Winter in Yosemite National Park is magical. As the summer’s sun sets, frigid cold arrives and autumn rains soon turn to snow. White blankets cover the mountains and the park’s stone giants of Half Dome and El Capitan take on the appearance of sleeping wizards. With the option to rock climb gone my imagination is forced to roam freely, eventually bringing me to realize it’s time to hang up the harness, rope, and carabineers in favor of boots, skis, and poles.

Yosemite’s iconic Ostrander Lake backcountry ski hut had been on my list for quite some time. Suddenly, two of my friends and I found a weekend to spare, and made moves.

It was a tremendously late start by the time we broke trail—about 3 PM—but the ski hut was tugging on our heartstrings like no other, so we pushed on, laughing at ourselves. It was to be “super-alpine start” we decided.

That first journey to the Yosemite gem nearly forced tears from me. It was my first time using telemark skis and the 10-mile journey may have been more than what would be considered wise for a first-timer. But I had to see this legendary place. I knew it would be challenging, but the hills were relentless and we were in a hurry to get as far as we could before darkness fell.

Every time my two friends and I crested the next ridge and thought we were home free, we were proven wrong. Eventually, in the darkness of night, we reached the final trail marker, with our respite for the night not far beyond. And just like that the two-story, 1940's stone cabin greeted us like an old friend.

I don’t even want to know the total elevation change out of fear that the number may discourage me from going again. The resulting blisters on my heels were a sight to behold… but then again, maybe not.

In spite of the enormous effort we made traveling to our destination, the place became an instant classic for us. The other guests were incredibly friendly and our hut keeper was a hospitality legend. The Ostrander Ski Hut and the surrounding alpine basin reminded me of the places that our storybooks, folklore, and songs are made of. Truly a special place.