Mongibello, mountain of mountains, that is what Italians reverently call Mount Aetna. Europe’s highest (3,340 meter) and most active volcano located on the Mediterranean island of Sicily is considered docile yet unpredictable. Again and again, the volcano spews masses of lava and lays waste to the surrounding land, last in 2001 and 2002.
Notwithstanding, the fertile slopes not only provide opportunities to grow fruit and vegetables, but for more than 90 years – every once in a while disturbed by eruptions – ski enthusiasts have enjoyed the volcanic slopes. All while faced with a view of turquoise seas and a smoking peak.
In 2011 a terrorist attack destroyed a new ski lift at Asau Meadows on Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains. 30 of the 45 cabins crashed down, but nobody was hurt. Today, everything is back to normal on the glacier slopes of the double-peaked volcano (west peak 5,642 meters, east peak 5,621 meters).
The Mir (“Peace”) station is located at 3,500 meters and houses a military museum. A chairlift continues up to 3,800 meters, and a snow cat takes skiers up to an elevation of 4,100 meters. There is no other developed ski area in the world higher than this. The season extends into June.
If you wish, you can continue your ski vacation in the Chilean Andes, where Mount Villarica (2,840 meters) beckons skiers to enjoy themselves from June to September, while the lava boils and bubbles in the volcano’s caldera. Chile’s capital Santiago is 780 kilometers from this winter dream.
The French Massif Central offers the volcano Plomb du Cantal (1,885 meters). A cable car transports skiers from Super Lioran up to 30 meters below the peak.
Advanced skiers test their mettle on the steep runs of La Combe and Les Crêtes, beginners prefer the five-kilometer-long, moderate run into the valley. The north slope of the also extinct volcano Puy de Sancy cradles the ski area Super Beese, offering 43 kilometers of ski runs and 125 kilometers of cross-country trails.
Turkey boasts snow qualities rivaling those of the Rocky Mountains. One of the largest ski resorts is currently under construction on Mount Eryces (3,916 meters) in Cappadocia. Four new ski lift installations opened at the end of 2012, following the expansion of the existing five with yet another six new lifts in 2011. The overall plan includes expansion to more than 160 kilometers of trails.
Another very ambitious ski project is under way at the Changbaishan volcano in China. The Dallan Wanda Group is investing 3.4 billion US Dollars in the construction of trails, gondolas and luxury hotels, to attract tourists from all over the world to China.
To date, the largest volcanic ski area in the world is in the hands of the USA. Skiers access the highest point of Mammoth Mountain (3,369 meter) by gondola. The ski area with its 150 runs is particularly popular among Los Angeles urbanites in need of stress relief.
Plenty of white powder instead of black ash can be found in the ski resorts on Mount Niseko (1, 898 meters), a volcano on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. In the language of the natives Niseko means “steep cliffs”.
Each year, 700,000 skiers and snowboarders enjoy the breathtaking mountain landscape and its slopes that are brightly lit at night. In addition, there are hot springs, which are perfect for relaxation after a day of skiing.
Fans of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” will get their money’s worth at Mount Ruapehu (2,797 meters) in New Zealand. The somber grey volcanic landscape was used as the setting for Mordor, the “Black Land” of Middle-Earth, and the battles between Orcs and humans. There is no trace of this in winter: the snow covering the ski areas competes with the sun in its brightness and drives dark creatures into hiding.