The Monday morning after a sick ski trip is always a tough one, but the bigger the adventure the more challenging the re-entry. So after ten days in Iceland, three days of spectacular lines at Arctic Heli Skiing and a forced Friday night layover in Reykjavik due to the re-eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, I still feel stuck back on that volcanic island even though my ski bag and my skeleton made it back safely to Seattle.
Like most adventures of magnitude, the trip was incredible. When we finally slowed to the rural rhythm of Iceland’s north coast, the clouds cleared out and afforded us three perfect days of flying in peaks that rose directly and dramatically from deeply carved fjords. And at 66 degrees of latitude the sun barely set leaving us only four hours of dusky alpenglow to get some sleep before waking up for breakfast at a traditional Icelandinc farmhouse with a guide’s office downstairs and a heli out back.
Our first pick up was from the N1 gas station in the neighboring fishing village of Olafsfjorour, where crowds of curious kids waited patiently for the strange spectacle of an A-star landing below the town’s ski jump. We lifted to the narrow ridges of the Troll Peninsula that dropped 3,000 feet to the ocean and skied softening corn under low-angle, twenty-hour sun that never seemed to set but just seemed to circle. As another group skied a circle of steep first descents we got a little gnar on an exposed traverse, exiting out a long, narrowing slope that ended in a sheep pasture. Then we walked it back to town past friendly farmhouses and wooden fish-drying racks.
The second day of flying started at 3PM as international flight diversions caused a mess at the little, local Akureyri airport and delayed the process of refueling the portable tank of Jet A. But with daylight until eleven and a private heli, we still logged a full day of steep bowl-like features across the fjord in a massive coastal zone dubbed the Hidden Land. Each aspect change presented a different condition—from buttery corn to frozen crust—but reloading on mossy fields as the sun set north to the Arctic provided an unforgettable backdrop. To top off another extended day, we landed back at the farmhouse at 10PM to a traditional meal of lamb stew and fresh baked bread by candlelight.
Day three’s flying forecast called for overcast, but our luck held and we burned the remainder of our heli time finding new lines in the ancestral peaks of ACMG guide Jokull Bergmann’s family land at the end of the Ski Valley. In Iceland, farm families own the peaks behind their pastures with claims often dating back to early settlement. But few climb to or ski from their summits—especially with a black helicopter that parks behind the barn. JB’s heli-ski operation is the first in Iceland, a pioneering effort that may just allow his family to keep its tie to their Skioadalur land, so nailing four first descents on six backyard drops with him as our guide was definitely the vertical highlight of the trip.
And while the corn skiing was sweet and the vistas will not soon fade, it was the cultural experience that really defined the trip. The full story will have to wait until a later edition of The Ski Journal but the summary is that we tasted traditional Icelandic foods such as salted cod, cured horse and whale steak while listening to local stories of land and culture. On our down day we visited volcanic mud pots, soaked in thermal pools and toured the local Kaldi microbrewry where Ski Journal photo editor Grant Gunderson found heaven tasting sweet nectar straight from the fermenting tank. We even lucked into a Friday night in Reykivayk due to our forced layover, surviving the city’s world-famous pub-crawl before boarding flights exhausted from the sleep deprivation of soaking it all in.
So excuse me if it seems like I’m somewhere else this morning—as I’m suffering recurring daydreams and inspiring delusions—but my head and heart are still stuck in Iceland, re-living what was one unforgettable place and one unbelievable trip.