Snow Skiing on the Big Island of Hawaii

To relieve the tedium of relaxing on the white or black sand beaches of the Big Island, let me suggest a ski trip. Most people hang their jaws in disbelief when informed there’s not only ski-able snow, but a commercial ski and snowboard operation on the island.

Snow-capped Mauna Kea looms 13,796 feet above the resorts and surf of this otherwise lush paradise, and that altitude means snow even in the tropics. The thin air at the summit makes this a perfect location for telescopes. Indeed, Mauna Kea boasts a baker's dozen of world-class observatories. Though volcanic in origin, this great beast is considered by most to be extinct.

To get there from either Hilo or Kona, find Saddle Road (Hwy 200) and continue uphill until you reach the 28-mile mark. Turn toward the mountain, making sure to stop at the visitor center at 10,000 feet for an hour to avoid certain altitude sickness.

If you drive like Hunter Thompson (and I do), you can get from the beach to the visitor center in under an hour – if you stick to the speed limit, 90 minutes.

Depending on the conditions, the ski runs can be over 2 miles long and drop 4500 feet in elevation. Views are spectacular, ranging from the surrounding moonscape to the all-encompassing ocean 60 miles away. A full day of skiing, including equipment rental, starts at $300. That's a little steep, but it does include bragging rights.

This trip is best enjoyed after surfing at sunrise and before surfing at sunset.

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One thing to mention is that the majority of rental car companies on the Big Island do not permit their vehicles to be driven on Saddle Road. So it may be better to be part of an organized tour.

The Saddle road is in much better shape than in years past, what the rental companies don't want you doing is driving to the top of Mauna Kea. The ski tour company will pick you up in Kona.

Mostly they are concerned with a vehicle breaking down out there. They will not pay for the service call or towing. The road is getting better as they pave new sections from time to time. Best bet is depart from the Hilo side where the new strecthes of road have been paved.

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