Ehitu Keeling is a freelance photographer based out of Kailua-Kona who mostly can be found shooting surf photos of pros CJ Kanuha and Shane Dorian. But this past week, Keeling and 200 others took advantage of the recent dumping of “pineapple powder” on Mauna Kea. “We surfed in the morning, then we made the trip up for an afternoon snowboarding session,” said Keeling. Not something most people can claim to have done.
When did you make the trip up the mountain?
The roads were closed on Friday (February 22), but we managed to sneak up there through about six inches of snow at around 4 a.m. The rangers told us we needed chains, and we definitely did. It was pretty intense coming down. By the time we got up to the visitors’ center, it was pretty sketchy. You need 4-wheel drive past the visitors’ center. I was in first gear the whole time.
How’d you guys know there was going to be snow up there?
I listen to NOAA weather reports a lot. They forecasted winter advisories and flash floods, so that was a good indication for loads of snow.
What’s it like at the top?
A rental car had fallen down the hill and was snowed in on the side of the mountain on the way up. Sort of added to the intensity of the whole experience. The snow was up there at 10,000 feet, and as we got up to 13,000 feet, it was a solid 10 inches. There was no lava rock up there, it was covered in snow.
How does one snowboard on a volcano?
We go to the very top, about 14,000 feet, and we have these old beat up snowboards – eight boards for 10 of us – and we get to make the first tracks on the mountain. The ‘poi bowl’ run, that’s the best one, it goes for almost two miles down the mountain. The longest one is almost three miles. There’s no lifts, so you either walk it up, or try and catch a ride hitchhiking. There were about 200 people that showed up. A bunch of kids who go to college actually were hoping for this to happen.
What’s it like once you’re up there?
It’s all over lava rock, so if you eat it, it’s definite that you’re gonna get smashed up. It felt a little like night surfing over a nuts reef. The vibe was great, everybody was smiling. We used shovels to make a ramp near the top. There were some guys that went who actually knew how to snowboard, so they just went for it while we tried to take photos. There were some guys on intertubes, skis, boogie boards. Lots of guys just in jeans charging it. It was amazing, everybody up there just figured out a way to enjoy the snow and have a good time.