The well-proportioned flanks of the world’s fire mountains offer long, inclined slopes, far-reaching views and the thrill of unpredictable forces of nature.
Check out the top five volcanoes to conquer on skis:
1. Mt Etna, Sicily, Italy
Europe's most famous volcano reaches a peak of 3,340m. It is also the continent’s highest active volcano. Skiing on the south side above Nicolosi has been running without interference from ash or lava since 2004. A gondola lift transports skiers up to 2,500m and a subsequent tow goes higher still. The scenery is second to none: the ever rising columns of smoke from the crater, lush orange groves in the valley and the azure sea offer a fascinating picture.
The mostly intermediate runs complement some challenging ski routes, such as the Canalone degli Svizzeri down from the Montagnola lift to Nicolosi-North. Adventurous skiers can take a mountain guide and hike to the summit of Mount Etna with touring skis then enjoy the 1,400m descent.
Ski Area: 1924-2608m, five lifts, 12km of ski slopes
Accommodation: Directly at the base station, the Rifugio Sapienza lodge has 24 rooms with 55 beds.
Dining tip: Ristorante at Rifugio Sapienza; menu for €25 includes drinks
Guides: lessons and freeride guided tours at the Sports Club EtnaSci
2. Mt Elbrus, Causasus, Russia
The highest mountain in Europe, Mt Elbrus, is 5,642m. Although the heavily glaciated giant is no longer active, it is still explosive: in February 2011, terrorists blew up the new cable car on Asau Alm.
At the "Mir" ski station, there is a café/military museum, and from here take the ancient chairlift up to 3,800m. Ski slopes rise to almost 4,100m, higher than any other ski resort in the Northern Hemisphere. The ski season here lasts until June.
Elbrus has some very long groomed slopes as well as great off-piste accessed from 3,300m. However, this is some serious terrain as well as one of the coldest mountains in the world, so a guide is recommended.
Ski Area: 2350-4070m, six lifts, 35km of ski slopes
Accommodation: Hotel Virazh on Asau Alm, 40 beds, sauna, wifi, + 7 (8442) 25-55-55.
Dining tip: Restaurant in Hotel Meridian, otherwise on the Asau Alm various cafes serving Caucasian cuisine.
Guides: Tours and expeditions with the Alp Industria Adventure Team
Ski rental: Several rental shops directly at the base.
3. Niseko United, Hokkaido, Japan
Niseko United is comprised of four resorts on one mountain: Niseko Annupuri (1,309m), the most eastern peak of the Niseko Volcanic Group. The area is famous for having tons of powder and the strong dialect of its inhabitants; however English is spoken here due to the influx of Australians.
The ski terrain is composed of four areas: Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Hanazono Resort, and all can be skied with one combined lift pass.
Thanks to the volcanic activity, there are numerous hot springs, ‘Onzens’, where you can relax after a day of skiing. Accommodation ranges from modern hotels to traditional ryokans or Minshukus.
Ski area: 250-1175m, 30 lifts, 70km of ski slopes
Accommodation: Hilton Niseko Village Hotel, the first hotel in town, 506 rooms
Dining tip: Ace Bar & Hill at the top station of the Ace Lift # 2, Café restaurant with great views of Mount Yotei
Guides: Guide Yutaka Takanashi has his own blog at http://ameblo.jp/niseko-voice/
Ski rental: State-rental shops at all base stations
4. Ruapehu, New Zealand
On the North Island, stands the 2,797m Ruapehu volcano. Peter Jackson used it as the terrifying shadow of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. In winter, its three ski resorts spring into action: Whakapapa, Turoa and Tukino.
The foot of the mountain is lined with rainforests - a fascinating contrast from the snowy peaks. It’s possible to climb all the way up to the summit. The view from the top of the volcano is magnificent: look down over the crater, with its steam and sulphur clouds. Skiing down, simply follow the gentle slopes for weightless turns.
Ski Area: 1,600-2,322m, nine lifts, 36km of ski slopes
Accommodation: Chateau Tongariro on the north side of the mountain, a little driving, but worth it
Dining tip: Powderkeg Restaurant in Ohakune
Guides: For the Backcountry Guiding program, five experienced guides are available
Ski rental: In the Daylodge in the parking lot
5. Villarrica, Chile
Even more impressive is the volcanic landscape of Villarrica, Chile. In its crater cooks seething magma, which on clear nights throws an orange glow on its own smoke. From the mountain station it takes about two hours to get to the summit, but the effort is all worth it just to see the red-hot magma that rises and falls as if the mountain is breathing.
A first stop for skiers is the Grand Hotel in Pucon, a town on the shores of Lake Villarrica. The hotel's free bus transports guests to the ski area of Pucon. In the spring, you can ski in the morning and fish, sail, water ski, golf or a swim in the hot springs in the afternoon.
Ski Area: 1,200-1,930m, seven lifts, 39 km of slopes
Accommodation: Gran Hotel Pucón, great location right on the lake, spa and casino
Dining tip: Mamas & Tapas in Av. O'higgins 597, Tel +5645 449 002
Guides: The guides of Paredon Expeditions
Ski rental: At the base Juncalillo