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TR: Siglufjörður Iceland Heli May 2019

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I was surprised to hear that the Freeride World Tour comes to Siglufjörður, as I'd always thought of Iceland as being a fairly mellow place to snowboard. The Tour was held just above the village, where the locals run a small ski hill in winter. Not so long ago the only road into the village ran down through those cliffs, until they blasted single-track tunnels through along the coast. The ski hill closed at the end of April, but may be handy for down-days early season at least. But we didn't come to ride surface lifts.

I'd avoided Iceland because it doesn't have any trees, and riding "alpine" snow can get boring after a few days. I'd also avoided late season snowboarding for years, because it tends to cost more than early season, and the snow's significantly worse. Renting a helicopter's never cheap, so you may as well get the best possible snow for your money. This year I'd been grounded mid-season by construction work, and by early May it was pretty much Iceland or nothing.

I flew into KEF from LTN and rented a cheap FWD car without any extras. All the hire cars have winter wheels as standard, and the island's ring road is flat, with tunnels through the mountains rather than passes over them. It's about 400 klicks of easy drive to the Troll penninsular (bottom left corner to a bit left of center-top) and I didn't meet another car all the way. There were a few hundred meters of well-maintained gravel sections close to the destination, the rest was metalled road with a white line down the middle. I passed through three small towns on the way, with one open eating place. There's not much out there. As the drive is around the coast, it feels like driving to Fort William rather than over the Alps or the Trans Canadian.

Siglufjörður is the location for the books televised as "Trapped" (Ófærð), and the second series (which I've not seen) was filmed there. It features, I'm told, the new Siglo hotel, which is where viking Heliskiing guests stay. Google Earth has an empty dock where the hotel is, which is slighty concerning when you bank-draft large amounts of money to them. However the hotel does exist, and is very fancy in an up-to-date Scandanavian manner. The Heli company has an office right by the hotel, and their operations base is a couple of klicks away at the edge of the village. I don't know about the local murder rate, but there's one policeman in the whole place and not a lot else other than the world-renowned "herring museum", which I avoided.

I'd booked 6 days riding. Six days of alpine riding is enough for me as it's not that interesting. Fewer days would also work, but heliskiing is very weather dependent, so you need more days than you think to deal with that risk.

Arrival in Siglufjörður

I drove in the sun to the operations base to be met by several people on crutches. Never a good sign. My first day started with low cloud blocking access to the mountains. The same happened the next day. You don't get refunds for days spent sitting around waiting for the weather. There was a time when the eye watering cost of sitting around worried me, but you can't do anything about the weather, and the money's gone anyway. The operator took us on a tour of the local brewery, with unlimited "free" beer, which helped somewhat. The Seagul 67 micro-brewery is excellent with an IPA like Brew Dog's Punk, and a world-class Weiss Bier.

Day three opened to similar weather, but my prophylactic Ibuprofen ensured no noticeable after effects of the brewery. Things were getting serious. The standard start-time at this time of year in Iceland is 11:00, because it takes a while for the sun to warm the snow after the overnight freeze. At the other end of the day you're not time-limited as it never really goes dark. In the end we lifted off at 13:00 and finished by around 22:00, scoring about a third of the allocated 6-day vertical.

Conditions were very weather and aspect dependent. We rode everything from huge 50-degree slopes of rock-solid frozen sastrugi through to mellow run-outs with rotten late-season snow. I saw no slides and didn't bother exposing the air-bag trigger. The snowpack wasn't hugely deep, and most slopes were interspersed with rock ribs. We rode a few couloirs, but mostly they needed more snow. Now and then the guides would make an error in slope selection, resulting in a run which for some was about survival only. The glaciated terrain works like my geography teacher said: steep at the top, mellow at the bottom. The operator tended to ride lower than I would, I expect because they're charging for vertical (I'd pick-up at the bottom of the steep section, the other stuff's just "transport"). Once or twice we rode down to the sea, which is a tourist trip you have to do once or twice. We were really looking for corn, and found it for a few runs, but mostly conditions were poor - it's a lottery.

The valley sides were all steep

You can see the valley flattening out way down there

One of those dots is the guide

The major risk I'd guess would be an uncontrolled fall above rocks. I saw one snowboarder descend about a thousand meters of frozen sastrugi on his bottom to no apparent ill effects other than to his confidence. He may not have noticed the pair of huge boulders he luckily cleared. On another day someone broke an ankle on one of the steeper slopes, resulting in the operator having to fly a bag of ice screws and ropes in so they could get him to somewhere the machine could land. I'd say this is much easier than standard deep powder snowboarding in that piste-level skills are all you need. However novices or park people would probably not get the best from it and may not like some of the steeps.

