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Hawaii's highest peaks get 2 feet of snow — and more is on the way

Hawaii's highest peaks get 2 feet of snow — and more is on the way
The summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island is covered in snow on Dec. 1, as seen in an image from webcam video provided by Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

Ski season is underway in Hawaii.

The island's two highest peaks — Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa —  are getting hit with a cold, wet storm that has dumped about 2 feet of snow, and an additional foot of snow is possible when another storm hits the islands later this weekend.

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National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Foster said snow isn't unusual for the two mountains, whose  altitudes are about 14,000 feet — comparable to the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. He noted that the name Mauna Kea means "white mountain" and said the peak can get  snow five or six times in  winter.

But  2 or 3 feet in a few short days is "at the higher end of what we'd typically get up there," Foster said. There have been winters where the two mountains got little to no snow, including last year.

The unpaved access road to leading to Mauna Kea is closed because of snow and fog, so skiers and snowboarders can't take advantage of the frozen bounty yet. On Saturday afternoon it was drizzling, and the National Weather Service canceled a  winter storm warning.

A winter storm watch is still in effect for the peaks, and that will keep the access road closed possibly through Monday.

Foster said when the road opens — probably after the next storm passes and the sun comes out — the ski, snowboard and sled crowd will head up the mountain,  where there is no maintained ski or snowboard area.

Toby Kravet, president of the Hawaii Ski Club, said his group was initially founded to promote skiing on the mountain but no longer endorses it for safety reasons, including the topography and illness associated with the quick altitude change.

He also said there has been a push in recent years to discourage skiing and other snow recreation on Mauna Kea  to reserve the site for cultural purposes.

Still, snow in Hawaii is often too much of an event for people to pass up when the next closest U.S.-based ski resort is a five-hour flight away in California.

"A lot of people will take a pickup truck up there and do their own thing," Foster said. "There is controlled access when the road is closed, though."

Twitter: @davemontero

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