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Skiing in Iceland: Pouring Rain and Avalanches

Skiing in Iceland: Pouring Rain and Avalanches

[ April 20, 2010 - 12:00am ]
Iceland storm skiing
After getting shut down by an erupting volcano on Iceland’s south shore, we headed north on our ski-touring expedition to find some clear air and ski-able peaks. Instead, we found pouring rain and an avalanching couloir.

First it was an erupting volcano that shut us down on our ski trip in Iceland. Then it was a muddy, impassable road. Plan B ensued and we headed north instead. After a six-hour drive, our group of 12—including European and American journalists and representatives from Polartec and Black Diamond—arrived at our farmhouse near the town of Dalvík, on Iceland’s north coast.

We awoke the next day to more freezing rain, high winds, and little to no visibility. A backcountry skier anywhere else would have called it a rest day; but not Icelanders. They are a grizzled population, used to severe weather, hard labor, and winters of total darkness. (The most popular snack in Iceland is a dehydrated, salted fish jerky.) “I think instead of the 1,000-meter climb, we will do an easier ski tour,” Leifur said. “Only 600 meters to a steep couloir.” We set off on a skin track into the storm cloud, with ice nuggets pelting our faces and several hours later, reached the top.

Hallgrimur dropped into the couloir first. One turn in and an avalanche ripped under him, sending him for a 200-yard tumble and turning the entire slope into an icy bed surface layer (Grimur was fine). Of course, none of us saw this because we could barely see our own hands in front of our faces. We dropped in one at a time after him and scratched our way blindly down the ice layer.

Before leaving for Iceland, I asked the question, Is the skiing in Iceland any good? At this point in the journey, I was beginning to think that the answer was no. If there was good skiing, it was buried under lava, mud, avalanches, and freezing rain, and you have to be a tough-as-nails Icelander to survive all of that and get to the powder stashes. But all that was about to change.

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