Accidents will happen

The operator ran up to three groups of four in A-Star (Airbus AS350) machines, with one or two running each day. They don't run a strict weekly schedule, so people come and go through the week. The operation was well run (it's at least partially owned by the lead guide) with good organisation.

The operator's tenure appeared plenty large, although in these conditions they mostly stuck to their local mountains. There was evidence of some sled activity from the winter, and almost no wildlife tracks. The local birds were partying big time, and didn't appear to fear humans much. There were ski-tourist tracks here and there in coastal mountains, and it looks like a good empty place for those guys to play.

About 21:00, setting up for the last run to the ocean

And finally a little video. My excuses list includes: I was using my standard powder board (Burton Dump Truck), which was overkill for snow I could have ridden on a race board. The default stance on that board's set back, something which didn't help discipline the nose in this type of snow. Once I worked that out, I shifted the stance forward. I was working with new boots, and had some issues getting the forward lean on the back one set correctly.

Heliboarding Siglufjörður May 2019 from phil 45464
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
And the damage please, besides the snowboarder's back bottom?
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@philwig, great report , we were touring around the same area at the same time , and in six days skied every snow / weather combo apart from powder known to man , think I saw you guys in a bar in siglufjorour on Wednesday , which funnily enough was our best ski day , because of the bad viz we headed out from Olafsfjördur shrouded in sea mist with out much hope of a good day , but when we came through the first tunnel we were greeted by a bit of blue sky , we quickly parked up and headed up to pverfjall peak , the weather closed in on the skin up but the sun reappeared when we reached the top so we headed straight down and were treated to a consistent 30' pitch of about 750m vert in great spring snow all the way down , it closed in a bit at bottom but the vertical rock bands gave a good bit of definition for the ski back to the car . I personally loved the variety of skiing and the feel of the island , also saw whales off a boat whilst on way to a tour and swam in thermal hot springs , I think the terrain is better suited to earning your turns and there was great rewards for a bit of effort
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@philwig, nice trip, passed through there a few weeks ago.....that town was almost derelict and very run down until about 15yrs ago. Some local fisherman with a big quota poured a lot money into the place to bring it back to life, and timed it well for the recent tourist boom. Amazing country and people, so any trip to Iceland is usually full of weird and wonderful experiences.....I've been going for over 20yrs, it's changing very quickly due to the tourism, but still utterly unique.

Wondering what camera / drone set up you used.....could see a shadow on the vid as if you had an invisible pole?
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.

few pics from our trip in Iceland
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Mike Pow wrote:
And the damage please, besides the snowboarder's back bottom?

Google tells me that a chippy tea costs about a fiver, although likely considerably more expensive in Iceland. It's not a place to go for a bargain.

polo wrote:
... it's changing very quickly due to the tourism, but still utterly unique.

I heard that also. Encouraging, I think. I probably would not like it when it was industrial, but post-industrial chic works well there for tourists at least. They said hotel bookings were strong for the summer, which is a good sign. I'm not sure what tourists will do there, mind - there's a lot of nothing out there. Those roads must have made a huge difference, on the scale of a few decades.

Dabber wrote:
... think I saw you guys in a bar in siglufjorour on Wednesday , which funnily enough was our best ski day ... when we came through the first tunnel we were greeted by a bit of blue sky , we quickly parked up and headed up to pverfjall peak ... also saw whales off a boat whilst on way to a tour and swam in thermal hot springs images

Great pictures - I guess you have more time to set up if you're walking all the way up wink

There were various groups of tough looking touring types around at Hannes Boy. I didn't notice split boards, but then they'd be outside. We'd end up there if the snowpack was slow to warm up or when we were down, couldn't drink in case the afternoon got better. Hence we were probably fairly miserable if there at all wink Some of the ridge lines were fun - no significant cornices as the wind blows multiple directions, apparently. I would guess that snowpack is significantly easier to negotiate than deeper stuff. It's the one time I've snowboarded back country when it's easier (on a snowboard) to sit down than to dig the board in, when you need to stop.

Wondering what camera / drone set up you used.....could see a shadow on the vid as if you had an invisible pole?

wink It's the Rylo 360 camera. It's on a pole, but that's automatically removed by their application. However it doesn't zap the shadow, as you noticed. I could take that out with Davinci Resolve, with some effort. It's a crop into a spherical video, then. The original is 5.7K, so the crop is significantly less, hence the quality's not yet up to a proper 4K camera.
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