Skiing Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Credit: Robert Madden / National Geographic / Getty Images

Skiing Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Mention the idea of skiing in Hawaii, and it either sounds like some far-fetched novelty or maybe a rarified bucket list item (or even a code for doing drugs). But once you realize that the name of Mauna Kea, a massive extinct volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, means "white mountain" in Hawaiian and that it gets snow during the winter months (along with Mauna Loa), then suddenly it's not such a crazy idea.

More to the point, where else can you wake up, go surfing in board shorts, then load up the car with skis or a snowboard and drive to the top of the tallest mountain on Earth (when you count that it starts 19,000 feet below sea level and rises to 13,796 feet above), make a few turns on the white stuff (a.k.a. pineapple powder) and be back at the beach in time for another surf and a Mai Tai at sunset? All amid a tropical paradise?

Of course, all of that is a little easier said than done. There are no lifts, lodges, or grooming on Mauna Kea, and the change in altitude from sea level to just under 14,000 feet in a single day can be physically brutal. The window for scoring good snow and conditions is also quite small. Oftentimes, when the snow is the best, the summit road is closed, barring access (unless you feel like hiking the last 7,000 vertical feet to the top). When the road is open, the snow conditions can be sketchy, with ice, wind crust, and runs that end abruptly – into razor sharp lava rock. Thus skiing Hawaii's "white mountain" isn't for the faint of heart, or novices of any kind. But when you do get lucky and the conditions line up, runs in excess of two miles down volcanic bowls for 2,500 to 4,500 vertical feet are well within the realm of possibility.

Amazingly, there's an outfitter on the Big Island that rents skis and snowboards ($50 a day, plus a $100 deposit), can arrange for shuttle transportation to the top (the rental car companies on the Big Island discourage driving to Mauna Kea's summit in their rigs and will charge you handsomely for the privilege if they find out you did), and even guide you down. So, if you want to make a check next to the "ski in Hawaii" or "surf and ski in the same day" boxes on your bucket list, give the guys at Mauna Kea Ski Corporation a ring and they'll get you sorted out. You might just be able to throw a little of that snow in a cooler to mix with your sunset cocktail back on the beach.