Ski Resort Life

The Volcano-Skiing Bucket List You Didn’t Know You Needed

Making turns down the flanks of a volcano is something every skier should experience. Bonus point for peering into the crater.

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In late February, two intrepid skiers put P-tex to snow on some of the most unlikely terrain on the globe. Skiers Jason Torlano and Zach Milligan descended Yosemite’s Half Dome by mostly skiing and occasionally rappelling the 5,000 vertical feet to the valley floor.

While Half Dome is not a volcano—it was formed when molten rock solidified into granite deep in the Earth’s crust, then was pushed up under pressure—it does share an attribute with volcanoes in the sense that it probably shouldn’t really be skied. Yet people do it anyway. 

Where things diverge is that skiing a volcano is a worthy bucket-list addition, as opposed to skiing Half Dome, which is a death wish. There are a handful of ski resorts on volcano flanks here in the U.S. and internationally. What’s more, you can ski on an active volcano, if you’re so inclined, and even take a peek into its crater (though you might be creeping into death-wish territory).

Here’s a list of ski areas that sit on volcanic slopes, most with backcountry access to their respective summits. Depending on your adventure level, add one or two of these to your list in the seasons to come.

Mt. Shasta, Calif.

  • Úytaahkoo or “White Mountain,” from the indigenous Karuk tribe of California
  • Last Erupted: 1786
Shasta
Mt. Shasta Ski Park, Calif. Photo: Courtesy of Mt. Shasta Ski Park

Situated at the southern end of the Cascade Range, also home to another couple of volcanoes you may have heard of—Mount St. Helen and Mt. Rainier—Mt. Shasta Ski Park is actually the second ski area built on the southern flanks of this volcano. The original one, Mt. Shasta Ski Bowl, was developed closer to the summit in a wide-open cirque in 1958, and was taken out by a massive avalanche in 1978. The Ski Park was subsequently built below treeline in the mid-’80s, safe from slides. Now sitting at around six miles below the volcano’s 14,179-foot summit, the Ski Park serves up 425 skiable acres via three chairlifts that run up the flanks of the stratovolcano. 3683

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Mt. Bachelor, Ore.

  • Formerly called Bachelor Butte, after a Native-American myth about three nearby “sister” mountains and one lone “bachelor” in the distance
  • Last Erupted: 5800 B.C.
"mt Bachelor Resort Guide 2020"
Mt. Bachelor, Ore. Photo: Courtesy of Mt. Bachelor

The most well-known of the skiable volcanoes in the U.S., Mt. Bachelor deserves a spot on this list simply because it’s one of the few worldwide that run a lift to its summit. It’s also huge: 3,683 skiable acres and 3,365 vertical feet spanning from a summit elevation of 6,300 feet. It’s not the tallest volcano in the region, nor the most dramatic, but this stratovolcano that sits atop a low-profile shield volcano was seemingly made for skiing. It doesn’t hurt that abundant snowfall in good years can keep the lifts spinning well into May, and sometimes beyond.

Ski Mt. Bachelor on the Ikon Pass

Mt. Baker, Wash.

  • Kulshan, or “great white watcher,” from the Lummi tribe of northern coastal Washington
  • Last Erupted: 1843
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Mt. Baker Ski Area. Photo: Courtesy of Mt. Baker

The most recently active volcano that’s also home to a ski resort, Mt. Baker is the second most-active thermal crater in the Cascades after Mount St. Helen. It’s a glacier-covered stratovolcano that tops out at only 5,089 feet but is one of the most snow-sure ski areas on the continent thanks to that glacial coverage. Mt. Baker Ski Area—which isn’t actually located on the actual Mt. Baker volcano, but rather one of the volcano’s “foothills,” so to speak—offers 1,000 skiable acres and some of the steepest in-bounds terrain in the region. It also accesses world-class backcountry, including routes up the actual Mt. Baker volcano for those with the skills and gear to attempt them.

 

Villarica, Chile

  • Rucapillán, or “great spirit’s house,” from the Mapuche people of south-central Chile and Patagonia
  • Last Erupted: 2015
Ski Pucol
Photo: Patricio Garrido/Pegstudio CL

If skiing an active volcano is on your bucket list, you’re going to have to go a little farther afield. Chile’s Villarica volcano is the most active of three large stratovolcanoes just east of the Central Chilean Valley. The 9,341-foot volcano sputters and spews ash regularly. While the ski area of Ski Pucon, tucked away on the lower flanks, is small and pretty tame, skiers can and tour all the way to the summit crater to peer down into the lava lake below. No kidding.

Ruapehu, New Zealand

  • Ruapehu means “pit of noise” or “exploding pit” in Maori, the indigenous Polynesians of mainland New Zealand
  • Last Erupted: 2007
Turoa
Turoa Ski Area, New Zealand. Photo: Courtesy of Turoa Ski Area

Towering Mt. Doom from “The Lord of Rings” films is home to three ski resorts—Whakapapa, Turoa, and Tukino—and comprises three distinct peaks. The valley between the peaks commonly fills with water between eruptions and is aptly known as Crater Lake. Whakapapa and Turoa are the bigger areas, with around 2,500 skiable acres between them. The terrain is dramatic and wide-open, with stunning views of the peaks and out over the North Island, but finicky weather can make them hard to time it right. The stratovolcano is the highest peak on the North Island and a popular touring destination, though being mindful of the conditions, weather, and local policies is imperative.

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