All About Ski Touring in Iceland

Andrew LyleFebruary 18, 2019

The broad appeal of Iceland runs deep in the winter sport world, from the weather and climate to the explosive terrain. Situated at the amalgamation of the North Atlantic Ocean and Arctic Ocean, this island nation is sparse. The small population taking advantage of the varied and fascinating landscape leaves plenty for intrepid skiers to explore. With fjords, mountains, tundra, waterfalls, lakes, volcanoes, and so much more to discover, it’s easy to see why ski touring is a perfect way to get acquainted with Iceland. Grab a guide and ski tour down the wonderful slopes of Iceland!

Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon get most of the press, but the northern areas possess a wellspring of allure. The most dramatic scenery can be found to the north of the capital, with a pleasant combination of access and isolation. The largest cities outside of the southwest happen to also be major jumping off points for ski touring adventures. Iceland is roughly 100,000-square kilometers, so these hubs are crucial to the ski community.

The sub-arctic climate is implied in the name, but the snow heavy north of Iceland takes the moniker seriously. Glaciers are impressive and astonishing, so much so that they are protected in the Vatnajokull and Snaefellsjokull National Parks. The glacier-carved fjords are just as astounding. If you need a livelier bonus to your ski trip, lava fields, hot springs, and geysers can be spotted and enjoyed across the island.

 

Summit to sea descents are common in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Emilie Drinkwater.

This vast expanse is the game changer for ski touring trips. By heading into uncharted backcountry, you can call the shots on mountains over 1,600 meters high that run right down to the coast. The terrain is so unlike any other place in the world, which translates into rare and personal expeditions into its wilderness.

There may not be a dense forest waiting for you, but you can be sure to come across deep powder on long runs, both gentle and challenging. Frozen waterfalls, serene lakes, and a fresh snow guarantee are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to an epic ski trip to Iceland.

Grab your gear and your guide and embark on a world-class ski touring program in Iceland!

 

Three Reasons to Go Ski Touring in Iceland

1| Natural Beauty

People go to Iceland regardless of the ski conditions, so you can expect a certain level of aesthetic pleasure the minute you arrive at Keflavik International Airport. Geothermal spas will tempt you, as will the active volcanoes in the southeast (including the island’s largest, Oraefajokull, at 2,110 meters), but you have to head north for the biggest reward.

 

Departing from one of the huts on the northern coast. Photo courtesy of Icelandic Mountain Guides.

If you arrive in winter, you have a great shot at seeing the Aurora Borealis. Amazingly enough, the Northern Lights are easier to see the further north you go, so they almost go hand in hand with ski touring. Ride the steep ridges of a fjord – like Skagafjordur or Eyjafjordur – by day before retiring to your tent or bunk for some good old fashioned natural fireworks by night.

In addition to iconic phenomena and striking geography, its geology is just as impressive. Volcanoes are active and plentiful, defining the landscape in the northwest and the infamous Troll Peninsula. Working in a trip to a waterfall or geyser on your program will help you take in Iceland’s eclectic scenery. Kirkjufellsfoss is a great pick (among a number of world-renowned falls) because of its mind-boggling beauty . Even if you are unable or unwilling to endure a week-long ski touring excursion, there are enough exciting land features to pique your interest on a day program.

2| Mighty Terrain

Traversing a glacier and ski touring on a fjord is fun and exciting. Classic obstacles like modest couloirs, rewarding summits, and exposed ridges can be the most engaging. Long runs are the norm, oscillating between gentle glades and narrow chutes. The generous landscape allows the blurring of lines between runs so you can seamlessly ski for kilometers up, down, and to the coast. Glades and narrow chutes are common, too, but the most evocative feature is the wide open immensity of the desolate landscape.

 

Peering out into the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of Jokull Bergmann.

Skinning up the moderate peaks and cruising through their valleys is a reasonable affair for all dedicated athletes. There are hundreds of objectives with a skiing sensation comparable to the Pyrenees. Runs can break 1,000 meters and head right to the ocean. This adds a whole new thread of adventure if you wanted to meld sailing into your program. Why not try a unique and adventurous way to tour an isolated coastline that is hard to reach.

