Ski Lifts on Volcanoes

STORY BY Patrick Thorne 26th April 2017

Although the vast majority of ski lifts are built on mountains created by plate tectonics, pushed up and eroded back down over millions of years, quite a few of the mountains we ski and board on were once active volcanoes, many created in far shorter timescales than the Alps or the Rockies.

You can find ski areas built on extinct volcanoes in the Vosges region of France, the Czech Republic, Niseko in Japan, and at resorts in many other countries that were once active volcanoes, you can even ski on the top of the world’s highest mountain (if you include its underwater bit), Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and the Arizona Snowbowl in the US describes itself as Arizona’s active volcano.  Actually it isn’t active but it’s a clever marketing claim, the skiing and boarding being the active part of the volcano.

But there are ski lifts on active volcanos – in South America, New Zealand, Japan, even closer to home on Mt Etna – so if you’re after a little sulphur with your snow, or the added danger of the remote possibility of a pyroclastic flow as well as the usual avalanche danger, here are some active volcanic ski destinations to consider:


Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy, Europe

Despite its southerly location on Sicily in the Med, Mt Etna (3343m) has usually good snow cover and two ski areas – North and South – on its massive slopes.  These have famously been ‘taken out’ on multiple occasions by volcanic debris raining down during various eruptions over the years – and they’ve been pretty much on-going for the past few decades now. The determined Sicilians do keep rebuilding the lifts though and the centres keep operating.

The biggest threat to your safety on the slopes is not, however, any direct hit by volcanic material or accidentally skiing in to a lava flow. Nor is it an avalanche sets off by earth tremors, it’s the possibility of being struck by lightning on the slopes – reported to be much higher than usual due to turbulent air above the volcano.

The Daily Mail published as story with nice images earlier this month and the BBC reported too. 


Villarica – Pucón, Chile, South America

Located on the third Villarica volcano, still bubbling away whilst providing the highest ski area in southern South America, as well as one of the continent’s longest ski seasons.  The resort of Pucón is way below by the lake and incorporates a huge hotel and condo complex boasting a vast array of alternative activities.  The chairlift towers are mounted on rubber bungs to absorb the constant vibration from the active volcano and Volcanic Ash which occasionally issue from the summit tends to fall away from the slopes.


Mt Aso, Japan, Asia

Japan made history in 1958 when it became the first country to build a cable car on to an active volcano, they claim.  The Mt Aso cable car can carry up to 41 passengers in each of its two cabins which take four minutes to ascend 108 vertical metres over the lift’s 858m length to reach the edge of the reportedly smoking crater.

Back in the day there was a chairlift too and a maintained ski run down between the steaming areas as despite the thermal activity below, snow still fell from above and accumulated on the ground.  But less snowfall and particularly less tourists meant maintaining the centre was no longer economically viable.  If you time your visit right though you may still be able to ski from the top.


Mt. Bachelor

Mount Bachelor, Oregon, USA

Mount Bachelor ski area in Oregon is a stratovolcano atop a shield volcano that last erupted around 5,800 BC – so it’s not at all active.  That’s not to say that its volcanic history is completely forgotten, although there is no geothermal activity at present, there are some areas popularly thought to be fumaroles (gas vents) located near the top of the Pine Marten chairlift occasionally present a minor hazard to skiers and snowboarders where the snow is undermined.

On the upside though Mt Bachelor’s conical shape dictates a fairly even pitch for skiers but what’s really fun about the mountain is that the ski trails follow the actual path down the mountainside that the lava at one time took.

This adds an extra dimension to the skiing with twisting, roller coaster trails which the piste groomers can maximise to provide skiing which can in places resemble white water kayaking!


Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

Ruapehu, where Turoa and Whakapapa ski areas are located, is an active stratovolcano on New Zealand’s North Island.  In recorded history, major eruptions have been about 50 years apart, in 1895, 1945 and 1995–1996. Minor eruptions are frequent, with at least 60 since 1945.

The 1995 eruption began on 25th September and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation  advised people to keep off the mountain, ending the ski season a few weeks early.  In fact Ruapehu usually has one of the longest ski seasons in the southern hemisphere, frequently continuing to ‘Snow-vember’ when all other ski centre in the hemisphere close in September or October.


Batea Mahuida Snow Park, Argentina

The ski area was established on the Mahuida Volcano in Argentina by the indigenous Puel Tribe in October 1999 as a means of maximising their natural assets and stemming the loss of their younger generation from the remote mountainous area. The resort is based on one of the snowiest areas of South America with views over in to Chile from the Mahuida Volcano summit at 2100m.

The slope opened with help from the World Bank’s investment arm and with immediate success in July 2000, having better snow conditions than other resorts in the region at that time.  A 300 metre (1000 feet) long Poma built lift was the first to go in to operation.  All local staff come from one of 60 families making up the community and sharing the surname Puel and are closely or distantly related.


Ski La Burbuja, Chile, South America

The world’s newest ski area on an active volcano is in Chile where Ski La Burbuja was created at the base of the world-famous Osorno volcano in 2013.

The 2652m high conical stratovolcano in the south of the country is one of the region’s most active, erupting 11 times between 1575 and 1869 with Charles Darwin glimpsed a January 1835 eruption when sailing past on the second voyage of the Beagle.

The centre has two chair and three drag lifts serving a dozen or so runs over nearly 500 metres of lift served vertical.



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