Before I came to Iceland, my only snow-sporting skills were making snow angels and snowmen, and throwing (and dodging) snowballs. Less than 48 hours after landing, I had traded my winter coat and boots for a snowsuit and a set of skis. It was late
December, and I was staying in Fljot on Trollaskagi peninsula in North Iceland with a family of avid cross-country skiers. Armed with only my youthful spirit of adventure and a few shots of Icelandic schnapps, my endeavours in snow sports began. I spent a lot of the time that first evening falling flat on my back, but since the powder was soft and the skies above were blazing with northern lights, the indignity of consistently losing my balance was well compensated. Over the years I’ve travelled to many remarkable ski resorts, some of which are featured here in this roundup, together with advice from local experts and ski enthusiasts.

North Iceland’s fairytale peaks

I called Akureyri home for many years and frequented the region’s ski resorts, especially with my kids, who practically lived on the slopes during the winter. There are five main ski hotspots in North Iceland – Hlidarfjall (Akureyri), Boggvisstadafjall (Dalvik), Tindaoxl (Olafsfjordur), Skardsdalur (Siglufjordur) and Tindastoll (Saudarkrokur) – and it’s possible to buy a five-day ski pass for all five. Hlidarfjall, the biggest of the five and highest in the country (950 m / 3,117 ft) is only seven minutes’ drive from Akureyri town centre, and its reputation as one of the best is well deserved. Its extensive slopes are regularly slammed with fresh powder, the weather is often perfect for skiing, the views are incredible, and the numerous well-groomed runs carve through some of the most epic undulating vistas I’ve seen.
Though the scenery is spectacular, masters of the slopes may find the elevation for downhill skiing in Iceland limited. On the other hand, there’s plenty of creative forms of skiing on offer, with heli-skiing, ski touring, backcountry and ski mountaineering
all increasingly catching on. Bjorgvin Bjorgvinsson, the co-founder of Viking Heliskiing Iceland and threetime former Olympian, runs multi-day tours in the fairytale-like mountains of Trollaskagi. They have 256 landing points and around 500 routes in the “vast and largely unexplored area”, but Bjorgvin’s favourite is called “Thor” – a run which offers a higher-than-heaven ski high from the summit of Vikurhyrna (1,200 m / 3,937 ft) in Hedinsfjordur valley, with an extraordinary run right down to the sea. “There’s nothing like skiing down slopes in between towering peaks, ending the ride where the shoreline meets the North Atlantic,” says Bjorgvin.
→ northiceland.is

2 Adventurous heli-skier descending Thor’s Run in Hedinsfjordur Valley, North Iceland. Image courtesy of Viking Heliskiing.

Adventurous heli-skier descending Thor’s Run in Hedinsfjordur Valley, North Iceland. Image courtesy of Viking Heliskiing.

 

“There’s nothing like skiing down slopes in between towering peaks, ending the ride where the shoreline meets the North Atlantic,”

The Blue Mountains of Reykjavik

Iceland has 75 km (47 mi) of treeless ski slopes, 15 km (9 mi) of which can be found at Blafjoll, the country’s biggest ski resort, just 30 minutes’ drive from Reykjavik. (The smaller Skalafell resort is also close to the city.) Blafjoll (“Blue Mountains”) has 15 ski lifts – mostly named after fun characters from Thorbjorn Egner’s Animals of Huckybucky Forest – featuring a nice progression of lifts for the beginner. So, I decided to have a go at downhill skiing. Once I’d graduated to the “Grandma Mouse” lift there was no stopping me! The resort is spread over three main areas and caters to all sorts of winter sports, with up to 35 km (22 mi) of cross-country tracks, and some great easy- to intermediate-level courses for skiers and snowboarders. There’s also a lift to a special snowboarding park fitted with rails, boarder-cross tracks, big jumps and airbags. Solvi B. Helgason, an experienced snowboarder and judge at the annual FIS international snowboarding competition, recommends both the snowboarding park and the run from Drottningargil canyon, which has “a more playful and adventurous course”.
→ visitreykjavik.is

Snowboard jib session at Blafjoll ski resort. Photo: Roman Gerasymenko.

Snowboard jib session at Blafjoll ski resort. Photo: Roman Gerasymenko.

