Travel Guide- Ski Touring in Iceland (updated 2018)

Originally posted in April 2017, this post has been updated to reflect more knowledge from 2018 trip!

QUICKLINKS

A few days ago I returned from an amazing ski trip to the Tröllaskagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Six days of ski touring was more than enough to make me fall in love with this amazing country and I cannot wait to return! I’d like to share some tips for planning your own backcountry ski trip to this enchanting country. I’m also a stickler for planning and will include my detailed personal gear list for this trip with comments on what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully this will help you plan your own adventure to the land of the vikings!

General Information

So much is out there! Get an idea of what the country is about on Wikipedia then head over to the following websites for more ideas:

http://www.iceland.is/

http://www.visiticeland.com/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Iceland

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland

While I love online resources when it comes to international travel I really like getting a physical travel guide. The Lonely Planet: Iceland is a few years newer (2015) than the competition so that is the one I picked up.

Lonely Planet- Iceland
Lonely Planet- Iceland photo from Amazon.com

 

Flight Info

Flying to Iceland
Flying to Iceland

There are two airlines servicing US passengers to Iceland, Iceland Air and the relatively new budget airline WOW Air which started operating flights out of the Keflavík International Airport (KEF) hub in 2012. On the surface WOW Air seams to be a great value but you should factor in some of the additional charges they add that are included with Iceland Air.

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.05.11 AM

While flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) can run as little as $99.99 US one-way on WOW Air you need to consider the $106 extra in baggage fees that would be included when price shopping. Also Iceland Air includes non-alcoholic beverages and free WiFi while WOW charges $3 USD for any 8 ounce non-alcoholic beverage including water!

My opinion of WOW Air was damaged by the fact that they failed to load one of our parties ski bags on to our flight and were less than helpful locating it after we arrived. Luckily the ski bag was found at BOS when we returned to the states but not after our group member incurred expensive ski rental charges. It is our opinion that WOW Air customer service did not try to locate and ship the ski bag on any subsequent flights.

UPDATE April 2018: 4/6 of our team this year flew WOW Air this last trip and 3/4 did not have their skis arrive with their plane. 2 pairs arrived later in the day and the 3rd pair took 3 days to arrive in country. I would not fly WOW Air with skis. Ever.

I booked this latest trip on Iceland Air through Travelocity at substantial savings, cheaper than I could find on Iceland Air’s own website! I also was not charged for my ski bag on both flights for some reason! My traveling partner was charged on his returnb trip unfortunately so you should budget $80 for round-trip skis if pre-booked.

Regardless of which airline you choose the best way to get a solid deal is to subscribe to both of their email lists from their websites here and here. If you select seats on the left side of the plane you might enjoy some views of Greenland about halfway through your flight!

 

Cell Service

Even the most remote areas on the western side of the country seemed to have pretty good cell service. As a Verizon customer I was able to activate “Travel Pass” at $10/day which allowed me to use my unlimited data plan to access the internet, stream music, video, and GPS directions the entire trip.

Getting to Akureyri

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From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) which is a few minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík you can either take a short flight (45 minutes) on Iceland Air for about $200 USD, bus, or rent a car and enjoy the scenic 5 hour drive. To get around the northern part of the island a rental car is the way to go. I’d suggest an SUV at around $35-$45/day. It takes about a full tank of gas to get to Akureyri which will cost about $120 USD to fill up. Yes, gas is very expensive, so consider getting 4 people per car to save some $$$!

GPS is really not needed for navigation as it is quite simple to get on Route 1 (The Loop Road) and follow it north to Akureyri. Roof boxes are an optional expense but might not be big enough for full size skis so if you are 2-3 skiers per vehicle you can save some money by putting down one of the back seats and easily fitting 3 ski bags inside the vehicle. If you are 4 to a vehicle make sure you request the largest of roof boxes!

Lodging in Akureyri

Fagravik Vacation Home
photo by www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

There are a ton of options in the area and Airbnb is the best place to look. We found the above pictured group lodging option about 10 minutes from downtown. There is a cool looking hostel right downtown but we liked being a little out of the hustle & bustle and having our own cabins made drying and organizing gear convenient, especially since the floors of these cabins seemed to have radiant heat (geothermal is everywhere!). Private jacuzzi’s were enjoyed every day after putting in some vertical human powered effort!

On our next trip we will explore some Airbnb options in Dalvik, Ólafsfjörður, and Siglufjörður. These towns are a bit closer to the majority of the skiing and would save some daily driving from the Akureyri area. If you want to be closer to a more happening small city though you can still get to just about all the good tour areas in 45 minutes to an hour!

Eating in Akureyri/Iceland

Eating in Akureyri
“I’ll have one with everything” photo by www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150-200% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. For fresh fish go to the Fish Market attached to the Bonus in upper Akureyri (easy to find on Google Maps).

Buying fish in Akureyri
Great fish market attached to the Bonus in “upper” Akureyri

There is quite a varied culinary scene in the downtown area. The one place that absolutely stood out was Noa Seafood.  This place served our large group a 3 main course meal; arctic char, cod, spotted trout. Each cooked in a large skillet with fresh vegetables, potatoes, and perfect seasoning. There is no question I will return to Noa Seafood on my next visit! Slightly more affordable seafood soup can be found at Akureyri Fish and Chips.

