Blog | Ski Industry News

What a Blast — Skiing on a Volcano

by Dan Giesin | December 31, 2019

Go Ski a Volcano.

More than 40 years ago, that epigram was emblazoned on souvenir tee-shirts purchased at Northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, which had a small lift-serviced ski hill on the property.

But though you can no longer ride the lifts on Mt. Lassen — the Park Service dismantled the operation in the early 1990s — the aphorism lives on in several other places.

Yes, you still can ski a volcano, active ones, that have lifts on the flanks (or in close proximity). Most are relatively modest operations that have their own set of peculiarities and concerns: the stench of sulfur, seismic rumblings, ash-fall et al.

But if you want to put new meaning into the phrase “blower pow” it might be worth checking out some of these resorts:

Ski Villarrica Pucon

Located in Chile’s Lake District, this tiny resort — 7 lifts, 17 runs — sits at the base of Villarrica Volcano, which made a bit of stir a couple of years ago when the mountain began to belch smoke (photo above) but folks kept on riding anyway. The beginner-friendly hill has a nice 2,395 feet of vertical, but you can can add on another 2,400 feet by skinning or hiking to the lava lake at the top of the mountain.

Ruapehu

The highest point (elevation 9,176 feet) on New Zealand’s North Island, the Ruapehu volcano has two ski resorts on its flanks: Turoa and Whakapapa. Turoa has 7 lifts servicing 1,235 acres and 2,368 vertical feet, the biggest drop in Australasia; Whakapapa is slightly larger (8 lifts, 1,360 acres) but with less vert (2,200). Both have loud-speaker warning systems to advise visitors of any impending volcanic activity, the last of which occurred in 2007.

Mount Etna

The fabled Forge of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, has two resorts on its flanks, both with amazing views of the azure waters of the Mediterranean off Sicily’s coast. Etna South-Nocolosi has 4 lifts with 12km of runs and 2,244 feet of vertical. Mount Etna Liguaglossa, on the north side of the volcano, has 5 lifts and 9 runs with 1,969 of vertical. Both were impacted by Etna’s latest stirring, an eruption in late December of 2018 that spewed ash into the air.

Mt. Elbrus

One of the Seven Summits (a.k.a., the highest point on each continent), Elbrus at 18,510 feet is the apex of Europe. It is also a relatively quiet (last eruption about 2,000 years ago) but still considered active volcano with a modest ski hill at its base. Elbrus, as the Russian resort is called, has 6 lifts, 23km of runs and a whopping 4,888 feet of vertical relief. You can hike/skin/climb from the top of highest ski lift to the summit to add another 6,000 feet of vert.

Niseko

Ground zero for the legendary Japow (Japanese powder), Niseko has four resorts girdling its stratovolcano flanks: Niseko Annupuri (6 lifts, 13 runs, 2,480 vertical); Niseko Village (8 lifts, 27 runs, 2,920 vertical); Hirafu (12 lifts, 30 runs, 3,084 vertical), and Hanazono (3 lifts, 8 runs, 2,400 vertical). All can be skied and snowboarded on a combo pass and all are within view of the many onsen (hot springs) inns and establishments in the area.

Closer to home

In the United States there are several resorts that have been built on or near relatively dormant volcanos, including Mt. Baker in Washington, Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and Mammoth Mountain in California.

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