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Arctic Heliskiing, Iceland, March 27, 2015

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
We got out half an hour later on Friday and skied the mountains closest to the lodge. It was slightly colder, -10C on top with more wind than Thursday. The lower terrain looks sketchy this season because most of the storms have come from the south with low elevation rain. :Last year there was so much snow in the valley in March that the road was buried and guests had to be brought to the lodge from Dalvik in the heli. What we couldn't see from the lodge is that these mountains go up to 5,000 feet, higher than the ones NW of Dalvik that we skied Thursday.

Today we skied with French Canadian guide Stefan. Our first 2 runs started on this long face on the east side with excellent snow.




The terrain mellowed out lower down but was still great skiing.


We crossed to the west side for our next 2 runs. Overview while in flight:


Liz and I wait while Michael skis some powder first. The vertical rock at upper right was a lava flow into a fissure that later crumbled away.


Powder tracks from 2 groups lower on third run:




Our 4th run had blown-in powder earlier in the week, but the wind was now strong in our faces, so Stefan had us picked up after only 1,500 vertical. We moved back to the east side of the valley, but the wind precluded a high landing so we were dropped at about 3,500 feet. Here’s a pic from low elevation not far from pickup.


The rain crust from Thursday was more supportable now and could be skied fluidly as long as visibility was decent. With sun and about 10 degrees warmer temperature this would all be corn.

The 6th run to lunch at 2PM lunch was similar. Upper section of that run:


Lower down there were scattered snow chunks, but enough room to avoid them.


We skied a similar 7th run after lunch but light deteriorated so we skied to the lodge and were done just after 3PM. Total for the day was 16,600 vertical with the early higher runs being at least ¾ powder but the lower later runs about half.

Jokull Bergmenn (JB) worked for Selkirk-Tangiers Heliskiing in Revelstoke for many years. It was run by the Swiss and had many European customers. In 2008 the new Revelstoke Mountain Resort bought Selkirk-Tangiers. The emphasis has shifted more to day skiers, though multiday packages are still available there and those skiers are separate from the day skiers. At this time JB returned to his family farm in Iceland and opened a ski touring lodge, adding heliskiing within a couple of years. The lodge accommodates 16-20 skiers, with a mix of heli and ski touring in March. We had 2 heli groups and 2 touring groups the first 2 days and a 3rd group of heliskiers arrived Thursday night for a week. Touring groups can be driven to trailheads or can pay for a heli drop into more remote terrain.

JB recruited other guides like Stefan from Selkirk-Tangiers, and Stefan works at both operations as Selkirk-Tangiers’ demand slows in March, which is the “early season” in Iceland. Arctic Heliskiing’s peak season is April/May with longer daylight and better weather, and they are still skiing higher elevation terrain in June. They tout their corn snow and big vertical, and can get powder on north facing and corn on sunny exposures at the same time. The lodge is usually filled with heliskiers in April/May and the ski touring then operates out of a second lodge near Darvik.

The lodge has a hot tub and sauna, and the family-style meals were excellent. We particularly enjoyed the fresh local lamb and fish. Overall Arctic Heliskiing was a memorable experience that we highly recommend. Customers are about 60% European and 40% from North America. Iceland is a 4 hour flight from the East Coast, at least as accessible for easterners as western Canada and far more accessible than Alaska.

We were in Iceland 15 days and there are numerous other attractions to see. On March 28 we skied 2 runs from the lodge that were constrained to low elevation by weather, followed by a hearty lunch of the Icelandic hashed fish. Then JB let us borrow a car to get to Akureyri airport early so we could start our marathon 2 day drive around the east and south sides of Iceland.

Edited by Tony Crocker - 4/17/15 at 12:39pm
post #2 of 6

I read about Iceland Heliskiing and now see your report live. Quite big lines, and all on their lonesome, stark terrain, lovely. 


I have been to Iceland but almost 10 years ago and recall it has a unique lay of the land, parts of it like the surface of the moon right, and parts of it like Earth, and some of it smoking ! Is it possible you can find a map of the country and then devise a way to superimpose on it where you were skiing, am very curious. Where are these islands you speak of and why would JB not cross over to one of the other islands? An aerial Google Earth view with arrows and all that or just a map with indications of ski location relative to Rejkyavik etc. - that would be great to have and use. 


Great ski lines, fortunate indeed.

