Western Fjords of Iceland - Couloir lines
Pulling off Highway 1, the main road that circumnavigates Iceland, the snow dusted road starts to rise above the fjords and through high mountain passes that isolate the remote Western Fjords from the rest of an already remote country. We are heading to the empty raged wild edge of Europe. Here we will find endless pyramid shaped mountains looking like illustrations from a child’s book; peaks that are slashed everywhere by deep rifts filled with snow. We’ve come to ski these vertical white ribbons. Not too steep, not too long, not too far from the road. The Western Fjords is a Goldilocks zone of couloirs.
The regions remoteness is echoed by a lack of information to the area. Maps exist but are hard to come by. Weather and avalanche forecasts are rudimentary, thwarted by the complex topography: sunny in one fjord, whilst at the same time snowing in the next fjord not five miles away. Ski guidebooks are nonexistent. Word of mouth is the best currency here. Pouring over aerial digital images and 3D rendering software such as Fatmap would be our main information source for route planning.
Our days based out of the little fishing town of Islafjordur take on a rhythm as is often the way with ski trips. A leisurely bacon and eggs fueled start each morning from our rented wooden town house, see us loaded up in our SUV along with packs, ski’s and mugs of hot black coffee as we wait for the ice on the windscreen to defrost. Then we head out to the couloir singled out for attention the night before that we hope fits our Goldilocks criteria.
Will the snow be good? What about visibility in the latest storm rolling in from Greenland? The steepness is always in the back of our minds with such scant information to hand. With that thought ever present we always elected to boot up our intended descent route, allowing us to gauge the steepness of our line from below and also to gauge the snow quality for skiing and avalanche potential. Most of the lines we ski terminate in boulder fields hundreds of metres below us, only semi buried by the winter snowpack, so although the skiing is relatively straight forward it is also consequential. But in many ways these hazards are tempered by the wildness of the place. In this empty corner of Europe there is no rush for first tracks, no competition from other ski parties for a favoured line. We always have the margin of taking our time and of making slow decisions. We ski conservatively when dropping into our lines. With no glamour of named or even known objectives we have no commitment to any particular route or line. We let the rhythm of the day dictate our choices.
We follow a daily routine. See a line, climb a line, ski a line. Repeat. We live skiing for a week in one of its simplest forms. Then soak in one of the geothermal hot springs where we discuss our days’ adventure over cold beers.
Mike Austin skied the Dynastar Mythic 97 Full Carbon in the Western Fjords. Easy on the up. Solid on the down.