Night Falls in Iceland

Traveler 105

Ever since a cranky Viking named Floki Vilgerdarson decided to christen his adopted homeland "Iceland, following a cold and disillusioning first winter here, his descendants have nurtured a love-hate relationship with the island's quirks of climate and latitude.

Sure, Icelanders like to frolic amidst glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes under the all-night sun of high summer, but during the bitter winds of the deep winter, when the sun's been a reluctant presence for weeks? Absolutely: Consider it a testament to the universal appeal of skiing that Icelanders are mad for the sport.

The scene at Bláfjöll (BLAU-fyoll, or Blue Mountain), the country's most popular resort, proves that point: two chairlifts, a smattering of surface lifts, a preponderance of easy intermediate runs and a base village whose main attraction is the sprawling eating area set aside for brown-baggers. Yet even during the dark days of midseason—when nightskiing isn't just a novel option, it's the only option—crowds can make Bláfjöll resemble the scene of an ill-fated Viking battle. Icy conditions beget challenging skiing, but hey—who needs actual snow? Since the lifts stay open from early afternoon until 10 p.m., plenty of Reykjavik's workforce makes the 30-minute trek for after-office turns.

This close to the Arctic Circle, of course, conditions can be fickle. (The mercury stays well below freezing for much of the winter.) Early season snow is usually washed away by rain, and the high winds that roil Iceland's holiday season often overpower the chairlifts, causing frequent closures. Powder skiing is rare, as the snow tends toward icy, and forget about glade skiing: The first settlers cut down all the trees for shelter and fuel. But on those rare bluebird days of April? It's the best skiing within 500 miles.

And nowhere can boast better views: Peek out of your thick parka on the chair up and awe at the aurora borealis—the northern lights are a regular visitor.

When you're looking to warm up, try a few quick nips of Iceland's much-feared Brennivin—a kind of potato schnapps, ominously nicknamed "the black death—on the last bus to town, since Reykjavik's famously rambunctious partying doesn't really get in gear until well past midnight. Even in the deadest of winter, the bars are packed with dancing, smoking, hooting natives, and closing time, like the sunrise, always seems pretty far off.

DETAILSKeflavà­k Airport is the gateway to Reykjavà­k, and buses depart from the city's Mjodd Terminal for Bláfjöll whenever snow and road conditions permit. Contact 011-354-566-7095;