From east to west on the northern areas of Iceland, you can find an unusual lay of the land that is ripe for ski touring. The Westfjords and Troll Peninsula are notably mountainous, so rugged terrain is contained in skiable areas. You can spend a lifetime getting lost in the high-quality snow of one region or ski the highlights within a day or a week. Hire a guide who can tailor the trip to your agenda. A certified leader can turn your day trip or month-long expedition into the perfect ski touring experience.

3| Personalized Programs

All powder hounds are welcome in the unrelenting Iceland wilderness. As long as you are in good shape and have backcountry proficiency, you will love it. The remote area and untouched powder give you the keys to your own ski touring program. Guides can take you on runs that focus on your needs and abilities without having to worry about lines on the slopes or crowded, skied-out runs.

 

Deep powder can be found within minutes from fishing villages. Photo courtesy of Roger Martorell.

Iceland is already the least densely-populated country in Europe, so you can forget about queues on the slopes. Once you leave the capital, you will be entering an open world blanketed in winter – a blank canvass waiting to be skied. Pro tip: combine sailing, cross-country skiing, and winter mountaineering to your program for the ultimate adventure and to find every lost pocket of pure, unadulterated powder.

If you fly into Keflavik or Reykjavik, transfer to Akureyri (or enjoy a long, scenic drive) and take on either the Eyjafjorduer or the Troll Peninsula for a test in solitude. Nothing beats being the only skier on pristine powder – and this is the name of the game in Northern Iceland.

Best Spots to Go Ski Touring

Troll Peninsula

 

Arguably the most iconic region for unforgettable ski touring, the Troll Peninsula, also known as Trollaskagi, is a peninsula jutting into the Arctic Ocean between the Skagafjordur and the Eyjafjorder fjords. Runs can start at 1,500 meters and last all the way into the water, and the number of mountains is impressive to say the least. The tallest mountain, Kerling, is a veritable challenge at 1,538 meters.

 

Fresh powder and wide open spaces. Photo courtesy of Icelandic Mountain Guides.

The communities of this remote region have built reputations around catering to wayward skiers and intrepid powder hounds. Dalvik and Siglufjordur are equal parts traditional village and skiing pit stop – incredible places to grab a bite to eat and a good night’s sleep on your way through an epic ski touring excursion.


In Brief

  • Area: North Central
  • Fly Into: Akureyri Airport in Akureyri
  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced (challenging objectives, remote terrain)
  • Duration: 1+ Day to 1 Week

| Explore the terrain just outside of the Arctic Circle on this seven-day Troll Peninsula ski touring program and see the exotic world of Iceland in winter! |


Westfjords

 

Known for its peculiar shape and extreme northwest coordinates, this far out Icelandic region has a substantial and captivating coastline – up to 40% of the Iceland’s entire coastline. Ski touring here is best done from a sailboat to aid your movement via both land and sea (and air if you happen to be heliskiing). There are dazzling cliffs with unprecedented views of the Arctic Ocean, all surrounded by the same rugged terrain caused by glaciation cutting deep valleys.

Isafjordur is a fishing village turned adventure hub for ski touring here. It is near the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve on the furthest reaches of the peninsula, perfect for heading off on a trip. The fjords are plentiful and the culture deep, so a day of skinning up peaks and skiing down to the coast can be capped off with a trip to the Westfjords Heritage Museum.


In Brief

  • Area: Northwest
  • Fly Into: Isafjordur Airport in Isafjordur
  • Difficulty: Advanced (remote access, challenging objectives, multiple disciplines)
  • Duration: 1 Week

| Ski tour in style and luxury on this six-day guided program in the Westfjords from a sailboat to gain unencumbered access to the most satisfying Icelandic terrain! |


Eyjafjordur

 

Heading back east, Eyjafjordur is the largest fjord in the country and home to incredible hut to hut ski touring. It might not be as extensive as the classic Alpine Haute Route, but you will be charmed right out of your ski boots by the three mountain ridges that provide mouth-watering terrain. Peaks of over 1,000 meters roll across the landscape and dive down to the long fjord, making it a fun way to see the epitome of Iceland’s landscape. Thin ridges, deep powder, and challenging routes are just a few of the perks.

