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The day our group of international journalists and representatives from Black Diamond Equipment and Polartec arrived in Iceland, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, causing enough smoke and ash to shut down all airports in northern Europe for almost a week, wrecking havoc on the global economy. We had planned to head south to ski the highest peak in Iceland, 2,110-meter Hvannadalshnjúkur. But road closures as a result of the eruption changed our plans and we headed north instead, to ski the mountains near the town of Dalvík.
Although there are small “ski stations,” as locals call ski areas, in Iceland, all of them are tiny (one or two chairlifts or rope tows) and they have extremely short seasons. The ski area closest to Reykjavik only opened five days this winter due to rising temperatures and little natural snowfall (they don’t have snowmaking equipment at many of the ski areas).
Since you probably won’t be going to Iceland to ride chairlifts at dinky ski areas, be prepared to hike for your turns. There is also one heli-ski operation working in Iceland: Arctic Heli Skiing run by a guide named Jökull Bergmann. You can find our more about that or book at trip at Arcticheliskiing.com.
Thirty volcanoes have erupted in the past 200 years in Iceland, so don’t be surprised if one goes off while you’re there. Due to the high geothermal activity in the country, the tap water often reeks of sulpher—but don’t worry, it’s still some of the cleanest water to drink in the world.
As the homebase for our ski touring trip, we stayed in a guesthouse located on a small farm near Dalvík. Frozen, purebred Icelandic ponies lived right outside our bunkroom. For farmhouse guest accommodation in Iceland, check out Farmholidays.is.
There are several breweries in Iceland, most of which offer tasting tours. We managed to visit two of them during our seven-day visit. The bigger breweries include Thule and Viking, and the microbrews include places like Ölvisholt, a dairy farm that turned into a brewhouse in 2006, and Kaldi, a family-run brewery whose name means “cold wind.” Call ahead to book a tour—for around $10, you can get what feels like endless refills of lager straight from the tap.
We hired guides from Icelandic Mountain Guides. Our guide, Leifur Orn Svavarsson, also works as an avalanche forecaster and has crossed Greenland on skis five times. They offer everything from glacial trekking to horseback riding to jeep tours and cross country skiing. Find out more at Mountainguides.is.
Roughly 10 percent of Iceland is covered in glaciers, including Vatnojökull, Europe’s largest glacier. But get there before they’re gone. One outlet glacier in southern Iceland is melting at a rate of 100 meters per year. In addition to their guided ski trips, Icelandic Mountain Guides offers glacial hiking tours—ranging from two-hour walks to multi-day trips. Find our more here.
In addition to guiding us up and down the mountain safely each day, our guide Leifur prepared and cooked breakfast and dinner for our group every day. His dinner menus include curried fish and rice, grilled lamb chops, salted cod in tomato sauce, and meat stew, followed by desserts like Snickers pudding and ice cream covered in cream cheese chocolate sauce.
The weather in Iceland is exactly as the name implies: icy. We experienced everything from face-numbing wind, freezing rain, and blizzards. We also had some sunshine. But come with lots of warm layers and wind protection.
66 North is the premiere outdoor apparel manufacturer in Iceland—and if it’s tough enough for Icelandic fishermen, it’s more than tough enough for skiers. We visited their headquarters in Reykjavik to check out their Polartec softshells, fur-lined hardshells, and insulated down layers. I wore this Primaloft insulated jacket—called the Vatnojökull [$294; buy it here]—all week long.