Downhill skiing in Iceland

Iceland is a deceiving name – we don’t have that much ice, or even snow, and our mild, sea-tempered winters barely keep anything white or frozen on the ground. People may think it’s a skiing destination, but we don’t really have mountains worth writing home about either, but a few big hills around the north are still definitely worth a visit.

Tindastóll, just outside of Sauðárkrókur, is now home to the longest run in Iceland, thanks to a new T-bar lift opening a couple of weeks ago. A few kilometers further north is Ólafsfjordur, home to arguably the shortest runs you can find in Iceland, but the only ski area that’s actually right in town, walking distance to the city center.

Siglo t-bar

Next door is Siglufjordur town, a great valley with four, excellently-planned t-bars. During easter, there’s even an apre-ski feel when the ski hut gets an alcohol license during the Siglo Freeride festival and thru til easter.

Dalvik has a couple of t-bars, but Id say, as a snowboarder who tried, the second one is only accessible by skiers. The view down to the sea and fjord is spectacular on a clear day, and you’re only a few km’s away from Akureyri. There you’ve got Hlíðarfjall ski area, which is open more days a year than other skislopes, with consistent snowfall and a large enough community to support its running costs.

skiing Dalvik is much easier than snowboarding

All of Iceland´s ski spots charge a similar price, with passes sold by the hour (around 1500-2000kr per hour) or day (4000kr). The 5×5 skiiceland.is offer sells you 5 days to 5 resorts (Olafsfjordur, Siglo, Tindastoll, Hlidarfjall and Dalvik) for around 20.000ISK. If you’re feeling really spendy, and prefer to ski privately, there’s always Deplar Farm hotel, where checking into the all inclusive resort includes all activities – even ski equipment and helicopter time to take you heli-skiing anywhere you please.

heli-skiing helicopter ready for take off at Deplar Farm

If none of that sounds worth it, then just take the short 20 min drive from Reykjavik to Blafjoll (if and when its open) where you can run up and down the same runs half a dozen times before getting bored, so long as you’re willing to wait longer for the lift up then it takes to ski down.

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Skiing the Swiss Alps in Engelberg

After a few days in Lyon, the bi-annual ritual trip to Sirha and Bocuse d’or, we needed to get to Engelberg. Europe is connected by so many trains, flights and buses that its hard to chose the best route – flying was too expensive, buses took too long, but the train made a happy medium. We went from Lyon to Mulhouse, then Basel where we could stop for an hour and eat at the mouthwatering food hall ´Alte Markthalle´ beside the station. We got the next train to Lucerne and then changed for the third and last time for the local train to Engelberg, but still felt nothing from the journey – when you get to skip the mundane security of airports and baggage controls of budget airlines, travel truly is a pleasure. The journey took us through the French mountains and up into the Swiss alps, past lakeside villages and snow-topped glaciers, with views to Titlis at the end, and within a few hours, we were checked into the Baenklialp Hotel, recently bought by some Icelandic friends.

That flag…

We ate cheese, fondue, and more cheese, not missing the chance to visit the famous cheese factory Schaukaserei Kloster just a few hundred metres from our hotel. We skied both sides of the mountain Brunnihutte and Titlis/Jochstock, and a 3-day pass was the perfect amount of time to spend on the slopes. We went to the top of Titlis, with unlimited visitbility over the valley in all directions, and without any fear for heights, also had to walk the Titlis Cliff walk bridge at 3041m above sea level.

the picnic tables started disappearing under all the fresh snow

Our last day on the mountain was the first time in my snowboarding history that I can complain there was too much powder. It had started snowing the night before, and over 40cm of fresh snow had been groomed before the runs opened, but the snow kept coming. With the help of other riders carving snow into piles and the wind gusting powder in random banks, there were places on the runs with waist-deep powder, and if the angle of the downhill wasn’t steep enough, you’d slowly slide to a halt, your feet and board buried in powder out of sight, and the risk of sitting down meant utter disappearance. I wasn’t sure we’d even make it down the mountain on the last run, and I lost Thrainn in the powder for nearly 30 mins, with a couple of glimpses of orange jacket between the whiteout to be sure I was waiting for him in the right place.

on the way to the top

I’d never been to German-speaking Switzerland before, and having just left France, there were a few moments when I’d forget where I was. But people understood French and English more readily than I could speak either (German trips me up so much), so I always ended up looking like the stupid tourist, especially when I kept calling francs euros. We left via Zurich, a cheap and easy train ride from Engelberg, where Icelandair flew directly home to yet another frozen, winter wonderland. It’s never as pretty without fresh snow though, especially if you cant ride your snowboard thru it.

Skiing in Andorra

fresh powder

fresh powder in Grandvalira

I used to snowboard a lot when I lived in Vancouver, and Whistler haunted me this New Years when I was there for one short day and unable to ski. Skiing in Europe is also great, especially the Alps in France or Switzerland, but Andorra was my pick this year, since it´s easy to get to (2.5 hrs from Barcelona airport by bus), its super cheap (especially compared to Ski resorts in France), and as of November 2015 these Pyrenees peaks cover the biggest skiable area in Southern Europe (210km). Andorra is also a new country for me, bringing the total up to 173.

skiing under clear skies

skiing under clear skies

I was traveling with my amazing chef friend Thrainn, who works hard and plays even harder, so the trip was a party from start to finish. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel and Spa Resort in Grau Roig, where we had ski in and ski out privileges and breakfast delivered to our room every morning. Our room looked out over the slopes, and housekeeping left us little fudge chocolates on our pillow every night. Unfortunately, we had to fight a small bout of food poisoning the first day, but after enough visits to the spa and rehydrating with mimosas, we were in tip top shape on a mountain freshly covered in powder.

our hotel, Grau Roig

our hotel in Grau Roig

It snowed when we slept, so we spent our days under a bright blue sky working on our goggle tans. We played with his GoPro and my waterproof iphone case to take ridiculous photos in the snow, and managed not to injure ourselves in any way. Each day was a journey up and down the valleys, to the nearby villages of El Tarter, Soldeu, Encamp, Canillo or Pas de la Casa, and once we nearly didn´t make it back when a lift got stuck full of riders. And not making it back was a problem, since we discovered on our arrival day that no buses travel to Grau Roig and we had to walk 2 km through the darkness along a highway to check in. Thank God we didn´t run into any bears or wolves 😉