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Tuesday, 02 January 2018 17:34

Winter is Closer and Finer Than You Think

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Snowshoeing in Yosemite. Snowshoeing in Yosemite. Photo by Kim Carroll

TASTE News Service, January 3, 2018 - In the time it takes fog to completely blanket San Francisco, visitors from the Bay Area can reach Tuolumne County in the Sierra Foothills abutting Yosemite National Park.

They can take their puffer coats and fleece scarves, customarily put to use when it dips to omg 68 degrees, and shush down and clomp around fresh white powder in comfort.

Ski, snowboard or snowshoe on the first day, and then choose from among a smorgasbord of distractions to avoid strapping on skis or buckling snowshoe clips on the second day. Tuolumne County offers a ton of excuses when you're just not feelin' it for burning calories outdoors – or when you want a reward for yesterday's cardio blast.

Outdoors: Go Play Outside

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort (www.dodgeridge.com), the closest classic downhill skiing to the Bay Area, has been family-owned since opening in the 1950s. It's an old-school mountain with uncrowded slopes and super friendly staff. It's the kind of place where devotees learned how to ski as kids and then return with their kids a generation later.

Yosemite Family Adventures (www.yfaguides.com/winter-tours.html) in Groveland, the gateway to Yosemite, offers private tours throughout Yosemite. In case you find yourself in need of snow chains, this is the place to get them.

Leland High Sierra Snow Play (www.snowplay.com ), which makes their own snow as needed, even at 6300 feet, puts safe play back into snow play. No more freelancing tubing from the roadside, potentially sliding right into traffic and then trudging uphill after an all-too-short downhill trip. Leland has a brand new “magic carpet,” a super-safe rope tow and affordable rates. They also switch out their specialty-made tubes depending on the quality of the snow. The classic but low-key lodge offers lunch and a sunny deck.

Long Barn Lodge Ice Skating Rink (https://longbarn.com/iceskating.cfm) boasts interior surprises that belie its rustic and unassuming exterior. If these walls could talk, they'd gab about family reunions that did figure eights around other ice rinks. Long Barn – where gold miners left their mules back in the day – offers smooth skating, expert lessons and equipment rentals when it's time to slow down and stay horizontal instead of hurling down vertical drops of 1,600 feet.

Snowshoeing is as easy as walking with the proper gear, even where snowfall depths reach multi-story levels. Few experiences compete with the stillness of a moonlight walk deep into a winter forest or circling an alpine lake with nary another human in sight, when all you can hear is the crunch of compacting snow beneath your aluminum snowshoes (or vintage wooden clompers made with rawhide lacings). You can rent gear locally at Sierra Nevada Adventure Co in Sonora and Yosemite Adventure Supplies in Groveland. The region also has hundreds of miles of ATV trails ready-made for easy traipsing within Stanislaus National Forest, and great snowshoeing near Crane Flat.

Indoors: Tuck In

Yankee Hill Winery and Cooking School (http://yankeehillwinery.com), in the famed Gold Rush town of Columbia, is not only the oldest winery in the Sierra Foothills, its wine maker, Ron Erickson, offers cooking classes. Arrange a private cooking party, or join 12 others who can't juggle more than seven ingredients in any given recipe. From soup-making and artisan bread baking, from fresh pastas and sauces to gourmet pizzas and savory appetizers, it's all easier that you think. And way more fun.

Standard Pour (http://www.standard-pour.com), where regional craft beer reigns, is anything but standard. Drinking responsibly is a bona fide winter sport here, with more than 18 different selections on tap to entice Olympian wannabes to compete with gusto.

Staying Overnight: Find the bed that's just right.

Tuolumne County offers so many different kinds of lodging choices, it's enough to make a visitor sleep around like Goldilocks. To go www.visittuolumne.com/places-to-stay to explore quiet bed-and-breakfasts, vintage motels and historic lodges and cabins.

About Yosemite's Tuolumne County

Tuolumne (rhymes with “follow me”) County, located 133 miles/200 km east of San Francisco, is a pristine, scenic expanse reaching into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Gold was discovered in Tuolumne County in 1848, setting off the major gold rush of 1849. The main highways leading to the picturesque drive from the San Francisco and East Bay Area are Highways 108 and 120 from the west and Highway 49 from the north. The State Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park is considered the “front door” of the park for the San Francisco Greater Bay Area. The Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and other surrounding areas provide natural vistas and settings for hiking, water skiing, horseback riding, rafting, camping, snowmobiling, boating, snow skiing, fishing and other outdoor activities. Seven restored historic hotels, four golf courses, numerous and varied dining establishments, historic saloons, five wineries and hard cider distillery, train rides, casino, seven museums, two state historic parks, five live theaters, and many bed-and-breakfast inns are among the many other attributes that make the county a year-round vacation destination. www.visittuolumne.com

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