This Spring marked an exciting ‘first’ for Lotus Alpine Adventures, as we embarked with a crew of four guests on a very unique and exotic ski mountaineering expedition to the Westfjords region of extreme NW Iceland, for a week of skiing in the Hornstradir Nature Reserve aboard the 98-year old wooden oak sailing ship, the Donna Wood of North Sailing Husavik.
The Westfjords region of Iceland is incredibly beautiful and also incredibly remote. Deep fjords cut into the mountainous landscape here making each valley and village feel extremely isolated, while the topography of the land makes for endless couloirs and interesting ski terrain to be explored, beginning just steps from the shores of the Arctic Ocean. It’s combination of raw and intense beauty, extreme weather (which we experienced quite a lot of), and remoteness was outdone only by the genuine and welcoming hospitality from the Icelandic people that dwell here, where they’ve lived for generations among this tiny corner of one of the world’s most isolated islands.
For this inaugural trip we had a small group of backcountry skiers, (and one split-boarder), that were two groups of friends that had backcountry ski toured with us before and were excited and intrigued by the prospect of casting off on an unknown adventure of sailboat skiing here in this land of fire & ice. Despite the effort put forth in arranging for smooth logistics, exceptional support, good food, and endless hours of pouring over weather forecasts and terrain maps for quality skiing, the true success of an expedition like this hinges on the team involved. Perfect everything and difficult group dynamics or unrealistic personal expectations can throw it all amiss; where as challenging weather and unforeseen logistical problems, with bad skiing amongst a team with solid dynamics and great attitudes can still make it all a fun journey. Luckily for us, our team was the latter, while the expedition experience fell somewhere in-between the previously a fore mentioned two extremes.
We started off by spending a couple days of backcountry skiing around the beautiful and remote fishing towns of Isafjordur, Flateryi, and Suderyi, driving the car through the area’s tunnels and mountain passes, and pulling over to get out and skin and ski at the first appealing looking line. The ease of access here, when snow line is still so low this far North in the middle of Spring, made the ski objectives endless and the scenery memorable. However, the one downside about skiing in such an exotic location above the Arctic Ocean, is that weather can be extremely fickle and many days can be cloud and precipitation filled. We found a lot of this on our trip ! So much so, that the first 3-days of our trip, our sailboat was stuck in the Isafjordur harbor, as rough seas and unseasonably stormy weather kept us moored to the dock, and in search of ski lines via car, in place of choppy sea induced nauseating ski lines accessed via sailboat across the Fjord.
Needless to say, the land based access ski terrain in this region of the country is world-class, with steep couloirs for ski mountaineering objectives, and big wide open mellow cruising bowls just steps from the car, and all found literally around every corner and bend in the road. Cap these easy access ski lines off with the mandatory soak in the area’s plethora of social and public hot pools and hot springs found in almost every town in Iceland, and all of a sudden a few low elevation rain soaked ski turns seemed like a small price to pay for a day filled mostly with fresh Spring powder skiing up high, and hot water soaks apres ski afterwards!
Finally by evening on Day 3, seas had calmed enough that our 74-year-old lifelong sea-faring Captain Alfred decided the Donna Wood was able to set a course for the Hornstradir Nature Reserve, and we’d be able to sail through the night and wake up in the morning, a short zodiac ride from shore and making ski turns in this wild, raw, and untouched part of extreme NW Iceland.
Luckily, despite the still less then perfect weather, we were able to spend our final 3-days of the expedition living aboard the historic Donna Wood and traveling around amongst the deep fjords in this region, chasing the best light, snow, and ski conditions under days filled with almost 20 hours of ‘useable light’. When not skiing, we enjoyed the spacious cabins, deck, and mess areas on board the boat for resting, relaxing, reading, playing cards, or engaging in raucous drinking games with our fellow sailing members (a group of 4 Scots/Brits and their veteran Canadian ACMG Ski Guide). When the time came to ski…we’d load up the zodiac with skis, gear, and people for a few shuttles to shore, and be skinning within 10 minutes of leaving the comfort of the ship!
Throughout our three unforgettable days of ski touring in the Hornstradir Nature Reserve, we experienced a solitude and raw beauty and power of nature unlike any that any of us were familiar with. Stark in its simplicity of mountains, ocean, snow, and rock, and yet beautiful in it’s smaller subtleties as well….a plethora of sea birds, elusive arctic fox, and untold marine life abounds here. We found it not uncommon to feel totally at home while surrounded by the abundance of natural life and its environment, while also at the same time still feeling completely alone, removed, and abandoned out here at the ‘edge of the world’. A truly unique place and experience in this semi-forgotten part of the planet.
As the final part of our ski journey unfolded, the weather blessed us with a few windows of impeccable blue skies, calm winds, and great fresh powder skiing snow conditions, allowing us to take full advantage of our final moments of skiing in this wonderful place, climbing mountains that opened into endless vistas of the blue-green of the Arctic Ocean to one side, and to the deep blue waters of the Western Fjords on our other. We skied long, rolling, spring powder runs high above the ship and the frigid blue waters, whooping it up as we enjoyed effortless arcs down perfect snow under an immense expanse of mountains, sea, and wilderness.
When the light began to cloud up and go flat, we climbed and skied steep rocky couloirs that allowed for definition and depth perception with the fleeting light, and simultaneously both challenged and rewarded ourselves with each successive run. In the end, finally enjoying a long long ski descent right down to the water, taking our skis off mere steps from the sea lapping at the rocky beach, satiated from a week spent backcountry skiing in this amazing, beautiful, and mystical place.
A genuine and heartfelt big, big thank you to everyone that made this trip possible ! Thanks to North Sailing and Alfred and his crew aboard the Donna Wood for the fun times, safe passage, and incredible meals. Thanks to Matt & Steve and their crew of ski guests (Jim, John, Paul, and Benji) for being such great ‘house mates’ on the boat and in selflessly sharing their guided ski experience with our group also. Thanks to Siggi of the Aurora Artika for the kindness, and local hospitality while in Isafjordur. Thanks to Diane Kay and Adidas Outdoors for the awesome support and outerwear given to the group for this trip. And lastly of course….a huge thanks to Seth, Amy, Mike, & Ann for be willing to go on such a unique and uncharted ski adventure with me this Spring and their unflagging good humor and attitudes that made them all a joy to experience this trip with, and feel less like the guiding work that it was :-). Cheers !
FOR A FULL GALLERY OF PICTURES FROM THIS TRIP PLEASE VISIT OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GALLERY HERE
Thanks for reading !
— Jayson Simons-Jones (Lotus Alpine & IFMGA Mountain Guide)