Akureyri Nightlife
Akureyri Nightlife- @photocait

The most important culinary experience to try while in Iceland is the hot dogs. Seriously they might be the best hot dog in the world. It’s a combination of the pork, beef, and lamp. They toast the buns. They add 2 types of onions, raw and fried, then 3 condiments the highlight of which being a delicious “remoulade” I regret not buying a bottle of before returning to the States. While the article I linked to above mentions one popular place I can assure you that the farthest gas station in northern Iceland still served up the most amazing dogs I’ve ever had. Almost everyone in our group ate 1-2 of these treats every day. No regrets. None.

Bacon-Wrapped-Icelandic-Hot-Dog-KaveyEats-cKFavelle-addedtext-8442_thumb

Drinking in Akureyri/Iceland

Alcohol is quite expensive in Iceland. Consider packing up to one liter of your favorite spirit from the States (NH tax-free liquor stores can save you a lot of $$$). Once in country pretty much all beer, wine, and liquor is only sold in government owned alcohol stores called Vínbúðin. The stores around the capitol have these hours:

  • Monday 11-18
  • Tuesday 11-18
  • Wednesday 11-18
  • Thursday 11-18
  • Friday 11-19
  • Saturday 11-18
  • Sunday CLOSED

Outside of the capitol small towns will often have one of these stores but hours may be limited, with some only being open a few hours a day. All of them are closed on Sundays so plan accordingly! Expect to pay about $4-5 for a 12 ounce beer for mid-level craft beers (that’s about $30 a six-pack of 6.5% IPA). The cheapest beers (Thule, Viking line) are around 3.50 USD for 16 ounce cans.

Icelandic Beer
Icelandic Beer

A number of restaurants in Akureyri have decent beer selections but the must visit place for the beer connoisseur is the R5 Beer Lounge. I’ve hit this place two years in a row and the selection is great along with Hjörvar Óli Sigurðsson (call him Oli), a most friendly and knowledgable bartender! Tell him I sent you!

The New England Style IPA, “Borealis Baby”, a collaborative brew between Borg Brewery in Reykjavík and Lamplighter Brewing Co. from Cambridge, MA was definitely one of the best beers I had in country! You can also check out this hot beer spot on Facebook here!

Beer Drinking in Iceland
R5 Beer Lounge, Akureyri Iceland

 

Weather & Avalanche Info

The traditional ski season runs from December through April with best conditions and increasing daylight from February to mid-April. On good snow years the back-country skiing may be good through May. The best online resource I could find for current and forecast weather is here. This website also links to a fairly brief avalanche report here.

Avalanche Danger in Iceland

Ski Tours

Iceland Ski Tour Map
Iceland Ski Tour Map

We did all of our touring north of Dalvik and south of Ólafsfjörður mainly in the Karlsárdalur Valley. This area was recommended to us by friendly guides at Bergmenn Mountain Guides, the only IMFGA certified guide service in the country (and where our group member was able to rent a full touring set up at about $60/day). The trailhead forKarlsárdalur Valley is only 35 minutes from Akureyri and 2 minutes north of Dalvik. An often established mellow skin track takes you into this beautiful valley with a seemingly endless amount of tour options. We skied much of the south facing drainages with the most amount of time in the “third valley” on skier’s right. You can see our highpoint tour in this video and I may attach my GPS tracks here later.

The Topo map above is the best detailed map we could find at 1:50,000 scale and could be purchased from Penninn Eymundsson in downtown Akureyri. Gaia GPS works quite well too as long as you download the more detailed maps!

Equipment

Here is my updated gear list after two trips. I will add some brief comments and links to each item:

Double Wheeled Ski Bag

I’ve used this for over 7 years with trips to the Washington, Nevada, and Colorado. While it is designed to hold two pairs of skis I only pack one pair and use the extra space for almost all my extra gear allowing me to only check one bag and carry on a small ski touring pack. Be sure to check max weight of ski bags for the airline you are flying (WOW airline to Iceland allows max weight of 60 lbs when you purchase a ski bag allowance).

Ortovox Haute Route 35 Backpack

The perfect size for day touring and ski mountaineering this pack is well designed through-out and will be my only carry-on luggage. Detailed review posting soon and will be linked here!

DPS Wailer 99 Skis

I’m rocking the ultralight Tour 1 model of these award winning skis but some may like the stiffer Pure 3 construction or super affordable Foundation model!

Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings

A great match for my ski/boot combo these keep the uphill effort to a minimum while still providing excellent downhill control!

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots

This boot is insanely comfortable on the up-track and performs quite well on the down. Not only that I can ice climb Grade 4 in them in with no issues making it an excellent ski mountaineering boot!

Contour Hybrid Mix Climbing Skins

Lightest full coverage climbing skin I have ever tried! Another natural fit for this lightweight Spring touring setup!

