Iceland – Ski to the Sea
In May 2016, Ian Sherrington, Chief Instructor at Glenmore Lodge and Andy Townsend, Head of Snowsports, took an exploratory trip to Iceland to test the feasibility of running instructional ski tour courses in this unique and breath taking setting. A new course for 2017, Iceland offers the chance for Scottish ski tourers to develop and explore their skills in an area with limited information and offers the chance to develop these skills in a specialist environment, but on terrain we have selected that is non-glacial.
Ski to the Sea
By Andy Nelson, IFMGA
Mountains falling into wild seas always hold a special fascination. The Troll Peninsula on the northern edge of Iceland has this magic. Terrain, snow covered from soaring ridge lines to ocean, shimmering with light cast by a shallow Arctic sun, pulls at the exploring skier with an irresistible gravity.
As skiers we play with the pull of gravity, never resisting it fully, but blending its force with the shapes and angles of the surface we move over. As explorers, we yearn to look around the next corner, over the next col or skyline, to see another world.
Iceland is another world; crafted by tectonics still active today. Iceland fumes, breathes, giving the impression of an effort just finished. Effort the planet made to create it. Iceland is sharp, rugged and eroded, but still infant in its appearance…not yet rounded by millennia of wind scouring its surface; a diamond in the rough.
The drive from Reykjavik northwards passes through fascinating roughness and emptiness, punctuated by outpost filling stations and clusters of squat homes and stables. Ponies, thick coated, shoulder the elements with incredible tolerance. In the powerful weather that shapes this land; brutal wind and freezing temperatures, Iceland’s mountains are truly forbidding and it’s reasonable to hide from them. But when spring shines on this place, a paradise is exposed. Crisp air and endless vistas reveal the relationships between mountain and sea, lines of light and shade, and the people and landscape of this secretive corner of the world.
Travel options that bring you to the Troll Peninsula are numerous. Flying into Rekjavik then driving upcountry, or domestic flight up to Akureyri both have their advantages. Once in situ, a 4×4 vehicle is a requirement either way. Commuting to and from various valley systems and headlands will take no more than one hour, but may include challenging conditions underfoot and overhead.
Several villages on the Peninsula have accommodation varying from bunkhouses to swish new hotels. Embracing Scandinavian vernacular style is worthwhile, sampling the hunkered down, simple house design and warm paneled interiors. Over 80% of Iceland’s homes, including the majority of Rekjavik are warmed and fuelled by natural geothermal power.
In the first week of May, energized by the warmth of our Iceland home, the soaring landscape and the anticipation of Arctic mountain skiing, we five friends embark. Skinning from coastline road, farm track and occasional use of “Catski” operations such as Arctic Freeride, we ascend 800-1200 metres to ridges and summits, unlocking views of infinite possibilities.
Our excited minds map lines, and visualize curves linking apexes through silky snow…
Morning descents of east and south aspects provide the unbeatable grip of spring snow. On safe angles with ample cover we arc.
Returning to an elevated divide between light and shade, we lunch with unending panoramas. A whale crests it’s watery ceiling a kilometre below. Some of Europe’s biggest sea cliffs tumble abruptly into the ocean, Viking prows questing north. In the afternoon we also quest northward; seeking places that are shy of the sun. Winter snow, cold and dry, hisses as we trampoline our descent, skis alive with energy catapult us port to starboard.
To celebrate such a day a visit to the “Kaffihus; Gisli, Eirikur & Helgi” oozing hipster chic, should be made. Owned and run by Dalvik local Bjarni Gunnarsson, the Kaffihus serves excellent coffee, Icelandic craft beers and homemade cake of the highest and most quaffable quality! For those who also adventure in the culinary sense, other more esoteric delicacies are available too…
“Time” on the Troll Peninsula is a mysterious concept; by May the light comes early and the days are long. Sleep should come only when required and not be a conventional habit. To “make hay while the sun shines” is a saying never more appropriate than in an Icelandic spring!
Our last “day” harvesting turns in this Garden of Eden reaped great reward; a hearty meal was followed by relaxing fireside banter, tales got taller and souls got braver…
At the stroke of midnight skins are glued to skis and the crunch and glide of uphill travel recommences. Headtorches spill pools of light at our feet, though ambient light is already adequate for an overview of our route. 3am sees our arrival at the summit of Karlsarfjall, seemingly the northern apex of Europe. The horizon bends, gathering lines of longitude to a distant icy cluster.
A spectrum glow is flaring up, then reddening, more north than east; the birth of our final day here.
In hundreds of days of travel and exploration every year, I rarely use the word breathtaking. This sunrise is exactly that; utter silence, and no sign of human existence visible. Snow covered mountains from summit to sea, cliffs of enormous proportions, the cold grey ocean below a burning sky. And then the sun magnified by our atmosphere, climbs and pulls out every ripple of detail in the surface around us. Expressing our freedom, we capture that moment, click into bindings and float down 900m to the coastline road.
Glenmore Lodge are heading back to Iceland on 29th April 2017. For course details, please click here.