Dragons of the East

East Iceland has two main ski resorts offering easy to intermediate slopes and cross-country trails: Stafdalur in Seydisfjordur has three lifts and 5 km (3 mi) of slopes, and Oddsskard (the “East Iceland Alps” between Eskifjordur and Neskaupstadur) has
three lifts and 9 km (6 mi) of slopes; 4 km (2 mi) classed as difficult. There’s gorgeous scenery at both resorts, but if you’re looking for an off-piste adventure with views to make your eyes pop and your jaw drop, you might want to head into the “Land of Dragons” with Bergmenn Mountain Guides, who run a seven-day “ski-touring odyssey” in the East Fjords. Erin Jorgensen, an avid skier from the US who joined the first trip in 2017, says the area “has it all, from fun terrain to interesting culture,” adding that it’s suitable for all types of skiers and snowboarders with experience of ski touring. “There are wide-open runs as well as some
steeper slopes and couloirs, so there is something for everyone.”

The tour takes its name from an old legend of a fierce dragon which protects the East of Iceland, and with its rugged mountains and jagged peaks, a dragon could easily be imagined hiding in the landscape. Erin also recommends the meals at Randulffs Seahouse, a 127-year-old preserved fishing station on the edge of the water in Eskifjordur. “Eating here after a great day of ski touring and then soaking in the outdoor boat-shaped hot tub at the Mjoeyri lodge, looking out onto the fjord and ocean, rovides everything you want from a ski touring trip.”
→ east.is

Snow-white Westfjords

Ski Week, one of the country’s oldest annual ski events, takes place in Isafjordur during the Easter holidays and attracts skiers from far and wide for its fun and family-friendly races and activities. The facilities are located in two separate valleys within close proximity to each other and only five minutes’ drive from the town centre. Tungudalur valley (open from December) is where all the downhill skiing and snowboarding action takes place, while the cross-country trails are concentrated in the Seljalandsdalur valley. The latter is host to the legendary Fossavatnsganga marathon, a 50 km (31 mi) race (usually in early May) which attracts 1,500 people from all over the world. Hlynur Kristinsson, General Manager of the Isafjordur ski resorts, says “the cross-country ski area is one of the biggest in Iceland and known by several famous enthusiasts”. The Westfjords are best known for mountain skiing and cross country, he says, but snowboarding is becoming more popular. “We opened a new snowboarding park last year that we are planning to continue this season, too.” As for the weather conditions, Hlynur adds that the frequency of snow storms “gives us many good powder days”.
→ westfjords.is

Polar peaks of Greenland

While Greenland offers a number of modest ski resorts such as the Apussuit resort near Maniitsoq or the Sisorarfiit ski centre in Nuuk, the wild and largely untouched terrain of Kalaallit Nunaat, as the country is known by the locals, is the domain of the more determined explorer, where you can indulge in a variety of extreme snow sports. Backcountry skiing, such as the eight-day lodge and hut-based expedition from Kulusuk offered by Pirhuk Mountain Guides, takes you on some great first descents with memorable trips to explore frozen peaks and snow-laden fjords. Heli-skiing is another popular activity, where you can fly out over ice-covered fjords and ski right down to the white sheet of the pack ice. Heli-skiing tours also provide amazing sightseeing opportunities and even the chance to spot some polar bears. For those who are keen for the extreme, Greenland is also host to the most challenging cross-country ski race in the world – the Arctic Circle Race. The three-day 160 km (99 mi) challenge in -20 to -30°C (-4 to -22°F), first held in 1998, is set in Sisimiut, 40 km (25 mi) north of the Arctic Circle, and attracts 150 participants every year. One heroic contestant of the 2018 race (23–25 March) is Steinunn Snaebjornsdottir, an experienced downhill skier from North Iceland. She hadn’t tried cross-country skiing until 2017 when she moved to Nuuk, but after having a go, she thought it provided a great way to both enjoy nature and keep fit at the same time. Because of a storm, Steinunn missed the first day of the race but still managed to cover 109 km (68 mi) in two days. “The Arctic Circle Race was an incredible nature experience … It wasn’t easy; there were lots of ups and downs, and there was rarely even ground.” Despite the challenges, which also included having to camp, cook, and dry her clothes, she was thrilled with the outcome. Given the chance, she would definitely do it again.
→ visitgreenland.com

Volunteers celebrate a successful weekend as the last participant in the Arctic Circle Race reaches the finish line. Photo by Steinunn Snaebjornsdottir.

Volunteers celebrate a successful weekend as the last participant in the Arctic Circle Race reaches the finish line. Photo by Steinunn Snaebjornsdottir.

Book your next ski adventure!

Air Iceland Connect flies daily from Reykjavik to Akureyri in the North, Egilsstadir in the East and Isafjordur in the Westfjords in under one hour and to several destinations in Greenland. The best time for skiing in Greenland is from April to May. The ski season in Iceland usually runs from late November through April (March to June for heli skiing).