the Bridalveil Creek junction, the snowpack on top of an outhouse gave us a vivid sense of just how much snowfall Yosemite was having this winter. In fact, just one week earlier, reservations at the hut had been cancelled as heavy snowfall had shut down vehicle access to Badger Pass Ski Area.
From this junction we began the push up to the hut, chipping away at the remaining seven miles. This part of the route is a consistent uphill slog. After about 4 miles, the trail intersects with the Horizon Ridge trail. From here, there's only 2 miles left, but the most notorious part of the ascent remains: Heart Attack Hill.
Heart Attack Hill is the final 700 feet of elevation gain up the hut and the reason for the naming should be relatively obvious. After making to the top of this hill, it's a short ski down to Ostrander Lake, and the hut!
Even though we started early, were in good shape, and made good time — we used up all of our daylight, arriving just at sunset. I can't complain about the timing though — as the soft orange light on the ridge opposing the hut across Ostrander Lake was just breath taking.
Ostrander Hut is two stories, and can sleep about 25 people with bunks on the first and second floor. The first story is one large room for the most part, containing beds along the wall, a communal table down the middle, a wood stove to keep the place toasty, and a kitchen in the back. The hut keeper (who keeps things running smoothly and has all the necessary local knowledge) lives in another small room.
The kitchen is set up with a propane stove, some pots and pans, and dishes — although you might bring an extra Pocket Rocket and some cook-gear just in case. Upstairs, you'll find more beds (and slightly colder air).
There's a long culinary history at Ostander. For decades, groups have packed in decadent meals to enjoy, and left their menus on the wall of the kitchen to taunt those who follow. One menu described a steak meal of New York Strip Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Fresh Asparagus, Garlic Bread, Red Wine, Bourbon, and Raspberry Cheesecake.
We didn't quite hit this mark, but our meal of Beef Bourguignon, egg noodles, wine, whiskey, beer and hot chocolate definitely left other hut-guests heating up Instant Ramen asking if there happened to be any left overs.
We built a day into our trip to tour around Ostrander Lake and get some skiing in. Good thing too — as the snow was absolutely incredible.
Over breakfast, we set out a plan for the day, with the hut keeper offering some great advice to do a loop around Ostrander Lake, up over over Horse Ridge (elev. 9496 feet).
We started off through the open meadows to the East of the lake, eventually making our way up to the top of Horse Ridge.
Looping around the ridge, we had incredible views of Yosemite Valley in the winter — truly a stunning site. Half Dome, and all of the other prominent features of the valley were laid out before us, blanketed in snow.
We spent the morning heading up around the ridge, and the afternoon getting some great turns in on the way down. The snow was deep and soft — truly the best conditions we could have asked for.
We ended the day back at the hut, for a meal of homemade meatballs, spaghetti, and of course more wine, whiskey and beer. After dinner, exhausted from a day of skinning and full from delicious meal, we spent as much time as we could bear outside watching the stars spin overhead, before heading off to sleep.
On our third day, it was time to say good bye to this hidden gem of Yosemite. Before heading out, we snuck a few laps in on the hill opposite Ostander Lake.
Our departure route was over and down Horizon Ridge. After a short up-hill to the top of the ridge, we enjoyed a nice, mellow descent with incredible views of Yosemite Valley.
Back on Glacier Point Road, it was a long 3 mile slog uphill back to the cars, but we made it exhausted and happy from an incredible weekend of back country skiing.
On our way out, Yosemite treated us to one final view of one of America's most stunning valleys from Tunnel View. We snapped the requisite picture, marveled in an incredible weekend of skiing, eating, and exploring — and started our trek back home.