Fancy skiing in Iceland – but not sure the slopes justify an entire week? Well how about a weekend? And here’s a really clever way of doing it: go there en route to the Rockies.
Yes – use this awe inspiring island – not much bigger than Portugal or Hungary – as a stepping stone between Europe and North America, flying with Icelandair. You can spend anything from a couple of days to a whole week, with no extra charge for flights – before pressing on to Canada or the USA!
Apart from enjoying the magical sights of one of the youngest landmasses and most active volcanoes on the planet (remember the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano whose name even the Icelanders had difficulty pronouncing?) there’s so much else to see. More than 11% of the country is covered by glaciers – 12,000 square kilometres of them, along with 11,000 square kilometres of often still-steaming lava, plus 3,000 square kilometres of some of the purest water on the planet – and countless fjords.
Visiting Iceland en route for North America means you won’t have to sit on an aeroplane for a solid nine hours or more if you want to travel on to ski the Rockies. It’s only about three hours from London to Keflavik (Reykjavik’s international airport) which only leaves another six hours or so to get to Edmonton (to ski in Alberta, at resorts such as Jasper’s Marmot Basin or Lake Louise) or Denver (for all those Colorado ski areas) – just a little more if you push on further west to Vancouver.
I flew from London (Gatwick) to Keflavik, and then took a 45-minute internal flight with Air Iceland to Akureyri in Northern Iceland – home to the country’s biggest ski area, Hlíðarfjall and a handful of smaller resorts. Or you can ski in Bláfjöll, just half an hour from Reykjavik, although it has considerably less vertical than Hlíðarfjall and snow conditions in the south are less reliable than in the north. But it does have a lot more lifts (14 compared with Hlíðarfjall’s five).
Hlíðarfjall, with a good up-to-date ski-and-boot rental shop, is quite an impressive area for a country in which skiing is still at the development stage. With slopes ranging from 500m to 980m, it has 25 runs of which two are green, five are blue, 10 are red and eight are black. All are above the tree line. And there are plans to expand Hlíðarfjall’s uppermost slopes to produce even more vertical. Queuing is almost unheard of – with a population of only 325,671 – (roughly the same as Coventry!) Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe: almost 80% of the country is uninhabited!
You can even heliski in Iceland. Some of the runs are spectacular and you can even ski right down to the very edge of Arctic Ocean – sometimes even pioneering runs that haven’t been skied before. Lunch is taken on the mountain, and Viking Heliskiing has reached an agreement with some of the local farmers, allowing skiers to literally “drop in” and taste some Icelandic shark, smoked arctic char or smoked lamb.
Even if you don’t ski, there is almost no limit to the sightseeing and activities in Iceland, including whale watching, sea angling and riding sturdy Icelandic horses. With or without skiing, Iceland is different from anywhere you’ve seen or skied before. You won’t get bored!