Skiing the Cascade Volcanoes
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Table of Contents | Introduction | Ratings | WebCams | Bibliography | Highest Volcanoes | Snowfall & Snowdepth | Monthly Chart | Conifers
Introduction to the Cascade Volcanoes

About this Guidebook

    The great snow-capped, conical volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest are the most visible and famous landmarks of the region. Their vertical relief combines with massive snowfalls and perennial snowcover to endow the Cascade volcanoes with the some of the longest ski descents, and the longest ski season, in the world. This guidebook covers ski and snowboard mountaineering routes on 28 of the major volcanoes in the Cascade Range. It aims to be comprehensive, as all 15 Cascade volcanoes over 9000 feet in elevation are included, along with most of the skiable routes on each one. Several other lower peaks have also been included, because they are well-known or because of their unusual interest for skiing or for volcanology. But it would be counterproductive to attempt to include all of the nearly 40 Cascade volcanoes above 8000 feet, or the literally hundreds of volcanoes below that mark, since many of these peaks are of minor interest compared to more lofty neighbors. However, several worthy peaks may nonetheless have been omitted, and suggestions for worthwhile additions are welcome.
    The majority of the routes in this guidebook are mountaineering routes, and at a minimum require basic mountaineering experience in order to undertake safely. In addition, several of the longer and more difficult routes require a considerable amount of mountaineering equipment and skill in order to climb and ski safely, but when the conditions are right and you have the skills to match, these major routes can produce truly epic ski runs. In contrast, there are quite a few routes included (more common in the southerly portions of the Cascades) which are relatively simple hikes or scrambles during the summer when snow-free. Nevertheless, it is important not to underestimate these routes during winter or spring, as few of them are suitable when snowcovered for those without solid backcountry travelling and skiing skills.


Geography and Climate of the Cascades

    The Cascade Range is one of the great volcanic ranges of the world, forming an arc over 800 miles in length along the west coast of North America. There are over a dozen major volcanic cones from Lassen Peak in California to Mount Baker near the Canadian border, with numerous smaller volcanic peaks scattered throughout. North of the border, the volcanic arc continues into the Coast Mountains of southwestern British Columbia, and most volcanologists consider the volcanoes here to be part of the Cascade chain. The Cascade volcanoes have formed as a result of the subduction of the Juan de Fuca, Gorda, and Explorer Plates beneath the North American Plate along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the range includes some of the largest stratovolcanoes in the world, such as Mount Rainier and Mount Shasta. Many of the Cascade volcanoes are considered active today, and several could be capable of devastating eruptions such as that of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, or even a cataclysmic eruption such as the one which destroyed Mount Mazama about 6900 years ago, creating the natural wonder of Crater Lake.

Aerial photo showing three of the Cascade volcanoes: the view looks south towards
Mount Rainier, with Adams and Saint Helens (left and right) in the distance.
Photo by the author, taken from a commercial airline flight.

    The maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest buries the Cascade Range under extremely heavy snowfalls, with annual averages of over 600 inches (15 m) in several areas. The largest yearly snowfalls recorded anywhere in the world have been 1140 inches (29 m) at Mount Baker Ski Area in 1998-99 and 1122 inches (28.5 m) at Paradise on Rainier in 1971-72. Most of the precipitation in the Northwest falls between October and May, with storms typically following one after another with only a few periods of fair weather. The sunny weather of late spring and early summer usually provides the best conditions for ski mountaineering, producing a fine corn snow surface and a stable snowpack. This snowpack has often built up over 20 feet (6 m) deep by spring and thus lasts well into summer, with several of the peaks skiable year-round. The snow which lingers throughout the summer feeds the numerous glaciers which crown most of the major peaks, with Rainier and Baker hosting the largest glacier systems in the contiguous United States. On these peaks, the heavily crevassed glaciers make ski ascents and descents into true mountaineering challenges. On most of the Cascade volcanoes, the challenge arises not from their steepness or elevation but from their great height above the surrounding terrain. The vertical relief of the large Cascade volcanoes is staggering: ski descents of over 10000 vertical feet (3000 m) are possible on Rainier, and perhaps even on Adams and Shasta.

    More detailed information about weather and climate can be found on my new Cascade Snowfall and Snowdepth page.

The massive snowpack nearly buries buildings beside the parking lot at Paradise (5400 ft / 1650 m)
on Mount Rainier. Snow depth on this date (April 24, 1999) was an impressive 255 inches (6.5 m),
but this was still well short of the record for this location of 367 inches (9.3 m) on March 9, 1956.

History of Skiing on the Cascade Volcanoes

Info about the history of skiing in the Cascades:

     Ski mountaineering pioneers

     Ski area development on Mounts Baker, Rainier, Hood, Bachelor, Shasta, and Lassen Peak

     Significant recent ski descents

This section is under development ...

Table of Contents | Introduction | Ratings | WebCams | Bibliography | Highest Volcanoes | Snowfall & Snowdepth | Monthly Chart | Conifers
Ski Mountaineering Photos & Trip Reports Equipment & Info Cascade Volcanoes Ring of Fire Site Map

Amar Andalkar   Seattle, WA, USA   <About the Author / Contact Me>
All material on this website is ©1997-2004 by Amar Andalkar unless otherwise noted.
Last modified Wednesday, January 15, 2003