Dynafit Speed Crampons

Simple proven design for when it gets a bit too steep for just skins but you’d prefer to not boot pack it! Snow conditions were excellent during our trip and I did not use these but they are easy added insurance for icier skinning conditions. UPDATE: April 2018 trip these came in clutch as we had generally switched to Spring conditions and ski crampons were the way to go on a few of our ascents! 

Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles

Simple proven design, I’ve had mine for 6+ years. Will look to upgrade down the road.

Ortovox S1+ Avalance Beacon

My personal beacon of choice for the last 5 years, and I have used just about every beacon on the market over that time frame as an active avalanche course instructor. This item deserves an long in-depth review but that will have to wait until after Iceland!

Ortovox Badger Avalanche Shovel

A great choice for a compact avalanche shovel that won’t break the bank.

Ortovox 240 PFA Probe

A great choice for ski mountaineering and Spring conditions. Super light and quick to deploy.

Backcountry Access Snow Saw

No nonsense straight forward effective snow saw at a good price!

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

The lightest ski mountaineering ice you can find that still has a full steel head! Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.

Petzl Leopard LLF Leverlock Crampons

So light I don’t fret over whether or not I should pack boot crampons. I just always pack them now!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

This thing saves some serious weight from your pack while skinning while providing excellent protection while climbing. A great ultra-light ski mountaineering option IMO.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Leatherman Skeletool Multi-Tool

A great lightweight multi-tool? No question it has come in clutch quite often!

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

I’m not bringing a sleeping bag as we’ve rented a house with linens but this goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I often carry it with my bivy sack as a “just in case” option.

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Revo Summit Snow Goggles

Pretty much the nicest goggles I have ever owned (and I’ve owned a lot!)

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Revo Harness Sunglasses

I rock the Green Water lens on these for bright snow conditions

Petzl Actik Headlamp

My headlamp of preference for winter adventure for almost a decade!

Quality Survival Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value

Chemical Hand Warmers

I carry 2-3 pairs on every winter trip

Snow Thermometer

Hands down the best price on a quality thermometer for avalanche work

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch

My current favorite GPS navigation capable smartwatch with optical heart-rate!

Europe plug adapter

Because you need one to charge your phone/electronics in Iceland and Europe and this one is the best price yet high rated one I could find!

Brunton AR Pocket Scope

Super light/compact affordable option to binoculars for scouting avalanche terrain/activity

AA Batteries

I’m only bring 4 spares to cover both my headlamp and avalanche beacon but this is the best deal on quality AA’s I have ever seen. Performance all winter as been as good as any high end brand name alkaline I have ever used!

GoPro Hero 5 Session

A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. Also a great price for this unit! Look into it!

PolarPro Trippler Tri-pod

Works great with both my GoPro and my iPhone!

Well that’s pretty much it for “gear”. Clothing is listed in the spreadsheet at the beginning and does not include a little bit of casual wear. I am bringing my beloved Aeropress and a pound of freshly ground beans from my friends at Frontside Coffee Roasters in my home town of North Conway, NH because;

  1. Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
  2. I love my Aeropress coffee first thing in the AM

I’ll link more to my clothing after the trip but as you can tell from the list above it is mostly Ortovox. They make some amazing stuff and I’ll post detailed reviews on what I’ve been using this winter soon.

Summary

Iceland is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and helpful people. They are adjusting to the new explosion of tourism the country is experiencing and you might sense some of these growing pains from time to time. As a back-country ski touring destination it is 5 star trip and I can’t wait to return!

Skiing in Iceland
The author gets one more run on the way back to Reykjavík- photo by Matt Baldelli

See you in the land of the vikings,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies. 

6 thoughts on “Travel Guide- Ski Touring in Iceland (updated 2018)

  1. David,

    How did you animate your GPS track on the Google Earth (?) imagery in the section of the final ski tour?

    Iceland is a great country. My wife and I take college geology students there about every 4 years for 2-6 weeks of camping and touring the country. Have never been to the northwestern fjords however, looks like a beautiful area.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    • Hi Dave! That’s from the free Suunto Movescount app on iPhone! Imagery is low res Suunto data and not Google Earth. Pretty cool huh?

  2. Thanks Dave,

    Check out this video of another ski tour in Iceland. This is on Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that shut down air traffic a couple of years ago. It is on the south coast of Iceland.

    Will check out the Movescount app as well.

    Cheers,

    Dave

  3. Very cool Dave, I have been to Iceland in the summer for hiking and loved it. I definitely need to get back in the winter for skiing after seeing your pictures and reading about the trip. I think it is probably worth paying a little more for Air Iceland as opposed to WOW. When I went to Norway for skiing a year ago and researched it , a lot of people seemed to have customer service issues with WOW. As it turned out we missed our Reykjavik to Oslo connection because of a late takeoff from Boston due to snow. Air Iceland was very prompt about getting us another flight out of Reykyavik on a different airline so we got to Oslo the same day. (BTW I would definitely recommend Norway for a future trip to further explore the “far northeast”)
    From your pictures I suspect your final day of skiing was on Esja, the peak across the bay from Reykyavik . I have hiked it in the summer. Looked like an amazing way to finish your trip

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