 

Most areas will have untouched snow throughout the territory. Photo courtesy of Emilie Drinkwater.

The city of Akureyri sits at the head of the fjord, marking the starting point for ski touring programs in the region. Look across the fjord at the similarly magical terrain of the Troll Peninsula while riding down your own supply of fresh powder. The views are some of the best in Iceland, and the territory surrounding Eyjafjordur has some architecturally fascinating churches. Be sure to check them out when you ski down to the deep blue waters on long open runs.


In Brief

  • Area: North Central
  • Fly Into: Akureyri Airport in Akureyri
  • Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced (remote terrain, challenging objectives, sustained programs)
  • Duration: 1+ Day to 1 Week

| Take six days to experience true remote ski touring in the Eyjafjordur area of Northern Iceland and enjoy a guided program in one of the most beautiful areas of the country! |


Vatnajokull

 

As the largest glacier on the island, Vatnajokull and the national park of the same name was made for ski touring. Whether you are visiting Skaftafell in the southern part of the park or skiing around Lake Askja in central Iceland, you will undoubtedly enjoy the landscape at the heart of the country.

Crossing this massive ice cap is a once in a lifetime experience. Having a guide allows you to focus on the surreal task of polar travel common for this region. You may not come across many other skiers, becoming more familiar with fresh powder than human interaction. It is a great mix of ski touring and cross country skiing to get the most out of the remarkable Icelandic scenery.


In Brief

  • Area: Central to Southeast
  • Fly Into: Akurnes in Hornafjordur
  • Difficulty: Advanced (Sustained programs, glaciated terrain, multiple disciplines)
  • Duration: 1+ Weeks

| This 12-day ski touring and pulka expedition is a great option for nearly two weeks out in the wilderness of Iceland! |


Best Season to Go Ski Touring

 

Ski touring is a winter sport, so aiming for January through April is your best bet for a great time. Snow may choose to be fickle, but the total snowfall is pretty reliable and the powder can last late into the season. Some guides prefer to head into particular terrain at different times. Coordinating a trip to your desired region will determine which winter month you choose.

 

The immensity of Iceland is evocative and breathtaking. Photo courtesy of Jokull Bergmann.

Programs to the ice cap in Vatna tend to be later in the season than the northern areas. Trollaskagi and the Westfjords take advantage of mid-winter snow dumps, so February is often the most common time to head into the wilderness for ski touring. The temperature is consistently cold in ski touring season, which is more accommodating than uncomfortable.

How Much Does It Cost

 

The cost of a guided ski touring program in Iceland depends on a few factors: the duration of the trip, how many participants, and what is included, among other smaller influences. A private trip for a week is obviously a more substantial undertaking than a group ski tour day.

A one day guided ski touring program starts at $426 USD for a group of three or more, including the guiding fee and group equipment only. By contrast, a six day program that includes accommodations, meals, and transportation to the start of the trip can start around $3,700 USD to join. These prices fluctuate with the associated supplements and inclusions. Talk to your guide to determine what features are best for your program.

How to Get There

 

Being an island nation, getting to Iceland is a straightforward process that almost always begins with a flight into Reykjavik. The busiest and most common airport is Keflavik International Airport, located just outside of the capital. The Reykjavik Airport is the option for domestic flights to other regional airports like Akureyri Airport, Isafjordur Airport, and Akurnes in Horafjordur.

 

Touring the Icelandic peaks along a scenic ridge. Photo courtesy of Icelandic Mountain Guides.

Reykjavik, and Iceland in general, has an extensive tourism program promoting travel to the country, so Iceland Air, WOW Air, and other airlines are making frequent trips to the country. Major cities in the United States like New York, Chicago, and Seattle can reach the island directly. London, Paris, and Frankfurt connect directly from the other side of the Atlantic.

Once in the country, flying to regional airports is the most efficient way to travel domestically. Roads are well maintained and developed, though renting a car may be a more feasible option than travel by bus. Many programs will include pick up and drop off services from regional airports. Double check with your guide to see what options are available for you.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book your dream ski touring trip in the gorgeous backcountry of Iceland NOW and watch your dreams come true on the fjords of this Atlantic and Arctic masterpiece!

 

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