Iceland - Finishing the Season in Style
James Morland •
Heli-Skiing on Iceland's North Coast
2015 was a strange winter for me – poor snow in Chamonix and a couple of injuries that coincided with the rare powder days. It felt like winter never really happened……..until that is - my annual heliki pilgrimage to Iceland in May.
Mentally prepared for warm temperatures, beers in the sun and endless days of perfect corn snow it was a (pleasant) surprise to find myself skiing cold winter powder in a down jacket…...but that’s Iceland. You never know which season will turn up.
Last year I spent the better part of a month guiding up here and on our regular excursions across the fjord to the magical Gold Coast I often looked up from the beach thinking how mind-blowing it would be to hit this spot on a powder day. It takes a few things to come together to make that work – snow quality, temperature, weather and stability. It is not that often that the stars align.
The ski terrain on the Gold Coast is the definition of awesome. Set on a mountainous peninsula looking west across Iceland’s longest fjord and north across the infinite abyss of the North Atlantic are perfectly pitched fall line runs, stacked one on top of the other and glowing orange under the evening arctic sun.
From Herring Museums to Powder Skiing
I had dreamed about this day - a bit like some people might dream of winning the lottery. Perhaps if you visualise something enough it happens. Who knows... but on the evening of May 9th, 2015 IT HAPPENED. Joined by Peter, Chris and the Megeve /Dutch/English crew we all experienced a very special evening of heli-skiing – one that will remain etched firmly in the ski memory bank.
Having spent the previous day driving around in a snow storm and visiting herring museums, waking up to more cloud and a poor weather forecast was unwelcome to say the least – except perhaps for those who had found the bottom of Arnaud’s bottle of Poire the night before. But with optimism in our hearts we set off to immerse ourselves in more Icelandic culture at the local herring factory and to drink industrial quantities of coffee in Akureyri.
By late afternoon optimism and hope were turning to despair and a chronic thirst for something more punchy than coffee. I wasn’t sure if it was a caffeine induced hallucination but on the drive home the weather did seem to be improving. By the time we got back the snow had stopped falling and on the other side of the fjord the clouds were definitely breaking. Skiing was starting to look like a possibility – at least for a low landing or two.
Calls were made to helicopter pilots and half an hour later at around 6 pm we were in the helicopter and flying over the deep black water to the Gold Coast. The first run was a low landing with marginal visibility but we still squeezed in a solid 850 vertical metres in perfect powder and there were smiles all round.
It Doesn't Get Any Better
By 7 pm the clouds had parted and we were skiing cold, boot-top powder on a calm sunlit evening. We skied nine perfect runs that night. Each was the run of life-time. One thousand vertical metre pitches of steep fall line skiing in dry, sparkling powder - straight to the waiting helicopter on the shore below - over and over again. It was as spoilt as you can get. But the moment that stood out for me was flying towards a run called SFD ('Straight F- - king Down') and watching Jokull Bergmenn arc high speed turns straight down the middle - the Icelander in his own backyard remembering what it’s all about. I could almost see him grinning from the helicopter. I certainly was - with expectation that moments later we would be standing up top looking down.
Any one of the runs we did that evening would have been the run of lifetime. By 10 pm we had skied nine, all of us totally lost in the moment - the outside world a distant memory.
The following morning we woke, still delirious from the evening before. No one would have cared too much if it had been raining and 25 degrees. The fact that it was minus 8, calm and sunny - and that we skied another 12 runs in cold smoke was more than anyone could have asked for.
You can find more details on our trips to Iceland here.