skiing on mt st helens

Imagine standing on the majestic peak of Mt. Helen, your heart thumping with the anticipation of the thrilling descent ahead. But wait, are you fully prepared to tackle this journey? Many first-time and even experienced skiers often overlook the unique challenges presented by Mt. Helen’s unpredictable weather and complex terrain. This article is your essential guide, providing comprehensive information on everything you need to know before strapping on those skis. Whether you’re an adventurous beginner or a seasoned pro, we ensure you’re equipped with the knowledge and the strategies to enjoy a safe and memorable skiing experience on Mt. Helen.

Throughout the spring and into the summer, the volcanoes of Washington State become a sought-after destination for both skiers and mountaineers. Ranking fifth in height amongst Washington’s volcanoes, Mount St. Helens presents a notable challenge. Although it doesn’t require advanced technical climbing skills, Mount St. Helens should never be underestimated. A single day’s journey, covering more than 5,000 feet, over snow and rock terrains, certainly commands respect.


Regardless of the season, climbing Mount St. Helens requires a permit. From April 1 to October 31, advanced purchase of permits is mandatory, with no day-of walk-ins allowed. For those venturing the climb outside this period, specifically from November 1 to March 31 (the winter months), permits can be conveniently collected at the trailhead. If your plan wasn’t set in advance but the mountain’s call is irresistible, the permits transferred through provide is the only legal way to get permits from others.

As for permit availability, from April 1 to May 15, 500 climbing permits are issued per day. This number is reduced to 100 permits per day from May 16 to October 31 to preserve the natural ecosystem as the snow melts. During the winter months, there’s no limit to the number of permits issued per day.

skiing mountain signs


Depending on when you visit and your chosen trailhead, specific requirements must be followed:

Marble Mountain Trailhead – Depending on the season, a Sno-Park permit might be needed to park at the trailhead. This is particularly true in winter, with the permits contributing to the plowing costs. Facilities include two pit toilets, and if you fancy staying overnight, sleeping in your car or setting up a tent are permissible options.

Climbers Bivouac Trailhead – This trailhead opens in June and offers a slightly easier journey, sitting 1,000 feet higher than the Marble Mountain trailhead. Camping platforms are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, which could be an enticing choice for a summer trip. However, note that this trailhead is typically closed and inaccessible during winter months due to snow and weather conditions.


Choosing the optimal time for your Mount St. Helens adventure depends on your chosen activities. For skiing enthusiasts, the best period falls between March and May, when the snow conditions are typically prime. However, if skiing isn’t on your agenda, the mountain welcomes climbers from March through October. For those undeterred by winter conditions, climbing is possible even in the winter months, but additional preparation and caution are necessary due to harsh weather and snow conditions.



An awareness of snow conditions is crucial throughout the year, but it becomes even more critical in winter and spring when avalanche risks are heightened. Always consult to understand current avalanche risks before embarking on your climb. Equipping yourself with beacons, shovels, and probes – and understanding how to use them – could make a life-saving difference in the event of a slope slide.


Alpine weather is a fickle companion and can change rapidly, regardless of the season. It’s essential to monitor the weather forecast in the days leading up to your climb, and also to be aware of any forecast changes during and after your climb. Pay close attention to wind conditions too, as these can significantly impact your climb. During the summer months, cloud cover may not present a significant challenge, but in winter and spring, low cloud cover can make route finding difficult and disorienting. Always err on the side of caution when deciding to push forward in less than ideal weather conditions.


Your climb’s commencement time on Mt. Helens should factor in the season and expected outdoor temperatures, as well as your estimated ascent and descent times.

For the more challenging sections of the climb, a speed of 1 mph is a reasonable estimate. You could anticipate the ascent, including breaks for snacks, to take around 5 to 6 hours. The descent duration varies significantly based on whether you’re skiing or walking. In winter or early spring, if you’re equipped with skis, you might manage the descent in a brisk 45 minutes to an hour. If skiing isn’t your mode of descent, allocate approximately 3 to 4 hours, regardless of the season.

The snow condition is an essential factor to consider, especially for skiers and snowshoers. During winter and spring mornings, the snow is usually firm, making it ideal for the early parts of the climb. However, as the day warms up, the snow starts to soften and can make climbing more difficult – akin to trudging through sand. Aim for firm conditions that will gradually soften for a more pleasurable descent.

