Exploring Mount Etna: Skiing on Europe’s Highest and Most Active Volcano

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Skiing on Mount Etna: A Unique Adventure on Europe’s Tallest Active Volcano

Gazing out from an elevation of 3,000 meters, I beheld a vast expanse of untouched snow draping the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s loftiest and most dynamic volcano. Over the past few days, a continuous snowfall had blanketed the mountain, creating a pristine canvas for our downhill descent. With my guide, Elis Martis, by my side, we eagerly embarked on our exhilarating ski journey down the volcano’s flanks, swiftly slicing through the fresh powder with every turn.

Snow-covered peaks may not be the first image that comes to mind when thinking of Sicily, but in the higher altitudes of this Italian island, winter brings a transformation. The convergence of hot, moisture-laden winds from the Sahara Desert with cooler air from the north results in heavy snowfall on the mountainous terrain of Sicily, including Mount Etna.

My introduction to the skiing potential of Mount Etna came through Martis, a seasoned mountain guide and expert skier, during a previous trip to the Italian Dolomites. His tales of incredible ski runs on Sicily’s largest volcano intrigued me, leading to our expedition in February 2023. After flying to Catania and driving to Etna Glo Bed & Breakfast, situated at the volcano’s base, our unforgettable adventure awaited.

As we made our way towards Etna, Martis elaborated on why skiing on the volcano is an unparalleled experience. The proximity to the Mediterranean Sea infuses the snow with moisture, resulting in a dense, yet easily navigable layer of powder ideal for skiing. Against the backdrop of billowing smoke from Etna’s crater and stunning vistas of the distant sea, the skiing experience on Etna is truly incomparable.

Upon our arrival at Etna Glo, we were warmly greeted by Giuseppe Cobo, the B&B’s owner, who shared insights into the longstanding tradition of skiing on Etna. For generations, Sicilians have utilized the mountain’s snow for various purposes, from collecting firewood to preserving food. This deep-rooted connection to Etna’s volcanic landscape has endured through the centuries, shaping the island’s culture and traditions.

While skiing as a sport gained prominence on Etna in the 20th century, particularly with the construction of cable cars and ski resorts, the allure of the volcano lies beyond traditional resort skiing. Ski mountaineering, characterized by ascending on skis and navigating unmarked trails, offers a more immersive and adventurous way to experience Etna’s rugged terrain.

Accompanied by local skiing enthusiast Salvatore Rizzo, we embarked on a ski-touring expedition to the Valle del Bove, a vast amphitheater on Etna’s eastern flank. As we traversed the valley’s pristine slopes, Rizzo shared stories of the deep bond between Sicilians and their beloved volcano—a relationship defined by reverence and resilience in the face of Etna’s periodic eruptions.

Etna’s volcanic activity, though at times destructive, has also bestowed fertility upon the surrounding land, contributing to the region’s agricultural prosperity. The mineral-rich volcanic soil nurtures thriving vineyards and orchards, yielding Sicily’s renowned citrus fruits and wines.

After hours of traversing the Valle del Bove and ascending towards Etna’s summit, we reached a precipitous slope offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. With a sense of exhilaration, I descended the volcano’s slopes, reveling in the unparalleled beauty and adventure that skiing on Mount Etna had to offer.

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