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Would it be possible for a small island to have both tropical beaches with a warm sea for swimming AND snow covered mountains suitable for skiing?

If it is possible: how far apart would the beaches and the mountains realistically need to be?

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    $\begingroup$ You mean like New Zealand? $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 6 '17 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ Sicily and Mt. Etna - you can ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Mar 6 '17 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ If you're willing to lose the island requirement they can get pretty dang close together. Temperature is moderated on an island due the the sea air which will generally mean you are going to need to have a larger distance between snow cap and beach. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 6 '17 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ It's not an island, but North Lake Tahoe in California has a beach you can sit on and look up at the surrounding mountains and you'll see people skiing. Can't remember if the beach water was very warm or not, but there were people swimming as well. $\endgroup$ – knocked loose Mar 6 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ You can go skiing and snowboarding in Hawaii, USA, and then afterward lay in the sand on the tropical beaches or go surfing... $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Mar 7 '17 at 0:23
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Mount Kilimanjaro is located close the equator (03°04′33″S 37°21′12″E) but its 5895 m high top is covered with permanent snow enter image description here.

Even better, the Mauna Loa, located on Hawaii Island, can give you a good estimate of the distance between the snow and the beaches.

Mauna Loa is the largest subaerial and second largest overall volcano in the world (behind Tamu Massif), covering a land area of 5,271 km2 (2,035 sq mi) and spans a maximum width of 120 km (75 mi). Consisting of approximately 65,000 to 80,000 km3 (15,600 to 19,200 cu mi) of solid rock, it makes up more than half of the surface area of the island of Hawaiʻi. Combining the volcano's extensive submarine flanks (5,000 m (16,400 ft) to the sea floor) and 4,170 m (13,680 ft) subaerial height, Mauna Loa rises 9,170 m (30,085 ft) from base to summit, greater than the 8,848 m or 29,029 ft[18] elevation of Mount Everest from sea level to its summit.

Looking at a satellite view you can estimate the distance from the Mauna Loa top to the nearest beach to be between 15 and 20 km.

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    $\begingroup$ You know I started my answering using Hawaii but I wasn't 100% if you could ski in the summer (as I've never been) so didn't want to risk looking silly! $\endgroup$ – Liath Mar 6 '17 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ Could you write a bit more about the size of Mauna Loa? Links can go out-of-date leaving this answer as a not very helpful one as there currently is no answer to concrete question of "how far apart would the beaches and the mountains realistically need to be?" $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 6 '17 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus done $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Mar 6 '17 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Very good, thanks. I would upvote, but I don't have any votes left for today :D Probably tomorrow ;) $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 6 '17 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ Upvoted - real world examples are always better than "based on these..." $\endgroup$ – Liath Mar 6 '17 at 14:03
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New Zealand is exactly like this.

Granted, it is a bit bigger than a "small island", but it has a really wide array of environments for one to choose and is a incredibly beautiful place.

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    $\begingroup$ There are also Hobbits there. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 6 '17 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ One significant issue: it's not tropical, and (at least up to Auckland) the seas aren't warm. The northern tip might have warm seas (I haven't checked), but at that point you're looking at ~300 miles to the nearest plausible snowcap, and ~700 miles to the areas which are used as ski resorts. $\endgroup$ – Ethan Kaminski Mar 6 '17 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ New Zealand is a bad example. At the time of year and latitude where you can ski in New Zealand, you cannot also be at a tropical beach. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 6 '17 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @EthanKaminski The question doesn't specify they need to be close by each other. New Zealand is a nice example because it has both the requisites and works as a nice estimate necessary between them! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Mar 7 '17 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ "There are also Hobbits there." Well, there were. But they moved out and their town is now a tourist attraction. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 19 '17 at 14:50
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I can't see why not, but you're going to need some serious altitude...

Let's take the alps as an example, at 4,810m high Mont Blanc has snow on it all year around (despite the valleys having a temperature in the 30s (centigrade). You're not exactly into Caribbean longitudes but the south of France does have a nice warm sea in the summer.

Now your island may have to be bigger than you think. Most natural mountains have a gradient of around 5%-10% to reach 4810 metres you're looking at an island radius of around 72km meaning your island will have to be approximately 16,000 square kilometres... this is around the size of Bathurst Island in Canada.

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I was on Tenerife last year.

The island itself is not too big, 2,034 km² (785 sq mi) and it

is known internationally as the "Island of Eternal Spring" (Isla de la Eterna Primavera). The island, which lies at the same latitude as the Sahara Desert, enjoys a warm tropical climate with an average of 18–24 °C (64–75 °F) in the winter and 24–28 °C (75–82 °F) in the summer.

The central volcano, Mount Teide

[...] is a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain. Its 3,718-metre (12,198 ft) summit is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.

I'm not exactly sure if there's snow all year round on it, but there was a pretty nice layer on it when I was there (december 2016). Of course it's an active volcano so there are no ski slopes.

(Quotes from Wikipedia)

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  • $\begingroup$ I looked, but it seems it's not high enough for perennial snow at those latitudes. On the other hand... of course humans made a sky resort in an inactive crater! teideski.com $\endgroup$ – Francesco Dondi Mar 7 '17 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. I will point out though that there seems to be evidence for a higher volcano (4500m) on Tenerife which has since collapsed. $\endgroup$ – Falc Mar 7 '17 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @FrancescoDondi sadly, Teide Ski is a spoof - although there's a cable car on Teide, there are no designated ski runs. For subtropical islands, there are ski resorts on Cyprus, Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, and Kyushu. $\endgroup$ – ecatmur Mar 7 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ When I was on Tenerife a local told me that at least one winter they ski'd all the way down to the beach. I assume they were - to some extent - bluffing/joking. But there would still be some truth to it $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jun 19 '17 at 13:30
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enter image description here

This situation happens in Chile. The distance between ski resorts and sea can be sometimes less than 20 km; see on google maps : https://www.google.ro/maps/place/Chile/@-43.1604441,-72.8562775,333590m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x9662c5410425af2f:0x505e1131102b91d!8m2!3d-35.675147!4d-71.542969

the snow covered peaks are really close to the sea ( i dont know if this region is at a tropical latitude, i just chose the first screen that displayed clear snow covered mountains nearby the sea; for regions closer to the equator, you might need to search more until you see a snow covered peak; but this scenario certainly occurs)

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A purely theoretical answer for completeness' sake.

Around the equator, the snow line is around 4500m above sea level (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_line)

Research has shown that a slope of 30° is a likely upper bound for a stable mountainside; higher angles will result in more landslide erosion until the hillside stabilizes (sources: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v5/n7/full/ngeo1479.html - paywalled with excerpt; http://www.futurity.org/the-science-of-steep-mountain-slopes - references first source)

A 30° angle means a slope rises 1m horizontally per 1.173m traveled vertically. So 4500m up requires 5278.5m sideways.

Leading us to an ideal, minimal island size of a 30° cone, 4500m high with a radius (ie. distance from peak to beach, as the crow flies) of 5km and a quarter.

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Anything with a high enough mountain will do, but your best guess is with a volcano-island like Tenerife. Normally, a mountain high enough to have perennial snow even in a tropical region is above 3,000 meters high, and is rare to have just one of these if it's not part of a mountain range.

If you don't mind your island being surrounded by other similar - maybe lower, without snow, or maybe even higher - then you're ok. Your islands would be just the tops of a massive mountain range, with one or more of them high enough to have permanently snow-covered tops.

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