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

The orange lines I drew approximate the ski terrain Arctic Heli can use. The red lines (northern one March 26 and southern ones March 27) approximate where we skied.   The "Center of the Universe" X is at Akureyri and the nearby Hlidarfjall ski area.  The "Sin City" circle in the southwest is Reykyavik. "Exit" is Keflavik International Airport.

Where are these islands you speak of and why would JB not cross over to one of the other islands?

The flat island behind the picture of Liz and me on March 26 is in the fjord between the northern red circle and the orange terrain on the east side of the fjord.  Due to fuel expense all heli operators will use the most convenient terrain possible if snow and weather are good.  So Arctic flies to the east side only if the entire west side is socked in.  That was the preliminary plan announced at breakfast March 28.  By 10AM the weather over there had deteriorated so they called that plan off.


For those who have not been to Iceland the orange area I marked may look small, but I can assure you it's vast.   Having that large an area is important to maximize clear weather options.  Terrain looks good everywhere; the key is finding decent visibility for flying and skiing.   In our case we also needed to get above 2,000 feet for good snow, though sometimes the snow can be good all the way to sea level.

post #4 of 6

I was at the foot of Vatnajokull eons ago, it's majestic, the thing fills the skyline..now that is a big glacier. Landing at Keflavik, I remember thinking we had landed on the moon, but for orphan iceberg floating just off the coast, the young 12 year old was there, he was 3 I believe at the time. He saw the Geysers, the glacier, the Blue Lagoon, sin city (we stayed with a family, who were friends of his mom) Reykjavik, and the steam hill with geothermal energy coming through the ground. Remarkable country, it changed a lot quick though and now going back to its roots. You are indeed fortunate to have skier there, and at the northern reaches, wow, seems pretty stark, interesting it is even inhabited, i.e. your heli-operator's family farm is in the vicinity!


Awesome stuff.


And yes stereographic projections of world maps makes Iceland look pretty small, it's huge! Of course and then there is big brother Greenland a bit off to the North-West. It is amazing how high up the country is in latitude. The temperatures you describe surprised me, it's warm, climate change anyone? We were there in the middle of their summer with 23 hour daylight I recall, the thick curtains to keep the light out, and everyone has a hot tub in their backyard, small backyards, and 85% or more of their heating and related energy needs are from geothermal energy.


You lucked out, nice find. And great on the ground review.


What are costs like? Comparable to Heli ops like CMH week I imagine. And with their currency XE is pegged right now to the EUR right - I forget after the entire nation went belly-up in 2008.

post #5 of 6

i like the moonscape. 

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Here's the requested Google Earth map.  Orange and red lines same as before, pins for Hlidarfjall lift service and Arctic's lodge. 


Cost of ~$1,800pp per day is about the same as Mike Wiegele.  Except for energy, everything in Iceland is expensive.  In particular JB says the cost to lease  helicopters is rising due to competition from flightseeing operators.  Iceland has been promoting tourism aggressively since the 2010 volcanic eruption.  It's been successful, as tourist visits rose from 300,000 in 2008 to 1 million last year. We were surprised how busy tourist sites accessible from Reykyavik (Thingvellir, Blue Lagoon, etc.) were during the supposed off-season. 


The reason we were in Iceland was for the March 20 total solar eclipse.  We found this tour http://www.betchartexpeditions.com/europe_iceland2015.htm .  Most charter flights into the path over the North Atlantic were from continental Europe or the UK, but we wanted to see Iceland.  The tour (Reykyavik region, then Myvatn/Husavik in the north) was from March 16-23, and we stayed on until March 31.  After skiing we drove the ring road to see some noteworthy sights in the south (Jokulsarlon, short hike to Svartifoss, rock formations at the southern tip Vik) and finally scuba dived the rift between the tectonic plates at Silfra.

85% or more of their heating and related energy needs are from geothermal energy.

We visited a geothermal power plant on the Betchart tour.  Electricity is 70% hydro and 27% geothermal.  Water is so abundant that it is injected back into geothermal boreholes, so they believe the geothermal power will be sustainable.  Heating is nearly all geothermal, though the Arctic Heli Lodge was sufficiently isolated that heat was electric there.



The temperatures you describe surprised me, it's warm, climate change anyone?

Iceland is in the Gulf Stream.  There's a quite sharp climate divide in the waters between Iceland and Greenland.  Most of the storms come from the southwest, so that's part of the reason the biggest glaciers are in the south.  The southern glaciers have been retreating, maybe 5 miles or so, since the start of the 20th century.  However those glaciers were 20 miles farther back when Iceland was first settled 1,000 years ago.

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