Snowboard atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Volcano. For one of the most unique skiing or snowboarding experiences of your life consider an adventure to the Big Island of Hawaii and its tallest volcano called Mauna Kea, which means “White Mountain.”
10 Tips To Ensure A Safe and Thrilling Hawaii Ski Adventure
1. Best Time To Go
From late January through March are typically the best months to experience snow skiing on the summit of Mauna Kea. The snow lasts much longer during certain years (e.g., El Nina years), and one year there was even a ski meet in July!
2. What You’ll Need
There are no ski lifts or snow grooming machines on Mauna Kea, however, and no fancy resorts, but there is often lots of snow. You will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the summit, and also a designated driver to take you to the top and then pick you up at the bottom of the run. You will also need your own skis or snowboard, and just so you know, there is a pretty high risk that your equipment will receive some damage from lava rocks.
Temperatures atop Mauna Kea during the winter months range from about 25 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 to 4 Celsius), though the high altitude, as well as windy conditions, can make it seem much colder. During the summer months, the temperatures may range from 30 to 60 degrees F (0 to 15 C).
A highlight of skiing Mauna Kea is the spectacular view. From atop the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea you can see the island’s other massive volcano, called Mauna Loa, as well as Haleakala Volcano on Maui.
There are significant safety issues involved with this adventure including hitting exposed rocks, and you should definitely not plan on skiing at high speeds. Enjoy the views, shush around the mountain, but always be safe and be aware of potential dangers including rocks suddenly jutting up in your path.
6. Need to Know
Make sure there are not high winds at the summit as this may create difficult conditions and also may lead to the closure of the road up the mountain. Check out the Mauna Kea Forecast by the Hawaii Institute for Astronomy to get up-to-date weather conditions on Mauna Kea. You can also check out these driving directions.
7. Other Things to Do
The road that leads to the summit of Mauna Kea also leads to the world-class astronomical observatories, making this journey for some a science lesson as well as a thrilling winter sports activity. The most famous telescopes atop Mauna Kea are the twin Keck telescopes, each of which is 111 feet tall. The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy offers Summit Tours, and there is also a Visitor Information Station at the 9,300-foot level of the nearly 14,000-foot volcano. Guided stargazing adventures are also offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (808-322-2366) and Hawaii Forest and Trail (808-331-8505). Organized Mauna Kea ski tours are led by Ski Guides Hawaii (885-4188). They will pick you up in the town of Waimea and give you all the equipment you need and also feed you lunch. The runs near the summit area are fairly short, ending where the road loops around providing a good place for you to be picked up and taken back up for another run.
8. Physical Requirements
Only people who are in reasonably good physical condition should go to the summit of Mauna Kea because the air is very thin. The air pressure is less than 60% of the air pressure at sea level, and this can make it very difficult to breathe if you are not in good physical shape.
9. Lava Rock Warning
Another caution worth repeating is that you need to be very aware of the snow potentially ending abruptly when you are skiing down the mountain. Since there is no soft vegetation beneath the snow but instead only hard lava rock and abrasive cinder, you will need to use great caution and never ski too fast where you will not have time to react to rocks in your path. Though Mauna Kea’s short runs may be enjoyed by inexperienced skiers or even kids on bodyboards, the general rule with Mauna Kea is that the skiing is for only intermediate and advanced skiers who are very confident in their skills.
10. Sun Protection
The sun at the summit can be very strong so bring sunscreen and sunglasses—the shiny white surface can quickly cause snow blindness without proper eyewear. With good preparation, you will have a thrilling adventure skiing atop a Hawaiian volcano. A day in the snow will also give you a new appreciation of Hawaii’s warm and sunny beaches.
From Kailua- Kona drive on highway 190 toward Waimea. Turn right on Saddle road. Make a left on Mauna Kea Access Rd. Continue on Mauna Kea Access road until reaching Onizuka Center. Take a break there until acclimating to the high altitude. Then continue until you reach the top of Mauna Kea.