An early start, around 7:30 am, is often ideal, and by the time you reach the summit, the snow should be just soft enough for a comfortable ski down. Remember, though, that as you decrease in elevation, the snow will continue to soften, so don’t expect consistent conditions throughout your 5,000-foot descent.


Regardless of the season, be a conscientious visitor. Everything you bring with you, including toilet paper, energy bar wrappers, and even human waste (solid waste only), should leave the mountain with you. Let’s strive to keep nature free of plastic and garbage, ensuring that Mt. Helens remains pristine for future adventurers.


Starting and ending point: Marble Mountain trailhead
Distance: Approximately 4.96 miles (around 8 kilometers)
Elevation: 5,228 ft (about 1,593 meters)
Estimated time: 8 to 9 hours
Realistic time: 7 hours

Starting and ending point: Climbers Bivouac Trailhead
Distance: Approximately 5.5 miles (around 8.85 kilometers)
Elevation: 4,500 ft (about 1,372 meters)
Estimated time: 7 to 8 hours
Realistic time: 6 hours


The Worm Flows route is the most direct route up to Mount St. Helens’ crater during the winter months, but it also remains a viable option during the summer season. This route allows climbers to practice basic mountaineering skills without having to navigate crevasses.

Proficiency in snow travel can be beneficial for climbing the mountain, especially during winter and early spring. However, as the season progresses and the snow melts away, the emphasis shifts to trekking skills. Regardless of the season, it’s crucial to know how to use your gear correctly—specifically, items like ice axes and crampons. An ice axe can serve as a supportive tool during the ascent and act as a brake when glissading down.

The increase in the number of climbers has made the route more discernible, making navigation less intimidating for newcomers. Starting from the Marble Mountain trailhead, you’ll enter a wooded area to commence the trail, marked by markers on the trees. Continue through the forest for roughly 2.3 miles (1.25 hours) and ascend about 1,000 feet vertically along a gradual incline.

Cross Swift Creek above Chocolate Falls—a great spot for a rest or camping—before moving into the alpine zone. Follow the ridges and slopes up to the crater rim, with the last 2.5 miles of the ascent being a constant uphill climb.

Most climbers stop at the rim, but the true summit involves a longer walk around the rim and an additional climb of around 200 feet. On a clear day, you’ll have breathtaking views of Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier to the north, while Mount Adams and Mount Hood are visible to the south and east throughout the climb.

At the rim, be cautious of snow cornices, or windblown snow lips, which can fall and break away under weight or in warmer weather—this is particularly important during the transition from winter to spring.
For the ski descent in winter, aim to avoid crossing over the uphill skin tracks and bootpack when possible, as it results in less choppy skiing. Uphill travelers have the right of way, so it’s crucial to steer clear of them. Only use the uphill track when visibility is low.

Aim for Chocolate Falls and steer clear of valleys that will lead you lower than the entrance to the narrow trail through the trees back to the parking lot. This guidance applies to both winter and summer descents, though the summer trek may be more forgiving. Always communicate with foot traffic as you approach to maintain your momentum on the gradual decline, regardless of the season.


For those looking to visit Mount St. Helens and many more spots, it’s a good idea to rent an RV because it offers a number of conveniences and benefits that can significantly enhance your experience. An RV provides a mobile home-away-from-home, supplying a comfortable space for rest, meals, and relaxation after a demanding day on the mountain. In contrast to a traditional hotel or cabin, it affords you the flexibility to stay close to the trailhead, eliminating long drives at dawn or dusk and giving you a head start on your climb. Plus, an RV allows for a more extended and immersive experience in the great outdoors, with the added benefit of modern amenities and the ability to cook your own meals. This can be a major boon, particularly after a long day of exerting physical energy when you’ll appreciate a hearty, home-cooked meal.

And believe it or not, renting an RV can be a great cost-effective alternative to other accommodation options, especially for larger groups or families – especially in the peak skiing seasons.

For those wanting both an RV and a team you can count on, you’ll want to pick out one of our professionally maintained RVs to make your trip one to remember.