Skiing the Volcano: Snow on Sicily

by : Adam Singleton

The Italian Alps are well known for skiing and offers dozens of mountain resorts, from the duty free zone of Livigno, to the glitzy Cervinia. However, what many people don't realise is that it's possible to ski on Mount Etna in Sicily - Italy's mafia soaked Mediterranean Island, which lies off the south coast of the country.

Mount Etna is the largest and highest volcano in Europe, and one of the most active volcanoes in the world; and is in a state of almost continuous state of eruption. Sicily was chosen by the Gods of Olympus as the scene for their sagas of love and war, passion and revenge, and it was Mount Etna - the realm of Vulcan, god of fire - that was the home of the one-eyed monster known as the Cyclops; today it's still a land of fire and latent wrath.

Building a ski area on an active volcano is not without its difficulties; continuous eruptions and lava flows have repeatedly damaged or destroyed various lifts systems in the past. In October 2002, rivers of boiling lava poured down from Mount Etna's crater, engulfing small buildings, incinerating pine trees, pushing over ski lift pylons, knocking down power lines and swallowing a ski school hut before surrounding an empty mountain (everyone had been evacuated). However, the Sicilians have become accustomed to living in the shadow of the volcano, and have always rebuilt what the lava has destroyed.

Skiers and snowboarder describe the Etna experience as like nothing else in the Alpine world: "It's an amazing place to ski - on a clear day you can see the sea, and at the same time you have a plume of gas and steam constantly rising from the summit".

There are two ski areas on Etna; the southern slope is Rifugio Sapienza and the northern resort is Linguaglossa. As with any other ski holiday in Italy, hotels, instruction and ski rental is available in both resorts. The snow also provides ample opportunity for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding.

Despite Etna's southerly latitude in the warm seas of the Mediterranean, the 3350m elevation means that in winter it receives deep snows, even down to the lower altitudes of 1800m. The area also offers plenty of warm Sicilian hospitality and wonderful authentic cuisine.

If you're looking for a ski trip in the danger zone, Italy's smouldering Etna should definitely be on your list. Just watch out for the lava.