The Snow Report
THE HORSES IN ICELAND are notoriously small, but if you call them ponies you will catch a scolding or hear an unprintable translation of the phrase truntupussustrimlar; they can cover vast tracts of ground at a tölt (a brisk lateral gait) or a flugskeio (“flying pace”). Iceland’s mountains, too: they may seem small, but no one who has hiked or skied in them would dare call them hills. The alpine terrain is limitless and sublime, whether you explore it at a flugskeio or a tölt.
In the northwest of Iceland, more than five hours by car from Reykjavík, is a mountainous paw-shaped jut of land called the Troll Peninsula. Legend holds that Iceland’s last troll was killed in a cave there in 1764 by a farmer who was angry that the troll had stolen (and eaten) his cow. The peninsula’s highest peak is just over 5,000 feet above sea level, but the sea itself is right there at your feet; even into May you can often ski down to the shoreline. The maritime moisture content and the long, dark winters (the Arctic Circle is a few miles north) make for a stable, stubborn spring snowpack. Sometimes you get fresh powder, but in April and May—the heart of the Troll ski-touring season—you are more likely to find corn of the rare kind that doesn’t quickly turn to slop. It holds up all day as you follow the sun on its long, high arc. In May, a touch of twilight persists until midnight; you can head out for a day of skiing at cocktail hour.
“OK, boys, time to suit up,” our guide, Fridjon (pronounced free-on), said on the first afternoon. We’d pulled in an hour before, after a long drive around the barren western coast of Iceland, where we’d encountered more speed traps than trees. My brother and I were sitting out in the sun, acquainting ourselves with a few vessels of Viking Lager.
“Now?” my brother said. “It’s, like, five.”
“Sun is shining,” Fridjon said. “You may not see it again.”
We put down our beers and put on our boots. Within minutes a helicopter had deposited my brother, two friends, and me atop a peak called, of all things, the Horse, which overlooked, on one side, the snowless valley we’d just come from and, on the other, the fjord to the north. You could smell the sea. Fridjon said something that might have been in English and then pushed over a cornice and swooped 2,000 vertical feet without stopping or looking back. His turns were syncopated and unpretentious—casual.
“I guess that means we can go anywhere.”
“Except over that cliff.”