Snowing, skiing, snowboarding...in Hawaii? Yes!
When you think of Hawaii you probably imagine perfect beaches with golden sand and clear blue water or maybe "hanging ten" on a surfboard in our warm ocean waters. For others it's about warm weather and tropical resorts and maybe even a cold Mai Tai to cool you down.
Almost nobody thinks of cold, snowy Hawaii Weather though. In fact, ask most people and they wouldn't believe you if you told them that it actually snows in Hawaii. But it's true, it actually does snow in Hawaii. The more amazing thing is that you can drive from freezing cold, snowy weather right down to a hot beach minutes later. How can this be?
Elevation Is The Key
The first thing about cold weather in Hawaii is that is almost always takes place at high elevations. Sure, locals will start to bundle up and wear socks with their slippers (flip flops) any time the temperature dips below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but that's not a "real" cold to those outside of Hawaii.
Really cold temperatures, those capable of producing snow, only happen up high up in the mountains. Specifically, snow falls on Maui's Haleakala National Park as well as the Big Island's Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. At times, these mountain peaks can get several feet of snowfall as winter storms pass by.
Extreme Snow Sports?
Believe it or not, there are people who attempt to ski or snowboard when there is a big snowfall. Some are successful, others are not. Conditions at these high elevations, which can reach over 13,000 feet above sea level, are often not very good. Gusting winds can cause white out conditions and make things very dangerous.
The bigger issue is the fact that there are no designated ski routes on these volcanoes which means you're basically hoping that you don't plow into a big rock just under the snow. There are also no chair lifts which means you need a 4x4 vehicles to get to the top and then somebody to drive back down to retrieve the skiers and snowboarders.
At one time there were groups that would take people up to ski and snowboard but in our current litigation filled world that might be harder to find.
Where To Ski & Snowboard In Hawaii
The most common place for extreme snow sports in Hawaii is Mauna Kea. This is pretty fitting since Mauna Kea essentially means "White Mountain" in Hawaii. To be fair the translation goes much deeper than that but that's for another article.
A full day of skiing down Mauna Kea may only involve a couple of runs down the mountain due to the time involved in driving back up to the top. You can also expect to ruin a pair of skis or a board after a single day here.
Trying to schedule a trip to ski or snowboard here just doesn't happen, even if you do it on your own. Conditions on the mountains change so quickly and so frequently that you can't possible schedule anything in advance. The weather can also cause the one road that goes up Mauna Kea to be closed without notice.
If you do plan to attempt skiing or snowboarding in Hawaii, which we advise against because it's so ridiculously dangerous, it's important to treat these areas with respect as they are deeply sacred to the Hawaiian people and their culture. You'll also need to make sure you don't get stuck (which can block the road) or otherwise interfere with any telescope (etc) crews up there and make sure anything you plan to do is legal at the time and place you plan to do it.
Where Else Can I See Snow In Hawaii?
If heading up to Haleakala National Park, Mauna Kea, or Mauna Loa isn't an option then you have two other options.
You can visit one of the various "snow days" we have in Hawaii. This is where an organization (like a shopping mall) will set up a day for kids to come out and play in the snow. The snow will basically be a massive pile of crushed ice dumped out by trucks in a parking lot or field. Kids who have never seen snow love it, but otherwise it's not exactly a must-see activity.
The final option, just go grab a shave ice. It's the only kind of snow that's safe to eat even when it's yellow! Better still, it comes in so many other flavors and you can eat right right at the beach. For more on that see our picks for 3 Great Places for Shave Ice on Oahu.
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